Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

Muscat (de) Beaumes-de-Venise wines are sweet, fortified Muscat based wines from the village of Beaumes-de-Venise, in France's Rhône Valley. They are made entirely from Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains and its Muscat Noir colour mutation.

Sweet wines have been made here since the 14th century. They were granted their own controlled appellation in 1945. The village's red wines are sold under the Beaumes-de-Venise appellation, created for them in 2005.

The wines are created through the traditional process of mutage, to produce a vin doux naturel. The latter term means "naturally sweet wine", which seems rather odd, even if the sugar itself is not added.

The Muscat grapes are picked in whole bunches in several passes to ensure optimum ripeness. The harvested fruit must have a sugar level of 252 grams per litre or more

Grape spirit (at a minimum of 96 percent pure) is added to the partially fermented grape must. This kills the yeasts and stops the fermentation. It in turn results in a high level of residual sugar - at least 100 grams per litre must be achieved in the finished wine. Alcohol content must be a minimum of 15 percent by volume.

The finished wines are pale gold when young, with delicate vegetal notes and hints of tropical fruits. With age, they develop a rich golden hue and acquire more prominent flavours of honey, dried apricot and raisins. These wines were extremely popular in late 20th century Europe, rivalling the more expensive sweet wines of Bordeaux.

Beaumes-de-Venise is just south of the Gigondas appellation and east of Vacqueyras. The three villages are separated by a 500 meter (1,650ft) outcrop of limestone, part of the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail foothills. It is on the slopes of this outcrop that some of the better Beaumes-de-Venise vineyards are found. Facing south and southeast, these benefit from excellent exposure to sunlight throughout the day, encouraging maximum phenolic ripeness in the grapes.

On the lower lying land below, the soils are alluvial and the vineyards produce less-intense, more delicate styles of wine, unaffected by the intense sunlight of the slopes. The best sites are in areas with limestone soils, with a high proportion of stones to help drainage.

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