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Moscato d’Asti: The Sparkling Side of Piedmont

Hillside vineyards of Asti, bathed in the golden afternoon light of early winter.

At the foot of the Alps in northwest Italy, neighboring on Barbaresco and close to Barolo, the Asti DOCG region is located in the lower left corner of Piedmont. The territory is UNESCO protected, reflecting the distinct “sense of place” expressed in its wines. Although it is a relatively tiny area, there is a lot of diversity in the soil composition and climate, which leads to different terroirs.

Asti is home to some of the steepest vineyards in the world, with slope gradients over 50%. Termed “heroic agriculture” all hillside vineyard work is done by hand. The majority of winemakers grew up watching their grandfathers work out thru trial and error what areas of the hillsides would be suitable for grape cultivation. Most plots of land are 4 hectares or smaller; in fact, 60% of producers have less then 2 hectares of vines. In total, there are 9,700 hectares planted with Moscato Bianco, across 52 communes and 3 provinces.

The cultivated areas are very specific, from those super steep hillsides to the lower valleys, which additionally contribute distinct characteristics. The steep sites [200-600 meters above sea level] are known for their limestone and sandy soils, which bestow a delicate, airy edge, whilst the lower vineyards have sedimentary soils resulting in more concentration and richness of flavour. The marine soils, from ancient sea beds are rich in calcium and gives good acidity to the wines.

Moscato d’Asti is made only from the Moscato Bianco grape. Cultivated since ancient Roman times, it is the variety from which all other varieties of Moscato [there are hundreds of types!] derive from. Its cultivation in Piedmont has been documented back to 1510. One of the many reasons for its lengthy history is that Moscato Bianco has the highest level of Terpenes of all the Moscato varieties. Terpenes are organic compounds found in certain plants that have an aromatic quality, used for a variety of biological purposes.  They range greatly in aroma from fruit and floral to woodsy and herbaceous, which makes Moscato d’Asti highly aromatic and gives it its renowned floral, peach and sage aromas.

In addition to the incredibly difficult cultivation, Moscato Bianco has a very short, precise harvest timeframe. If picked too late, then the wine will be too sweet, picked early, then it will be too acidic. Harvest has to be at the exact right moment to get perfect balance of sugar, aroma and acidity. It’s not just the growers checking constantly for this precise time, the Asti DOCG Consorzio also monitors the growing cycle for the exact moment of correct ripeness.

Frozen Moscato Bianco grapes, a simple snack elevated by the natural, honeyed sweetness.

One of my favourite features of Moscato d’Asti is that it is produced naturally; without the addition of sugar or CO2. The gently sparkling bubbles are generated during the natural fermentation process, and the sweetness in the wine comes directly from the natural sugars inherent in the grape.

Asti Secco, a less sweet wine with more persistent bubbles, was introduced in 2017, although the style actually dates back to 1900. The wines are less sweet; residual sugar levels are 17-30 G/L compared to 90-100 G/L of Moscato d’Asti. As the wine gets drier, sugar decreases and the alcohol level increases. Moscati d’Asti alcohol hovers right around 5%, Asti Secco tends to be around 11% alcohol. Delicately dry, with balancing acidity and a creamy texture, this super food friendly wine will be launched in Italy in 2019. It is a wine for every day, to be enjoyed on its own, as an aperitif or with a wide variety of dishes.

Launch of Moscato d’Asti Secco, by Director of the Consorzio Tutella dell’Asti Giorgio Bosticco, Italian Wine Specialist Walter Speller and Presdent of the Consorzio Tutella dell’Asti, Romano Dogliotti. The informative, engaging event was held at the stunning Castello Gancia in Canelli, Piedmont.

The majority of Moscato d’Asti winemakers are prominent producers of renowned Barolo and fresh Barbera d’Asti.  Moscato was traditionally a wine that they made for the family and kept to themselves.  These producers tend to make highly respected, acclaimed wines.  The same care and high quality is seen in Moscato d’Asti wines.

Renowned Barolo winemaker GianPiero Scavino of the legendary Ceretto estate, with their acclaimed Moscato d’Asti.

With a wide range of flavors such as fresh, juicy peach, apricot, mango, herbs, minerals and tropical flowers, Moscato d’Asti wines are super food friendly. High acidity balances out sweet notes and further contributes to its food friendliness. While typically paired with deserts, it is exceptional alongside salty, smoky and rich foods.

Over the course of 4 days in Asti, I enjoyed Moscato d’Asti and Asti Secco with a wide selection of cheese, from rich and creamy to sharp and tangy, decadent egg yolk pasta with truffles, velvety risotto and luscious desserts like tiramisu and hazelnut cake with zabaglione. Both are truly versatile sparklers that pair with an extensive array of dishes!

A range of traditional Piemonte cheese I immensely enjoyed with Moscato d’Asti and Asti Secco.

Below are 5 wines that I think are absolutely stellar examples of Moscato d’Asti:

Araldica Asti Secco DOCG 2018
Ripe stone fruits and solid fizzy bubbles glide over a clean mineral core, a trace of wild flowers accents the dry, refreshing finish. Light, fruity and fresh, incredibly gluggable and a fantastic companion with so many dishes.
11% Alcohol

Ceretto ‘I Vignaioli di Santo Stefano’ Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2018
Mineral driven, with delicate stone fruits and citrus buoyed on peppy bubbles. A lively play between sweetness and acidity accents the wonderfully dry finish. Engaging and genteel, always one of my favourite expressions of Moscato d’Asti.
5.5% Alcohol

Gozzelino ‘Bruno’ Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2018
Very aromatic, with lush layers of tropical fruit and flowers. Bursting with fresh apricot, peach, mango and honeysuckle that are buoyed by soft fizz and balancing acidity. An herbaceous nuance highlights the returning fruit and floral notes lingering between each sip. Fresh, juicy and luscious, like liquid sunshine.
6% Alcohol

Bocchino Giuseppe Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2017
Fresh red apple, peach, apricot and sweet orange are framed by herbs, bright acidity and light fizz. Honey and wild flowers linger between each golden sip. A perfect balance of sweetness and acidity; give this a try this with salty foods, such as sheep cheeses and cured meats.
5.5% Alcohol

Casa Vinicola Abbazia di San Gaudenzio Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2017
Delicate melon, summer herbs and honeysuckle are draped in soft bubbles, honey drizzled fruit lingers lightly between each sip. A gossamer, elegant example of Moscato Bianco.
5.5% Alcohol

3 comments on “Moscato d’Asti: The Sparkling Side of Piedmont

  1. Great post. I’m so glad that you took the time to publish some of the technical data that they shared with us during the trip. That’s key, in my view, to understanding Moscato d’Asti and dispelling the many misconceptions about the wines. I’m so glad I finally got to connect with you (in realtime) on this trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Jeremy! I wanted to bring attention to some specific details, but not get weighed down by them either. I’m so honored that you like it! Yes, after years of online friends, it’s fantastic to be real friends 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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