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Moscatel de Setúbal, the fortified dessert wine

Moscatel de Setúbal is a Portuguese muscatel produced around the Setúbal Municipality on the Península de Setúbal. The region is known primarily for its fortified Muscat wines known as Moscatel de Setúbal.

The style was believed to have been invented by José Maria da Fonseca, the founder of José Maria da Fonseca, the oldest table wine company in Portugal dating back to 1834. The J.M. da Fonseca company still holds a quasi-monopoly control over the production of Moscatel de Setúbal today.

Moscatel de Setúbal is a fortified wine of excellent quality, especially when aged for several years in oak barrels. It is a very sweet, fragrant wine with an intense aroma of orange blossoms, honey, raisins and floral when young, which evolves with age for notes of dried fruits, nutty and toffee aromas and coffee.

Moscatel Roxo (a pink grape) makes wines that are even more scented. Liqueur wines produced in small quantities, made from the Moscatel Roxo with characteristics similar to Moscatel of Setúbal, are thinner and have very complex aromas and flavors of raisins, figs, hazelnuts and bitter orange. The rare, pink-skinned Moscatel Roxo is occasionally used, but less so with every year that passes.

The key difference between Moscatel de Setúbal and other fortified wines is the winemaking process. As with almost all sweet fortified wines, the pure grape spirit is employed to stop fermentation, and the wine is then aged for a period in wooden barrels. Setúbal winemakers add the leftover, highly aromatic Moscatel grape skins to the mix and allow them to macerate with the wine for as long as six months. This gives Moscatel de Setúbal its intensely pungent, floral aroma.

The majority of Setúbal spends four or five years in oak, during which time it takes on a burnt-orange hue and develops a spicy, raisined character akin to the smell of baking Christmas cake. The very finest Setúbal wines spend four times this period in barrel, and are more brown than orange or bricked.

Many of the best grapes come from the limestone Arrábida hills high over the peninsula’s southern coast. DO Setúbal has to contain at least 67 percent Moscatel de Setúbal (Muscat of Alexandria) grapes, or Moscatel Roxo (Red Muscat). Those that contain at least 85 percent Moscatel are allowed to call themselves Moscatel de Setúbal, or Moscatel Roxo.

Grapes for these sweet, fortified wines, whether red or white, are fermented with their skins and then grape brandy is added to stop the fermentation. The fragrant, flavourful skins are left to macerate in the wine for another few months, and then the wine is drained off to be aged for a minimum of eighteen months in oak.

Sold at this stage, Setúbal is yellow, sweetly floral and citrus flavored, Moscatel Roxo darker, and rose-scented. Only small quantities are further aged in wood to become, after 20 years, dark nectar, with complex, intense aromas and flavors of nuts and dried fruits, citrus and honey, ranking amongst the world’s greatest fortified Muscats.

Similar to Port, Moscatel de Setúbal is wood-aged until they are bottled. They can be made from grapes of a single vintage or in a “non-vintage” style as a blend of several vintages. The wines tend to be at their freshest and more fruit styles up to around 5–6 years of age where they have pronounced apricot notes. As they age, the wines get darker with more raisin, caramel and nutty aromas and flavors.


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Moscatel de Setúbal by Adega de Pegões


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