Travelling to Asti Wine Region. Secrets behind 'frizzante' wine from Moscato d'Asti DOCG
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
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 is 'frizzante' wine?
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.
Vine variety 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.
Moscato wine tasting tour at Gianni Doglia
So after my extensive research among Moscato d'Asti producers I found one that year after year wins Gambero Rosso glasses (bicchieri) for its' Casa di Bianca wine. Ready to discover another vineyard from Northern Italy? Follow me on my Moscato d'Asti tour below.
My morning started way before the Moscato tasting at Gianni Doglia, as I had to arrive to Castagnole delle Lanze comune by bus and then take a 40 min walk up to the hill. Not being sarcastic, really, what can be better than doing a morning hike being surrounded by vineyards drowning in fog? Yes, it was raining, but I had an umbrella :)
As most of the modern winemakers in Piemonte region, Gianni comes from a family that has been producing wine for a few generations. Well, they've been farmers and wine was one of the products they sold. Besides that - fruit trees, hazelnuts and probably cattle.
When Gianni took over the winery in 1995, he, first of all, transformed it to a winery from a farm. His dream was to make the best Moscato d'Asti wine ever, and... he might have achieved it. In order to do it, he divided the production by two - the single-vineyard Moscato cru and the classical Moscato wine. In figures - ten thousand against fifty thousand bottles.
Today the business consists of 12 hectares, 10 ha in Castagnole delle Lanze and 2 ha in Nizza. Besides their signature Moscato wines, they also produce Favorita, Grignolino, Ruche, Barbera and Barbera d'Asti. They're lucky with the soil - it's a mix between Langhe Neive and Monferrato. Therefore, calcareous, sandy, clay soil, with more rocky in Nizza as the elevation raises.
Wines we tasted at Gianni Doglia
So we'll start from white, evolve to light reds (almost rose), get serious with Barbera and just like winemakers in good old days - clean our palates with Moscato d'Asti.
Langhe Favorita - Favorita is a very rare white wine variety that most probably arrived to Piedmont from the neighbouring Liguria. In the past it was a very important white grape, then from 19th to 20th century it was actively used as table grape, and after the II World War it was totally abandoned. It's 'recovery' started in the 70's, as history kept notes of its' potential to produce great wine. So this almost extinct grape thrives on Langhe and Roero hills, it's not very acid, has pale straw colour, very fragrant, floral and fruity, with strong notes of rennet apples.
Grignolino d'Asti - Grignolino is another obscure wine variety, known to be the little cousin of Nebbiolo. It doesn't have so much tannin and structure, it's more like a rose than red. A fruity red for those who don't like 'heavy' red wines. It's also not that high on alcohol (12,5 % abv) and is full of palate-cleansing fruity notes.
The grapes macerate 2-3 days on skins with constant pumping over. Afterwards the fermentation is finished 'in white', so without the skins and pips. Grignolino goes well with fish and seafood, as its' acidity cleans the palate quite well. Rose, violet and strawberry notes will amaze you if you serve the wine after cooling for 30 min in the fridge.
Barbera d'Asti Bosco Donne - the berries are pressed and undergo 8 days of maceration. Once the fermentation in stainless steel is over the wine is left to clarify with static decantation until end of winter. Then the wine will be resting until beginning of summer when it's bottled and after another 6 months of bottle ageing it's ready to drink.
This is a more structured wine, rich and round with blackberry, violet, rose and cherry notes. Barbera is another acidic red wine of Piedmont which ensures it tastes fresh after years of ageing.
Nizza DOCG Viti Vecchie - the grapes come from a 50 years old Barbera vineyard in Nizza town. It's located higher than Lanze, so harvest is later, almost end of September. The soil is rocky here.
The berries are crushed and left for maceration for 15 days. Then the wine is drawn off and placed in barriques for 18-24 months, after which the wine rests in stainless steel for another 6 months. Following the bottling the wine ages in bottle for 6 months and is ready to drink. Notes of ripe red fruits, cherries, some spices like white pepper. Nizza DOCG wine is suitable for 5 years ageing.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG - the classical Moscato of Gianni Doglia, which makes half of his overall productuion (50 000 out of 100 000 bottles). I described the vinification of Moscato above. The wine has intense aromas of jasmine, orange blossom, sage, mint, peach, apricot, pineapple and pear. It's slightly sparkling, frizzante and has a persistent finish. It's 5 % abv.
Moscato d'Asti Casa di Bianca - the single vineyard cru from Gianni Doglia in a limited edition of 10 000 bottles. The name comes from Gianni's great-aunt that lived in a small house on the field, that is usually used for storing machinery for harvest. After she died the house was destroyed and the field was planted with Moscato Bianco vines. So Gianni's best wine comes from this vineyard.
This wine can age well, the more you leave it in the bottle the better it gets. Vertical tasting of 2009-2013-2017 vintages showed how the wine from 2009 and 2013 evolved. There weren't too much bubbles, but new shades of honey, sage, peach appeared.
When young (as I tasted it) it's more floral than fruity, with elegant and pronounced honey notes.
Planning your trip to the wine region of Moscato d'Asti? How about trying some Barolo and Gavi wine nearby? Ask me anything about wine tasting tours and wineries to visit in Piedmont and Northern Italy!