Muscat was being grown and made into wine in the Mediterranean region when Plato and Aristotle were still in kid-size togas. The Greek natural historian Pliny the Elder called Muscat "the bee's grape," and some linguists think that the name might be derived from the Latin musca, meaning fly. Both bees and flies are attracted to this variety's ripe, grapy scent. I have to admit I am, too.
Muscat is hard to resist, easy to like, and usually a breeze to afford. Lighter Muscats are eminently slurpable and way tastier than supermarket wine coolers, while the stronger, fortified versions make fabulous dessert wines. There are several subvarieties of the Muscat grape, but the oldest and finest is the small-berried type, known in French as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. This superior Muscat also goes by a confusion of other names: Muscat de Frontignan in the south of France, Muscat Canelli in California, and Moscato Bianco in Italy.
Although Greece is its spiritual homeland, Muscat long ago worked its way around the globe. These three Muscats are from widely diverse parts of the world, but they're all wines that any good citizen of ancient Athens or Rome would instantly recognize ... and proceed to quaff posthaste.
Nivole Moscato d'Asti Michele Chiarlo 2001 ($12)
In Italy, the Muscat grape is the basis for the frothy sparkling wine formerly known as Asti Spumante and now labeled simply as Asti, but it can also be found in a more refined, less fizzy version. Labeled varietally as Moscato d'Asti, this fine wine is more spritzy than foamy, and is generally handcrafted, as opposed to the mass-produced Asti. (For every bottle of Moscato d'Asti made, 25 bottles of Asti are cranked out.)