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Musky Business

What makes the Moscato guard its musk?

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In Italy's Piedmont region, Moscato d'Asti is a refreshing, lightly effervescent and lightly sweet wine of some quality. In Alsace, France, Muscat Blanc is an aromatic and often dry wine. In California, Muscat was a marginal varietal until it got caught up in the gears of the hip hop-product endorsement machine.

Statewide, plantings of Muscat Blanc and Muscat of Alexandria quadrupled in 2010, then doubled again. Lately, however, Moscato's tea leaves—heavily scented—have been mixed; new plantings dropped like a bomb in 2014. Has the Moscato boom gone bust?

Guess that a North Coast wine like Kokomo's 2014 Dry Creek Valley Timber Crest Vineyard Muscat Blanc ($22) is one of the more nuanced domestic versions of this exotically scented grape, and you guess right. Characteristic foxy grape aroma meets bergamot, with a dried lemon-peel twist, canary melon and grassy acidity. It could almost be a particularly musqué Sauvignon Blanc.

Notes of angel's trumpet flowers herald the Jacuzzi 2013 Alexander Valley Moscato ($20), which has a palate equally perfumed. I like the dried orange spice, too, but the acidity struggles to offset the sugar, at 18.6 grams per liter. And that's nothing compared to the remainder of this lineup.

The SIP 2014 California Moscato ($11.99) shows a fruit-salad aroma of melon mixed with red fruits. Then it's like drinking the syrup from a can of peaches. The Terra d'Oro 2014 California Moscato ($16) almost had me at the aroma: earthy and floral, like standing beside a waterfall in the Sonoma County Fair's Hall of Flowers. Then the syrup attacks. Ditto, Menage a Trois 2013 California Moscato ($12). Sutter Home (which has been making Moscato for decades) puts a flavor profile graphic on the back label of its NV Moscato ($6); at 80 grams per liter, this one goes all the way to sweet. All the party without the party, Fre Alcohol-Removed Moscato ($6) refreshes like a Moscato-scented air freshener.

Yes, there's a very bubbly version: Sutter Home's Bubbly Pink Moscato ($12), like drinking pink cotton candy, for better or worse. But the amazing Duck Commander 2013 Miss Priss Pink Moscato ($10) is the prize pony of this stable. Also made by Trinchero Family Estates, this was released to coincide with a season premiere of Duck Dynasty (which, as far as I can tell, is an avant-garde beard-growing competition). Labeled with a pink, duck-camo motif, this is surely one for the collectors.

Finally, Sutter Home's Red Moscato ($6), with a dash of Merlot, adds much-needed tannic grip to the Kool-Aid Hawaiian Punch palate. I could drink this on the porch on a hot day. Over ice.

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