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Rediscovering Moscato Bianco

As you may have gleaned by now, I am a fan of sparkling wine. Whether it’s toasting a special occasion or sitting home by the fire with a book, a glass of bubbly always lifts my spirits and is a welcome treat.

Not long ago I visited the Piedmont region located in northwestern Italy. The focus of my trip was to re-acquaint my taste buds with the sparkling wines as well as the still wines of Asti. The Consortium of Asti and Moscato d’Asti, DOCG was our guide on this illuminating exploration.

The Moscato Bianco grape (Moscato is the Italian word for Muscat) is making a big comeback in the USA and abroad and taking its rightful place once again among the many styles of sparkling wine available on the market.  And I’m here to dispel the myth that it is just a sweet wine that should only be served at the dessert table. These are highly aromatic, light, refreshing, low alcohol wines that are fun to drink, but they are also very expressive, leaving one’s palate quite satisfied.

Moscato Bianco grapes. Photo courtesy of Moscato d'Asti.

Although Moscato Bianco is grown in every Italian region, it is mainly associated with Piedmont where it is believed to have its origins dating back to the 13th century as documented in the statues of the village of Canelli, a subzone in the province of Asti. 

Many historic wineries are located in Canelli that include Gancia, Coppo and Contratta. In fact, it was Carlo Gancia who in 1865 created Spumante Italiano, making it the birthplace of Asti Spumante. (Spumante means ‘sparkling wine’ in Italian.)

Canelli and Santo Stefano Belbo were the most important production centers and from these towns, Moscato Bianco vines were shipped worldwide. The “Consorzio per la Tutela dell’ASTI’ (Consortium for the Protection of Asti wines) was formed in 1932 to protect, develop and promote Asti DOCG and Moscato d’Asti DOCG in Italy and worldwide. 

Photo credit:  Penny Weiss

Asti DOCG and Moscato d’Asti DOCG are produced in 52 communes within Piedmont. Moscato Bianco vineyards span an area of about 9,800 hectares divided among 3,700 wineries and producers.

Asti landscape. Photo courtesy of Moscato d'Asti

Part of the focus of the Consortium is quality control and protection against counterfeit wine. They have an impressive research lab that “promotes and coordinates specific scientific studies and innovative technologies to ​continuously improve the production process as a whole”.  As we toured the lab we were told that due to climate change and the weather getting warmer each year they are working in the lab to find ways to compensate and adapt the vines to climate change. In addition to all this, 15 samples are taken from each vineyard to determine when grapes should be harvested. Harvest time is crucial as the sugar, acidity and aromatic components must be in perfect balance and harmony before grapes are picked. Once this is established the grapes must be handpicked immediately.

With the end of World War ll, Asti Spumante became very popular in the United States as soldiers returned home with these light, sweet wines. However, with its popularity came the demand for more wine. And so bulk production ensued and quality went downhill. An abundance of poorly made Asti Spumante was exported and subsequently got a bad reputation as a low-quality sweet wine. Moscato Asti received DOCG status in 1993 and the word “Spumante” was eliminated, although you might still see “Asti Spumante” on many wine labels. Today, Asti wines are refined, not cloyingly sweet and they retain the classic aromas and flavors of the Moscato Bianco grape that include floral, a profusion of fruit such as fresh grapes, mandarin orange, peach, apricot, Meyer lemon and musk. Wine producers are more careful with production and as Luigi Coppo of Coppo Winery said, “It is time to take Moscato Bianco seriously as wine. Our objective is to transfer the aromatics of the grape to the bottle. It is known as a dessert wine, but it is made as a sparkling wine.”

The Moscato Bianco grapevines are planted on hills at an average of 200 to 300 meters above sea level with some elevations that are more than 500 meters. Ancient chalky soils, microclimates and sun exposure adds character to these terroir-driven wines.

The three types of DOCG Moscato wines produced are Asti Dolce DOCG, Asti Secco DOCG and Moscato D’Asti DOCG.

Asti Dolce DOCG received DOCG recognition in 1993. The grape variety must be 100% Moscato Bianco with a maximum yield of 100 quintals (10 tons) of grapes per hectare. The average alcohol content is usually between 7% and 9%. This sparkling wine is a harmonious balance of sweet and acidity with classic aromas and flavors of grapes, acacia blossom, orange, honey, spice and fine and persistent foam.

Asti Secco DOCG received DOCG recognition in 2017. It is the “dry” version of Asti Dolce but still retains all the classic characteristics of the grape.  The grape variety must be 100% Moscato Bianco with a maximum yield of 100 quintals (10 tons) of grapes per hectare.  The average alcohol content is allowed up to 11%.  Typical aromas and flavors are fruity with apple, pear, lavender, sage and acacia along with fine and persistent foam.

Moscato d’Asti received DOCG recognition in 1993. The grape variety must be 100% Moscato Bianco with a maximum yield of 100 quintals (10 tons) of grapes per hectare.  Unlike the full sparkling Asti wines, Moscato d’Asti can be made still or less effervescent with a hint of frizzante (fizz) and is therefore not considered a sparkling wine. It has lower alcohol content and can be no more than 5.5% alcohol by law. These wines are delicate, lightly sweet and have intense musky aromas with characteristic flavors of floral, peach, apricot, sage, lemon and orange blossom.
Here are just a few of the memorable wines that I tasted.

Matteo Soria Bric Prima Bella Asti DOCG Extra Dry 2017 has a beautiful perlage that is fine and persistent.  Fragrant aromas of floral, acacia and a hint of citrus segue onto the palate with a dry and aromatic finish.  This is a perfect sparkling wine to serve with appetizers and main course.

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Coppo Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti Canelli DOCG 2019 is a light, sweet wine with floral and stone fruit aromas. It is fresh with floral and peach on the palate. Serve with an assortment of cheese and desserts.
Alcohol: 4.81%

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Cascina Cerutti Surì Sandrinet Moscato d’Asti DOCG Canelli; This is a delightfully fragrant wine with notes of flowers, peach and citrus. The palate offers a light effervescent mouthfeel with fresh grapes, floral and a hint of sage. This is a great wine to pair with cheese, appetizers and fruit.
Alcohol: 4.83%

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Acquesi Asti DOCG; This is a good example of an Asti Dolce wine. It is very aromatic with a palate of fresh fruit, white flowers, peaches, lemon zest and a hint of honeydew melon. It offers persistent and creamy bubbles with a lively and easy finish. Use your imagination in pairing this wine with food!
Alcohol: 7%

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

I tasted a multitude of wines while in Asti and I was impressed not only by the quality and flavor, but these are also food-friendly wines that will pair beautifully with a variety of appetizers, main courses, and desserts as well as being enjoyed as an aperitif. Don’t let the sweetness scare you! Be adventurous! 

Also, these sparkling wines are great to make cocktails with. While visiting Martini and Rossi Winery, I was served a refreshing cocktail made with Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Bitter Liqueur topped off with their Asti sparkling wine. Perfection!

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Have some fun and try the different styles of Moscato wine!

Until next time...

Cheers!

Penny

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