I do not have a sweet tooth. I almost always prefer savory meat dishes over desserts, but I must admit that the special treats that stand out in my mind are the ones that are sweet. Whether it was a woman making a wonderful spice cake at a street fair or my local hole-in-wall pastry/deli store that makes a great NYC style cheesecake, there is something special about these complex sugary pleasures that go beyond their savory counterparts.
Moscato d’Asti DOCG
Moscato d’Asti DOCG is one of those beautiful liquid delights with a strong sense of place which strictly adheres to a delimited production zone in Piedmont, Italy. It often gets overlooked as a high quality wine area since it has its more famous siblings Barbaresco and Barolo just to the west of it. Also, it is a wine that is approachable to the novice as well as more sophisticated wine drinker, not to mention the great value in price which makes it seem a non-elitist wine that deserve less attention. But in the end, we are not only missing out on one of the few artisan sweet wines left in the world that can be bought for less than 25 bucks, but we are missing out on a sweet wine that can be paired with an array of foods, from salty to sweet, due to the complex aromas, creamy sparkling texture and fresh flavors. This was evident by the Moscato d’Asti DOCG master class and lunch, conducted by the Consorzio dell’Asti DOCG, that I recently attended.
All Moscato Wines Are Not Created Equal
Moscato has become an extremely popular wine category, as many big brands are selling wines that are made from grapes coming from all over the world. Personally, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with making wines in massive quantities so consumers can buy wines at low price points. Everyone should be able to make the ritual of drinking wine a daily practice that helps to elevate one’s quality of life. But it is important to know that Moscato is a family of grapes which all have different qualities; the Moscato d’Asti DOCG wine uses specifically the Moscato Bianco variety that has a distinctively haunting floral note.
The Moscato d’Asti DOCG production zone is an extremely difficult area to farm with steep hills as high as 1969 feet (600 meters) in elevation – these vineyards have been protected and listed by UNESCO since 2014. Most of the vineyards are small and the growers are passionate farmers that hand harvest these grapes under grueling conditions. Many other Moscato wines on the market add bubbles through artificial carbonation, but the gentle bubbles in Moscato d’Asti DOCG are naturally created, by stopping fermentation, giving the wine a finer mousse.
Quality Needs Appreciation
How many times have we turned around and said, “What happened to that really great store?” It could have been a store that made handmade desserts, jewelry or clothes that was taken over by a major chain. Then we think back to the last time we bought something from them, and hang our heads in shame knowing that we took them for granted while they were there – we didn’t consistently support them the way we should have, and now they are gone. That is how I see the Moscato d’Asti DOCG wines – if we don’t appreciate that we can get something really special for only $15, as opposed to $7, then one day it may not make sense to keep farming these grapes under such extreme circumstances. But enough talking, let’s drink some Moscato d’Asti!
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2015 Coppo Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($13): This wine really stood out as being different from the others. It had a strong sage note with intense chalky minerality and dried apricots. The slightly savory quality in this wine would pair well with cookies or fruit based desserts helping to balance the sweetness.
2015 Saracco Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($14): Saracco is a star producer in the Moscato d’Asti world. There was a lightness of being to this wine that had an alluring aroma of orange blossom. A pairing of spicy shrimp was mentioned and I started to immediately salivate. The diversity of Moscato d’Asti wines really made me think that one could pair a different producer with various dishes during a multi-course lunch or dinner.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2015 Ceretto Moscato a’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($20): Ceretto has a famous uniquely shaped bottle that makes for fun conversation. This Moscato d’Asti gave notes of elderflower, autumn leaves and peach pie. A savory/sweet wine that I could envision eating with cheeses as well as figs wrapped in bacon.
2015 Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($22 or $14 for half bottle): This wine had an incredible creaminess on the palate with white peach flavors. I imagine that it would do best with the classic pairing of mortadella, a salty Italian sausage that has a creamy texture as well.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2013 Ceretto Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($50): 100% Nebbiolo. This wine does not make the over $50 price point, and it may be found for even less, but it tastes as if it costs over $50. We were treated to non-Moscato wines as well from these producers at this master class. One that stood out was this 2013 Barbaresco from Ceretto. Amazingly, it was very approachable at such a youthful age. It had wild red cherry flavors with hints of rose water and espresso that were all wrapped up with silky tannins that gave good structure while remaining accessible.