I am not ashamed to admit it. I like sweet, fruity dessert wines, and none better than Moscato d'Asti. To me, the easy-to-drink, light, fragrant, delicately carbonated wine from the Piemonte region of Italy makes the perfect finisher for so many meals.
Although made in the same general area as Asti Spumante, and from the same grape, it has more refinement. It has about half the carbonation of spumante, and considerably less alcohol. At 5 to 5.5 percent, it's hardly even a wine, more like fizzy grape juice.
But oh, what grape juice. The characteristic aromas remind me of litchi, pears, the blossoms of fruit and nut trees and a sweet spiciness. The low bubble quotient makes it feel much more elevated than spumante. It has more acidity, too, to balance the sweetness. In Piemonte, where the meals tend toward gargantuan proportions, the frilly fizz of a Mocato d'Asti delivers a refreshing quality to the dessert.
Pour a little of the Moscato d'Asti from your glass over a bowl of ripe berries, and drink the rest with the result. It's a classic example of how Italians discover the simplest things about food and realize they need no further adornment.
I like Moscato d'Asti with not-very-sweet fruit and nut desserts, such as almond cake with fresh berries or peaches. And I like it with cheeses. It's one of the few wines I look forward to drinking with soft-textured cheeses, which coat the palate and often make me wince when I drink a dry red with them. Or heck, just drink a glass or two by itself, and revel in the fragrance.
I usually decline invitations to trade tastings and press lunches. They take more time than I can spare, but when I got one for Moscato d'Asti with 10 small producers, I couldn't say no.
When I got there I looked over the list and recognized few of the producers' names. Then I noticed that eight of the 10 did not list a U.S. importer. I asked Angelo Dezzani, director of the Produttori Moscato d'Asti Associati, the producers' organization, if that meant they they had an uphill battle convincing Americans to pay attention to their wines. He nodded.
"The first obstacle is that these wines are made by very small producers," he said. "Asti Spumante is so much better known because there are some very big brands." Does the image of Asti Spumante as a cheap and coarse beverage get in the way? "Maybe," he admitted. "But that's a different world and things are changing. Today we make 12 million bottles of Moscat d'Asti to 17 million bottles of Asti Spumante. As recently as 2000 we only made 5 million bottles."
In Italy, Germany and England, its three biggest markets, Moscato has been able to make inroads in high-end restaurants. "It's considered a more prestigious wine," he said. That's partly because it's more of a handmade product than spumante, and goes with more refined food.
We Americans, it seems to me, should love Moscato d'Asti. To begin with, we like sweet flavors. And with dry table wines showing relatively high alcohol levels these days, the last thing most of us want after a meal is a sweet wine high in alcohol. I can drink only one small glass of Port after a big dinner, and even Sauternes can clock in at 13 to 14 percent alcohol. But I can drink a glass or two of Moscato without blinking, and often a third.
Of the 10 wines in this tasting, I had three favorites, all of which are seeking importers, so they're not yet available here. Anna Ghione Piccole Gioie 2007, fresh and fragrant, showed peach, apricot, almond and floral flavors and remained refreshing with its lemony acidity. Alce Bel Colle Paiè 2007 had a tangerine character that added interest to the litchi fruit, and Vallebelbo 2007 was light and citrusy, with lime and green apple notes that played against the classic hint of litchi. Of the ones with importers, I liked Giuseppe Bocchino Sorì dei Fiori 2007, which was the spiciest wine in the bunch.
The others range from very good to simple and earthy. But most of them would finish off a meal with the sort of panache we don't expect any more, because we're used to drinking wines with more alcohol. My advice: Try a glass of Moscato d'Asti. It could become a trend.
David Mcgown — April 25, 2008 4:19pm ET
Marissa Ocasio — Connecticut — April 25, 2008 6:27pm ET
Erika Peterson — Normal, IL — April 25, 2008 8:10pm ET
Sochetra Ly — April 26, 2008 10:58am ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — April 27, 2008 10:33pm ET
Susan Sevig — April 28, 2008 10:18am ET
Sussanah Nolan — Brooklyn, NY — April 28, 2008 12:37pm ET
Jim Kreissler — Missouri — April 28, 2008 1:03pm ET
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