If there is one dessert wine that seems to have universal appeal, it is Moscato d’Asti. Soda pop for grown-ups, it is certifiably delicious even when it is not at its best.
Moscato d’Asti was born out of the tradition of Asti Spumante, or just simply Asti, which is also made from muscat canelli, aka muscat a petit grains. For centuries, sparkling moscato has been a claim to fame in Piedmont. It was used as a substitute for Champagne during the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out many French vineyards.
Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante shared the DOC that was granted in 1967 and was promoted to DOCG in 1994. What differentiates the two is that Moscato d’Asti is frizzante-style, meaning it is has finer bubbles than Asti Spumante. The reality is that a lot of Asti Spumante is incredibly mass-produced, while Moscato d’Asti is generally made in smaller quantities and is of higher quality. Most of the fruit is from the towns of Alessandria and Cuneo in Asti though the geographic perimeter of the DOCG covers a vast area of southern Piedmont that goes far beyond Asti.
An aromatic wonder — with floral, stone, citrus and apple fruit qualities — one of its greatest appeals is its low alcohol. That might not sound too great to a few of you, but on a hot day, or at the end of a long meal, it can absolutely hit the spot. As mentioned, there are a lot of tasty versions made, but here are three personal favorites.
Rizzi Moscato d’Asti, 2010: The Rizzi estate in Barbaresco is known for its red wines, but it also has some of the oldest Moscato vineyards in Piedmont that were planted in the ’40s and ’50s. Since Rizzi is not properly equipped for sparkling wine production, the grapes are sent to Vittorio Bera and Figli, who also produces an astonishing Moscato d’Asti under their own label. Absolutely delightful with honey, apricots, peaches, golden delicious apples and white cherries, this is a dessert in itself. Suggested retail: $15
La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti, 2010: Founded in the 1940s by Redento Dogliotti, most of La Caudrina’s production was sold off until the late 1970s, when they became one of the first independent producers of Moscato d’Asti. A special cuvee, La Galeisa, was introduced in 1979 and a high-quality, small-production Asti Spumanti, La Selvatica, was first made in 1994. With fresh apricot, peach, nectarine and citrus fruit that leaves a ridiculously long finish, you cannot go wrong with this wine either as it is a fantastic expression of Moscato d’Asti. Suggested retail: $18
La Morandina Moscato d’Asti, 2010: La Morandina specializes in Moscato d’Asti production though they also make several red wines. A nearly 200-year-old estate, it takes it names from the original — and only owners — the Morando family. Organic viticulture has been practiced for three decades and the wines have been commercially produced since 1988. More minerally than some of its compadres, it nonetheless has the signature stone-fruit-quality of muscat with hints of orange blossoms and apples. Suggested retail: $22
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.