Domestic Selection: Muscat Canelli, 1990. Santino Winery

Matt and Nancy Santino, along with Nancy’s father, Joseph Schweitzer, founded Santino Wines in 1979. Mr. Schweitzer remained as owner when the younger couple left the operation some time ago.

The winery is located in the heart of California’s Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, adjacent to the oldest known producing Zinfandel vineyard in California. This superb 10-acre parcel, report­edly planted about 120 years ago and never replanted, is known as “Granpere”. It belongs to Santi­no’s winemaker, Scott Harvey. Some consider him the best wine-maker in the region.

Born in Germany to American parents and raised in Amador (he attended a local high school), Har­vey returned to Germany to hone his wine-crafting skills. After learning to create spectacular late-harvest white wines there, he came home to rule the roost.

Santino first produced this wine in 1986 at the request of the prominent wine merchant, Darrell Corti, who wanted an American version of Italy’s Moscato d’Asti. The idea was to produce a fresh, crisp, low-alcohol sipper which captured the full-bloom fragrance of Muscat grapes.

Muscat boasts an older histori­cal reference than any other wine: King Pollius brought Moscato vines to Syracuse (Sicily) from Thrace in the seventh century B.C. Some botanists consider Muscat the most ancient wine grape of all. Its “family” of grapes contains li­terally scores of subvarieties.

The Muscat Canelli variety gives wines which are best en­joyed in the freshness of their youth. Characterized by a luscious texture and a ripe, fruity sweet­ness, balanced with tangy, crisp acidity, these wines provide the base for the afore-mentioned Mos­cato d’Asti (mildly fizzy) as well as Italy’s famous Asti Spumante (fully sparkling). A few California wineries have enjoyed marvelous success with this charmer.

This wine has a beautiful pale yellow-gold color, and the unmis­takable Muscat “perfume”: melon, apricot, orange with a hint of musk. It feels very light on the pa­late, but wonderfully rich, too, with excellent acidity and efferves­cence enlivening the sensation. Soothingly as tea with honey, the wine finishes with lovely, linger­ing fruit flavors.

Serve chilled as a pool-side sipper or with summer fruits like strawberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches and nectarines.

Cellaring Notes: Delicious no through early 1992.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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