Perhaps the gateway wine for future oenophiles, Moscato d’Asti is easy on almost every palate.
I often call it the sprite or 7up of the wine world while holding it in the highest light. It is always slightly sweet and has a sparkle that not only catches the eye but also tickles the palate in the finest way. Ladies love it; men buy it because they know ladies love it. And it is my mother’s favorite drink. Its name is Moscato d’Asti. Some look down upon this beautifully sweet spritzer because of its meager price tag and ubiquitous pretty bottles and labels. But the wine is much more than a pretty label. It is terrifically refreshing, quite versatile with food and the gateway wine for the uninitiated palate.
Moscato d’Asti comes from the Piedmont region of northeastern Italy. It is grown in and around the three major communes of Cuneo, Alessandria and, of course, Asti. There is only one grape that goes into the production of Moscato aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (that’s French for Moscato). It shares the name Asti with another famous wine “Asti,” which is what one would call fully sparkling or “spumante.” Moscato d’Asti, on the other hand, is lower in pressure—four atmospheres for Asti and about one atmosphere for Moscato d’Asti. Think “Asti” as being more like Champagne and Moscato d’Asti being more like a soft drink or beer if you like. Italians have a special and sexy word for Moscato: frizzante! That word makes me want to open a bottle just to hear its bubbles sizzle in the glass, especially if you rrr-oll your “r.”
Moscato d’Asti has its own production method, quite uniquely called the “Asti Method.” The grapes are harvested at peak ripeness then pressed. The juice is then settled and filtered at very low temperatures, around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, in temperature-controlled, stainless-steel tanks. As the fermentation begins, the yeast begins to metabolize the sugar, turning it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. But instead of allowing all of the carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, the tank captures some of the fizz and keeps it in the wine until it is opened. The finished wine is anywhere between 5-7 percent alcohol and about one atmosphere of pressure for a sparkle. Most finished “dry” wines are typically around 12-14 percent alcohol. But for Moscato d’Asti, the yeast does not metabolize all of the sugar, thereby leaving it with a healthy amount of residual sugar that gives us that delicious sweetness that we love.
Admittedly, when I first started drinking and tasting wine, I gravitated toward the sweet ones. German Riesling and Moscato d’Asti were my wines of choice. They were part of my first-ever wine class (The Introductory Course for the Court of Master Sommeliers). And these were the wines that got me hooked on wine. And I bet that for most people that have not had wine, Moscato d’Asti would be the perfect introduction to wine for them. Along with being lower in alcohol and sweet, it has gregarious tropical fruit aromas. They remind me of rose-apple, lychee, freshly squeezed white grapes, mountain-apple and tangerine. It boasts an exotic floral scent as well, leading with jasmine, pua keni keni and orange blossoms. It is airy and light, more than refreshing not only because of the bubbles but because it is utterly gulp-able. I would call it a
Some would not consider it a “serious” wine, but we have enough of those that span back centuries. Moscato d’Asti is about having joyous occasions at any time of the day. We don’t have to wait for dark to pop open a chilled bottle. Sunday brunch is a perfect occasion. It is versatile when it comes to food as well. Most think that because it is sweet, it is only good with desserts. True, that it is a terrific pair with fresh fruit driven desserts—I had it once with a guava tart with whipped cream that made me wonder what could be better. Sorbets and light cakes (like those on birthdays) and even cheesecake are a serious delight. But try Moscato d’Asti with spicy curries, and you will be blown away. Even paired with salad served with a fruity vinaigrette would name a nice foil for Moscato d’Asti.
There are many varieties available. Some are just syrup with bubbles and might as well come in a can. But some offer real quality and balance in the glass. My favorite producers are Saracco, Brandini and La Spinetta. Saracco’s style is opulent, tropical and in-your-face delicious. It is the only one given a 90-point rating from The Wine Advocate. Brandini is more refined, elegant and airy; it lifts your spirits like a hot-air balloon. La Spinetta crafts two di?erent ones: Bricco Quaglia and Biancospino. These are both very special as they are single vineyards. Who makes single vineyard Moscato d’Asti? Giorgio Rivetti at La Spinetta. The Bricco Quaglia is the more luscious of the two, whereas the Biancospino has more restraint and is slightly higher in acidity and lower in perceived sweetness. They are both some of the best Moscato d’Asti you can find.