Moscato d'Asti is a ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita’ (DOCG) sparkling white wine produced in the province of Asti, north-west Italy, and in small nearby regions in the provinces of Alessandria and Cuneo. This unique wine is sweet in style and low in alcohol, and can be enjoyed as an aperitif, but more commonly with desserts and fresh fruit. Thus in Italy it is considered a dessert wine. Crafted from the Moscato Bianco grape varietal, and is a related wine to Asti, which is produced in the same area from the same grape.
Moscato d’Asti is typically made by small producers in small parcels, from grape grown in the hilltop town of Asti in Montferrat, in the Piedmont region. Moscato is believed to have been given its name because of its earthy musk aroma when made into traditional still wines.
The Romans called it Apiana - (which is Latin for bees, as they are strongly attracted to the grapes). In the Medieval ages, it was very popular, with the first documents referring to its presence in Piedmont dating back to the 14th century.
Today Piedmont winemakers traditionally make this sweet, low alcohol wine with Muscat à Petits Grains, also known as Moscato Bianco. This small berry grape varietal ripens early and produces a wide range of wine styles from: light and dry, slightly sweet and sparkling or a rich, honey-like rich dessert wines which can age.
Moscato Bianco is considered one of the oldest grapes grown in this region. Although Moscato has been grown and made in the area for some time, the modern production of Moscato d’Asti as it is known today began in the 1870s. The style of wine is made in the frizzante (semi-sparkling) style, Moscato d'Asti was the wine which winemakers generally made for their own enjoyment. This low-alcohol wine could be drunk at lunch or the middle of the day with meals and would not slow the winemaker down or their workers. After the workday - there is a Piemontese tradition of long, multi-course evening meals which gave Moscato d'Asti the purpose of a digestif - that cleansed and refreshed the palate and stimulated the palate for dessert - where it was also paired and enjoyed.
The Piedmont region where pockets of Moscato Bianco are grown has the perfect blend of limestone and sandstone soils which provide ideal moisture retention and lifted flavours and aromas to the grapes. The grapes are harvested at their optimal brix level and then on arrival into the winery they are gently crushed. The must is chilled almost to the point of freezing to halt the fermentation process until the time is right.
Fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank ‘autoclave’ - ideal to preserve the natural CO2 produced from the fermentation process. Fermentation is stopped at 5 - 5.5% Alc by reducing the temperature. Typically, there is no malolactic fermentation which is designed to preserve natural acidity (to balance with the levels of residual sugar), plus to express varietal fruit characters and freshness. Again this can vary, but typically the wine is then held at cool temperatures in stainless steel tanks until time for bottling.
By DOCG law, Moscato d’Asti can only be a maximum of 5.5% Alc - so the fermentation process is stopped which results in a high level of natural sugars left in the finished wine. Unlike Champagne, there is no ‘secondary fermentation’ allowed inside the bottle. Right before bottling, the Moscato d’Asti goes through a filtration process that leaves the wine with a translucent pale straw and lime colour. Best served and enjoyed in a flute at 6-9°C.