Moscato d'Asti and Asti Docg, the sweet side of Piedmont
- Written by Giancarlo Gariglio
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Moscato d'Asti and Asti: two sides of the same gold medallion
In the world of wine, great vintages that ultimately make waves in the news are talked about repeatedly, almost exclusively. It's as though a journalist who writes about cars only writes about Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Porsche. However, just because a person doesn’t drive a Ferrari doesn’t mean he drives nothing at all. Likewise, the vast selection of this world’s wine makes it a drink to be enjoyed by everyone, not just connoisseurs. And this characteristic should not be forgotten. Indeed, wine’s great drinkability in its many forms, from table wine to something sung through the ages, should be an integral part of it, emphasized and encouraged. Popularity with the masses is not necessarily derogatory; on the contrary, the term "pop" is something to appreciate. Take the Moscato, a wine with one of the highest pop-culture values on the planet, its rise in popularity coinciding with the number of times US rappers name-drop it in their songs. Its particular vinification style creates wines of disarming simplicity that have yet complex aromas and a unique organoleptic value, wines that are enjoyed by everyone.
Moscato’s land of choice is Piedmont, in particular three of this zone's southern regions, for a total of 25 communities that make up parts of Cuneo, Asti, and Alessandria. The territory is compact, with the exception of Serralunga and Santa Vittoria d'Alba that were added as production zones more than 50 years ago thanks to two large wine estates that are based in the territory, Fontanafredda and Cinzano.
The term "pop" is something to appreciate. Take the Moscato, a wine with one of the highest pop-culture values on the planet, its rise in popularity coinciding with the number of times US rappers name-drop it in their songs.
In Piedmont, Moscato makes two different wines: Moscato and Asti Spumante. They are quite different from each other, and not just for the different corks that stopper them - Moscato using the so-called tappo raso, or the standard cork, and Asti Spumante using a tappo a fungo, or mushroom cork with its classic wire “cage” that protects the bubbles. The differences in these two wines are many, notwithstanding their twin nominations into the certified categories of DOC in 1963 and DOCG in 1993.
L’Asti is, to all effects, a spumante made using the Charmat method (also known as Martinotti, given that the Piedmontese invented the method, although the French were quicker to patent it). Asti is less sweet and just a little bit more alcoholic with a richer perlage. The type of wineries that dedicate themselves to the production of one type rather than the other have obvious differences. Asti is produced by a small number of large wineries, while Moscato is produced by many different wineries, in part due to the facility in technical production. We might say that Moscato is closer to the classic Piedmontese production model of small, family-run wineries. This difference has deep historical roots; let's take a look at them.
Moscato, first of all, is named such because of its earthy musk aroma. The family it comes from is very large, with many brother and sister vines. This great genetic variability presupposes the hypothesis that the variety is one of the first vines to be cultivated by man; with the passing of many years, the vine has had ample time to mutate and adapt. The ancient Romans called it the apiana. In the Medieval ages, its diffusion was great and the first certain documents that attest to its presence in Piedmont date as far back as the 1300s. At this point, the vine acquired many homonyms, giving scholars of botany a tough time organizing this complicated vine family in the correct order. In the end, three principal groups were identified: the white Moscato of Canelli (of Greek origins), the yellow Moscato di sirio, or the orange flower (with Syrian roots), and the Moscato d'Alessandria, or the zibibbo (from Egypt). The first vine is the one that interests us. Its worldly diffusion covers about 45,000 hectares (111,197 acres), of which 10,000 are in Piedmont.
the Moscato grape is a delicate variety that requires attentive cultivation. Producers would do well to take a step ahead in order to safeguard the beauty of these hills that have nothing to envy from the surrounding areas of Piedmont, as beautiful as the entire province is.
But we couldn't understand the social and economic significance of Moscato today without a brief nod to Carlo Gancia who, after a trip to Champagne in the 1800s, understood the potential of this vine to grow on the earth of his native land; thus, he began vinifying it with the champenois method. Fermentation in the bottle with so much residual sugar proved to be very complicated, and therefore the winery began to experiment with new vinification techniques using autoclaves in the 1900s. From that point, Asti Spumante had a very important development, arriving at a production level that almost topped 100 million bottles a year between the ‘80s and ‘90s. This golden period probably carried on with scarce a strategic thought for the future, reflected in the quality of the wine that eventually presented itself to consumers as "industrialized." Since 2000, we have assisted in the production of standard corked Moscato, which is enjoying an unexpectedly rapid rise in popularity and good fortune. The roughly 100 bottlers of this typology today manage to crank out almost 15 million bottles a year, slightly overshadowing its bigger brother. The hills of this territory continue to live a story made from successes and a flourishing economy thanks to the enjoyable Moscato that seems to be made for pop culture.
One of the fundamental points to face today is that of diminishing the use of chemicals in production, overall by those who only cultivate vines and don’t bottle the wine. In fact, the Moscato grape is a delicate variety that requires attentive cultivation. Producers would do well to take a step ahead in order to safeguard the beauty of these hills that have nothing to envy from the surrounding areas of Piedmont, as beautiful as the entire province is. If a tourist has the good fortune to visit the vineyards of Santo Stefano Belbo, Canelli, Moasca, or Mango - to name just a few towns of the zone - he will marvel at the steep slopes of some of the vineyards, and be astonished by the fact that here, the urban zone has a smaller impact on the countryside than in other regions, and the green of the vineyards and numerous forest lands are a restful view for the eyes and spirit.