Perhaps the white wine which has the most names attached to it, Muscadel is very common in South Africa, and is one of the wines which was replanted after the end of Apartheid. Muscadel, also known as Muscat, or Muscat Blanc, is most often drunk as a sweet dessert wine, although it can also be turned into a dry white wine. The latter is harder to find, as the sweetness of Muscadel is really the signature of the wine, and its familiarity as a dessert or drinking wine encourages wine makers to keep to that tradition and make a consistent number of sweet wines from the grape.
Muscadel is also known as Black Muscat, but it produces a clear white wine that is similar to ‘port’ in flavour. In fact, Muscadel is often a white variety of Port masquerading under the title. This has caused somewhat of a confusion when it comes to marketing the wine, since Muscadel can be both a fortified (alcohol added) wine, and a simple dessert wine which has enough sweetness to make up for the lack of alcohol in the wine. As Muscadel is not traditionally drunk outside of mealtimes, it is not always desirable to add alcohol to it.
It is because of this confusion that many white wine makers are now looking for another way to market their basic Muscadel product. Rather than suggesting that it is a heavy, alcohol-filled wine which is likely to be too sweet for most meals, the majority of wine producers are now looking for signs which will show that Muscadel is a sweet, elegant wine that can be enjoyed with or without food. The changing nature of the Muscadel in South Africa is reflected by the changes in bottle size and shape, designed to make drinkers feel as though they are just having another bottle of wine, rather than the heavy, bloated bottles which are usually reserved for spirits.
Varieties of Muscadel, such as Muscat de Frontignan, or Hanepoot, are both made in South Africa, and can easily be recognised as the white-wine versions of the fortified wine. In order to give the wine sufficient fruit flavours, the wine growers have had to grow plants in earthy, fertile environments, and leave the grapes to become fatter. In order to reduce the tannins in the wine, the experts have also aged the Muscadel for more than 5 years in French Oak barrels. This gives it a tawny colour and a very dark, deep taste. Because the wine has sometimes additional alcohol, it can sometimes be difficult to taste the Muscat grapes behind the added Muscadel flavours.
One of the best Muscadels to try is that of the Rietvallei wine estate. This has been growing Muscat grapes for many years, and some of the bush vines are more than 80 years old, giving the wine an excellent maturity. The sweetness of the grapes make it an excellent dessert wine, as well as additional flowery scents that compliment the slightly increased acidity of the wine.