Asti is an Italian sparkling wine (once known as Asti Spumante) produced in the south-eastern area of Piedmont. With a particular focus around the towns of Asti and Alba. Since 1993 the wine has been classified as DOCG and is one of Italy's largest producing appellation. Asti is important to the Piedmont, producing on an average more than 7-8 times that of the more well-known red wine Barolo - *(with 66 million bottles of Asti sold in 2012).
Asti is crafted from the Moscato Bianco grape varietal, and is typically a sweet sparkling wine, low in alcohol and often served with fresh dessert. Asti sparkling wine is not made through the use of secondary fermentation in the bottle but rather through a single tank fermentation using the Charmat method.
Another sparkling wine called Moscato d'Asti is made in the region from the same varietal, but only slightly sparkling (frizzante) and tends to have lower alcohol. The fermentation process is stopped earlier than Asti, retaining sugars and resulting in lower alcohol levels.
The Moscato Bianco grape varietal has a long history in Piedmont and along with Nebbiolo, may be one of the oldest grapes in the region. However, the production of sparkling Asti is relatively recent, with the first sparkling Asti believed to have been produced around 1850 by Carlo Gancia who studied the Champagne method. Producing his sparkling wine in the town of Canelli, it grew in popularity that Moscato Bianco developed the synonym of Moscato Canelli that can be found on labels today.
Asti can be made in the same traditional method used for Champagne - where the wines undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Though today, typically they are made in a larger, more commercial method, in which the wine is allowed to go through fermentation in a large stainless tank. Since the 1950’s the increasing demand saw many producers turn to bulk wine production using the Charmat method which makes the wine sparkling through a closed fermentation in a tank versus a secondary fermentation the individual bottle. When the wine was promoted to DOCG status in 1993, producers sought to distinguish themselves and improve their reputation and dropped the use of Spumante in favour of the shortened name Asti. Along with the name change, came a change in style; with several producers creating more modern styles of Asti that are less sweet, retaining natural acidity and having more ripe fruit flavours. Recently some Asti winemakers have again taken to producing their wines in the Method Traditionnelle or Champagne method with second fermentation in the bottle.
Under Italian wine laws, Asti DOCG must be made from 100% Moscato Bianco, with grapes harvested at yields not greater than 10 tonnes/ hectare. The finished wine must be fermented to a minimum alcohol that varies depending on the vintage, between 7-9.5%.
After the grapes are harvested, they are crushed and pressed, with the must transferred to large tanks where the temperature is lowered to just above freezing in order to prevent fermentation starting. The tanks are sealed, pressurized and then the temperature is increased to allow fermentation to begin. The cooled grape juice is brought to temperatures around 20°C, which triggers the alcoholic fermentation with selected yeasts selected for special characteristics. Within the tanks the carbon dioxide by-product of fermentation is trapped, dissolving into the wine and creating the steady stream of the bubbles.
Fermentation is allowed to continue until the wine has reached between 7-9.5% Alc and between 3-5% residual sugar and a pressure of 5-6 bars (about 80psi) and a substantial residual sugar. The wine is then chilled to stop fermentation before being sent to a centrifuge that filters and removes all yeast from the wine to prevent fermentation from resuming in the bottle. The wine is then bottled, labelled and shipped. The patron saint of Asti is the ‘San Secondo’ horse that can be found on labels as a seal of quality. Most Asti is not vintage-dated, however the large consumption and quick turnover of the wine usually means that the wines on the market are from the most recent vintage. Asti is typically a sweet sparkling wine, with over 50g/L of residual sugar. So serving Asti with appetizers is not common - try keeping it chilled until the end of your meal and pair it with fresh fruit and dessert.