One of the most delightful wine-related discoveries I’ve made in Portugal is Portuguese muscatel wine, known as moscatel wine in Portugal. This delicate and not overly sweet fortified wine is ideal as an aperitif or with dessert.
Or just for fun.
Vineyards in the surrounding limestone hills of Arrábida have the right terroir for producing the Muscat of Alexandria grapes used to make moscatel de Setúbal.
The Alto Douro wine region in the north of Portugal is best known for producing the grapes that go into port wine. However, the village of Favaios, on the outer edge of this wine region is more famous for its muscatel wine.
At Favaios, the undulating terraced slopes of the Douro Valley give way to the mountains and forests of Tras-os-Montes but between the two, there are plenty of vineyards in the flat, fertile land surrounding the village.
Producing muscatel wine in Portugal
Whichever part of Portugal the grapes come from, the process for turning them into moscatel wine is the same.
The grapes are crushed and the skins left on so that the flavours can be absorbed over a period of 3 months. At this point of the fermentation process, grape brandy is added to fortify the wine.
Once fermentation is complete, the wine is aged in wooden vats for a minimum of 18 months. Most moscatel wine is sold and consumed when it’s between 2 and 5 years old with an alcohol content of between 16 and 22% ABV.
I’ve become partial to it as a summer tipple. Served chilled, it’s light and, although sweet, the citrus flavours make it a refreshing drink.
The best muscatel wines can be aged for between 10 and 20 years, changing their flavour from crisply floral with citrus notes to a deeper figgy, toffee and nutty taste. Matured moscatel wine is deliciously moreish and perfect for warming up winter evenings.
Where to buy muscatel wine in Portugal
As well as visiting wineries that specialise in producing muscatel wine, there are several ways of getting your hands on a bottle. Or two.
Besides visiting the place of production, Adega Cooperativa de Favaios, almost all shops in Favaois sell the standard locally produced wine, as do most major supermarkets throughout the country. For the aged variety, you’d need to visit a specialist wine shop or the Adega.
Moscatel de Setúbal has more varieties and if you don’t have time to tour independent wineries, a great place to buy a range of them is at the Casa da Baia in the colourful city of Setúbal.
One of my favourite wineries, Quinta do Piloto is a good one to visit to sample some extraordinary wines and muscatel wines. Bacalhôa and José Maria Fonseca in Azeitão also produce excellent muscatel. You can sample the latter at the winery or their Lisbon wine bar, By The Wine.
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