Don't confuse Moscato d'Asti with Asti wine. One is 'frizzante' the other one is 'spumante'. Both bubbles, but very different ones. Are you still following my Italian? Find out about my tour to Moscato d'Asti DOCG region and learn how this semi-sparkling wine is produced in Piedmont.
What does 'frizzante' stand for?
Frizzante is an Italian term to differentiate the level of 'bubbliness' in wine. To make it clear, it means semi-sparkling. Moscato d'Asti is a semi-sparkling wine, that undergoes only one fermentation (comparing to 'metodo classico' wines with the second fermentation in bottle). Therefore, bubbles are milder, there is quite a lot of residual sugar left (around 100 g/l), which leads to low alcohol level as well. 5,5 % is the maximum limit for Moscato d'Asti wine.
Meanwhile Asti DOC wine is a fully sparkling wine from the same part of Piedmont region - Asti.
History of the appellation
The Italian Moscato wine has quite an interesting story to tell. Originally winemakers were producing this wine for themselves, not for any kind of trade! As the alcohol level is low and bubbles are not that strong, this was an ideal wine to drink during the 'working day' without getting drunk (as water wasn't an option those times). While in the evening they used Moscato as a 'digestivo' - to clean the palate after the meal and before the dessert.
Meanwhile, there are some serious statistics behind the Moscato wine as well. The grape variety - Muscat A Petit Grains or Moscato Bianco is around a thousand years older than Cabernet Sauvignon. It's one of the oldest grapes grown in Piedmont and the modern way of production begun in 1870.
Grapes and terroir of Moscato d'Asti DOCG zone
The wine must be made of 100% Moscato Bianco variety. The grape is known to be very aromatic and sweet, and highly hunted by bees and birds. Many times you might see producers covering their vineyards with nets to protect the harvest.
The typical aromas of Moscato wine are peaches, orange blossom, honeysuckle, lemon, pear, mandarin. Moscato d'Asti is a perfect choice for light drinkers. It's sweet (100 g sugar per liter) but thanks to the bubbly structure you won't feel it too sweet (like one would feel with a glass of Tokaji wine). It's also light in alcohol, again lighter than most of the sweet wines (Port, Sherry, Tokaji, Sauternes) and reaches maximum 5,5 % abv.
Geography and climate
Moscato d'Asti comes from the Asti zone within Piedmont, as the name suggests. The area was under the sea millions of years ago. As the sea was retreating it left calcareous sediments, sand and limestone to the future Moscato wine producers. The climate is mild - the Ligurian coast is just 70 km away to the south, while the Alps are a bit away and surround the Piemonte region from west to north.
Therefore, the soils are a blend of sand, clay or limestone (depending on the vineyard) and calcareous sediments. The higher you go to the hills, the more rocky it becomes.
How is Moscato d'Asti wine produced?
Moscato d'Asti goes through one fermentation only (unlike sparkling wines made with 'metodo classico'). During my tour in Asti all the wineries I visited used the Charmat-Marinotti method, which in simple words translates to 'tank method'.
Moscato Bianco is an early ripening variety. Harvest here is in the beginning of September. Naturally the variety is very aromatic, but it's not so easy to preserve the fresh fruits and bloom during fermentation. That's why wineries in Moscato d'Asti zone choose the following workflow:
The grapes are harvested manually and transported in small baskets to the vineyard, so that berries are not crushed under the weight of clusters on top of them.
Berries are gently pressed at the winery and kept in cooling vats under -1,5 °C, so that the fermentation doesn't begin.
Moscato d'Asti is a wine to drink fresh (within a year after bottling). So reputable producers vinify only one tank at a time, bottle and sell the wine. After all is sold, they vinify another tank and so on. This way, when you buy a bottle of Moscato d'Asti you are sure that's its' fresh, the bubbles are present, the fruits are not jammy.
So tank per tank the crushed berries are vinified at autoclave at a controlled temperature. As the grape contains lots of sugar it's extremely important to control the speed of yeasts transforming sugar to alcohol.
The fermentation is stopped by cooling temperature at 5-5,5 % abv.
Afterwards depending on the producer, the wine is either filtered and bottled, or left to rest on lees for some months, to add complexity in aromas and palate.
Curious to find out what wines I tasted in Castagnole delle Lanze at Gianni Doglia? Check out the next article!