The Wisdom of the Ancients

By Evan Williams

  • What it is: Ancient Moscatel (Muscat) from the terrifyingly beautifulslate slopes of Malaga on Spain's southern Mediterranean coast, for a mere $16.

  • Why you need it: If you're stuck in a wine rut, you need this wine. If you love refreshing yet substantive and spicy-floral whites, you need this wine. If you've ever had an excellent Gewurtztraminer or Muscat from Alsace but wished it was under $20 instead of $30-ish, you need this wine. Hell, if you like to be excited by white wine rather than just placated, then you definitely need this wine! 

This stuff. Where to begin!? It's been one of those rare "haunting my waking moments" kind of finds, sitting in my fridge begging for attention for a couple weeks now. It is at once delicious, fascinating, and unlike anything I've had in a very long time. 

I'm sure I'm not alone in that I have a love/hate relationship with Muscat/Moscatel. Very rarely do I find one that checks all the boxes; far too often, they're either they're too orange-peel-ey, or too spicy, or too empty/flat on the palate. But when I do find one that I love, and the price tag isn't stupidly high, then it's an absolute game-changer. 

That's what we have here, a game-changer: all the beautiful facets of Muscat that I love, without any of its common pitfalls. 

Now, when I said in the description above that it was "ancient", I meant it. This clone, "Muscat of Alexandria", is the original Muscat varietal (and one of the few remaining "purebred" mother varietals), transplanted by Phoenicians from Alexandria, Egypt to Malaga (a small but unique growing area on Spain's southern coast) around 3,000 years ago. About a century later, as they marched across the Iberian peninsula, the Romans discovered these vines and continued to cultivate and expand the winegrowing industry here. 

Though the region eventually became famous in the modern era for its sweet Pedro Ximenez production, these sites remained perfect for growing dry wine - the steep slate slopes face the Mediterranean, and put great stress on the vines (this is non-irrigation farming, for obvious reasons), producing fruit of immense quality and complexity. When dessert wines eventually fell out of favor on the international market, a return to the wisdom of the ancients (and their belief that this dry wine was of great medicinal value) was inevitable and welcome. 

Today, we're staring at one of (in my estimation) one of the greatest values in Spanish white, perhaps one of the best white wine deals in all of Europe. 

The wine itself is incredibly pungent and fun on the nose. It's as floral and spicy and citrusy as it gets: white flowers, honeysuckle, lemon curd, white pepper, orange zest, nutmeg, and even some soft vanilla notes. It just lassoes you in from the first sniff, never letting go. This kind of complexity and expressiveness is rare at this price ($16!), but when you get to the palate, that's when you know you've hit the wine lottery... 

How many times have you had a Muscat or Gewurtz that has been incredibly expressive on the nose, but falls kinda flat on the palate (specifically, the mid-palate)? Personally, I've lost count. But this wine is exquisitely balanced and substantive on your palate to the point that you'll quickly understand why it's been haunting my thoughts lately. The acidity is perfection; the fruitiness is delicious; the experience as a whole is just as good as it gets at this price. There's more vanilla here on the palate, with lemon curd and herbaceousness as well, and a playful spiciness always fluttering about. The roundness<->acid balance is where it really earns its stripes, though - something few Muscats can do well, but the Botani does with ease. 

Perhaps the most mind-blowing part about this wine is that she remains this inexpensive, despite the incredibly difficult and labor-intensive growing practices that haven't changed much since the Phoenicians grew wine here. The slate inclines are as steep in some places as 70 degrees - while most ultra-steep vineyards in Europe have adopted terracing and/or mechanized harvesting techniques, these vines remain unterraced and hand-harvested; grapes are transported by mule, little by little. Meanwhile, the grapes are harvested relatively early to maintain that precious acidity, which means their yields are very low.

And yet, despite all this, we get a bottle of this ancient juice, transported down the slopes, across the Atlantic, and into our fridges, for sixteen whole dollars. How this is possible is beyond me, but we'd be remiss in our duties as your wine stewards not to shout about it from the (steep) mountaintops. 

Oh, and as if that's not enough, this has great press all over the place. 90 points for this vintage from both Vinous and James Suckling. And though the '17 has yet to be reviewed by them, the previous vintages of this wine have gotten 91+ from both Parker and Reynolds. Somehow, though, we still get the wine for sixteen bucks.

Alright, I'll shut up now - you know the drill. 

Will Curley