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Balma Venitia Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2006

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Today’s wine is a French dessert wine called Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Yes, that’s right. I’m writing about a muscat wine. But this is quite different than te infamous blue bottle Bartenura Moscato.

Beaumes de Venise is a French AOC (remember those designations?) in the southern Rhône Valley. This region makes both a dry red and the Muscat Beaumes de Venise, which is our topic for today. This region has a history going back at least 2000 years, as Pliny the Elder mentioned the muscat grape being cultivated here.

So, geography aside, what makes this Muscat different from all other Muscats, you ask? For one, the Beaumes is NOT sparkling. For another, to get the AOC designation, the wine must be fortified.

Fortifying a wine means that a spirit alcohol, in this case being a minimum of 95% alcohol, is added to the fermenting juice. what this does is shoot the alcohol percentage to a level that kills off the yeast (ironically, even though yeasts create alcohol, if the concentration of alcohol passes a certain level, yeasts die. They die of their own byproducts!), while still maintaining a sweet wine. Historically Beaumes wines have also been allowed to have the words “vin doux naturel” on the label, meaning naturally sweet wine. By law, Muscat Beaumes de Venise must be at least 15% alcohol, so this is not your grandma’s muscat wine!

The upshot from all this processing? First, the wine has some serious aging potential (today’s subject comes from the 2006 vintage, and probably can hang on for a few more years!), and also, for whatever reason, Beaumes has a tendency to have a bitter finish. I asked others about the bitterness and they said that it wasn’t endemic to this  product, but rather the nature of the beast when dealing with Muscat Beaumes de Venise.

So the first thing I noticed when I smelled the wine was the orange blossoms were very apparent. Orange blossom, you say? Yes, orange blossom. It’s more delicate than a full-on orange and also there are some floral undertones, hence orange blossom. I also caught a hint of flinty mineral (from the soil it grows in) and a very viscous quality about the wine as I swirled it around in my glass (to be expected, given the level of sugar and alcohol in the wine!)

The orangey flavors were very strong when I finally sipped the wine, along with the minerally notes I mentioned earlier and that oddly bitter finish. Because of that bitterness, I wouldn’t drink this solo, but rather as part of a dessert pairing, such as a fruit salad with very ripe fruits or a trifle, if you’re from the South. (If you don’t know what a trifle is, think parfait with cake on a massive scale). You want to pick a dessert that is sweeter than the wine to mask the bitterness therein, also if you don’t, then the dessert will not taste sweet at all.