Piemonte has a very long tradition of sweet wines, and of the various varietals used to make them, Moscato is the most important. It's mentioned in early 13th century documents, and though one cellar master I asked suggested that name Moscato derives from mosca (fly) because the grapes are so sweet they attract flies, the medieval writers were being much more respectful: Moscato (or Moscado) derives from the Latin Muscus, the musk so highly valued by perfume makers. In other words, the name Moscato is a nod to the grape's delicious aromas.
Moscato's popularity continued through the 1300s and 1400s, and gained a significant boost from Duke Emanuele Filiberto Di Savoia's decision to reorganize the Duchy of Piemonte in 1560, reforming and supporting agriculture. Among other things he emphasized the production of quality wines in the hilly areas suited to wine making, and as a result Moscato vineyard area increased.
In 1606 Giovanni Battista Croce, whose official post was Court Jeweler (he also had a keen interest in agriculture), published a treatise on the wines made around Torino, in which he singled out Moscato as known by all and used to make a wine by the same name, and went on to discuss production technique, saying that the winemakers would start the fermentation, which would be interrupted by the drop-off in temperature that naturally occurred in the fall. Come spring it was therefore sweet, low in alcohol, and also lightly carbonated, and they would bottle it and keep it cold to keep the fermentation from resuming.
Unfortunately, a weak wine with unfermented sugars and yeasts is unstable -- the fermentation can resume, causing a pressure buildup that can lead to exploding bottles -- and therefore this particular kind of Moscato, which is a precursor to modern-day Moscato D'Asti, was something the winemakers made primarily for themselves. The renown of the Moscato grape continued to grow, however, and in the late 1700s the Società di Agricoltura di Torino singled it out as one of the best Piemontese grapes for making quality wine.
It wasn't until the late 1800s, however, the modern Asti wines developed -- on the one hand Asti Spumante, now known as Asti, a sweet sparkling wine made primarily by large wineries working at industrial scale, and on the other Moscato D'Asti, a sweet semi-sparkling (the Italian term is frizzante) wine made primarily by smaller producers.
The Disciplinari governing the production of the two wines, Asti and Moscato D'Asti, are quite similar: Both specify that the wine is to be made exclusively from the Moscato Bianco varietal produced within the production zone, from vineyards that are well lit and either on hilltops or slopes whose soil is either calcareous or at the most marly (calcareous clays). Vineyards on valley floors or other flat-lying areas are excluded, as are those not on the proper soils. The maximum allowable yield is 100 quintals/hectare, with a maximum yield into wine of 75 hectoliters/hectare, and new vineyards must be planted to at least 4000 vines per hectare.
The grapes destined to the production of Asti must have sugar levels sufficient to produce 9% alcohol, while those destined to Moscato D'Asti must be able to produce 10% alcohol, and though the regione Piemonte can lower this limit to 9.5% for Moscato D'Asti in bad vintages, the rule indicates that Moscato D'Asti is made from riper, more concentrated grapes than Asti, and this in turn suggests that the yields of vineyards used to make Moscato D'Asti are lower than those dedicated to Asti -- something that makes perfect sense considering that Moscato D'Asti is primarily made by smaller producers, whereas Asti is primarily made in huge volumes by much larger wineries.
Of course total alcohol content is a moot point with all Asti, be it Asti Spumante or Moscato D'Asti, because the winemaker chills the wine to interrupt fermentation before it has run its course, and thus keep the wine sweet, filters it to remove the yeasts (which would otherwise go happily back to work on the sugars if the wine warmed up), imparts sparkle, and bottles it. Asti, which is a true sparkling wine, with much more sparkle, gets a traditional mushroom cork and wire cage, whereas Moscato D'Asti, whose sparkle is much more subdued (maximum total pressure is 1.7 bars), gets a standard cork.
Other important differences? Though the grapes used to make Moscato D'Asti must be sweeter, the wine is less alcoholic than Asti -- 4.5-6.5% as opposed to 7-9%. This, coupled with Moscato D'Asti's softer sparkle, will make the Moscato seem richer and creamier than its cousin.
The full text of the Diciplinare (in Italian)
Finally, a word about the Consorzio: Asti (Spumante) and Moscato D'Asti have long been enormously popular, and it's therefore not surprising that Asti's winemakers were among the first to realize the importance of banding together. In 1932 they established a Consorzio, which was formally recognized in 1934, to oversee production and make certain the rules were followed. Asti and Moscato D'Asti were also among the first Italian wines to receive DOC status, in 1967, and both became DOCG wines in 1994.
Enough History! What I tasted at Vintialy, primarily at the Asti Consorzio's stand.
First, Moscato D'Asti:
Scagliola Giacomo & Figlio s.s. Azienda Agricola
Regione S. Libera, 20
14053 Canelli (AT)
Scagliola Santa Libera Moscato D'Asti DOCG 2007
Pale Brassy gold with fine perlage. Delicate bouquet with honeysuckle and some greenish accents, mingled with hints of mapo (a grapefruit-tangerine hybrid grown in Italy). On the palate it's ample and rich, with clean citric fruit backed up by honeydew melon, and supported by sparkle and deft sweet acidity. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well on a patio or at poolside.
Rivetti Dante Azienda Agricola
Loc. Bricco di Neive, 12
12057 Neive (CN)
Dante Rivetti Rivetto Moscato D'Asti DOCG 2007
Pale brassy gold with brassy reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is powerful, with white plum fruit laced with some honeydew melon laced with citrus and heather. Inviting. On the palate it's full and quite sweet, with bright yellow plum fruit supported by sweet loquat acidity that flows into a clean sweet finish. Nice depth and richness, and will work well as an aperitif.
Azienda Vitivinicola Tenuta Il Falchetto
Loc. Valle Tinella, 16
12058 S. Stefano Belbo (CN)
Il Falchetto Tenuta Del Fant Moscato D'Asti DOCG 2007
Pale brassy white with fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is fresh, with ripe honeydew melon supported by loquat and sweetness. On the palate it's full, bright, and rich, with clean rich sparkle supported by delicate sweetness that flows into a long finish Quite elegant and perfect for an evening under the stars, r an afternoon under a patio.
Via IV Novembre 15
14010 Castelrocchero (AT)
Cà Dei Mandorli Dei Giari Moscato D'Asti DOCG 2007
Pale brassy gold with gold reflections and ifne perlage. The bouquet is frehs, with loquat and floral accents supported by delicate minty accents. Pleasant. On the palate it's full and rich with powerful loquat fruit supported by clean sweet acidity that flows into a clean sweet finish. By comparison with the other Moscato D'Asti wines it is a bit more muscular, and not quite as deft in mouthfeel, though still pleasant.
Reg. Mariano, 27
14050 San Marzano Oliveto (AT)
Carussin Filari Corti Moscato D'Asti DOCG 2007
This was from the first lot. The second, which is bottled subsequently has finer perlage, Bruna says. Pale brassy yellow with greenish highlights and fine perlage. The bouquet is rich, with honeysuckle and honeydew melon supported by sweetness and hints of clover. Quite pleasant. On the palate it's full and sweet with nice honeydew melon fruit that gains definition and fullness from slight melon acidity and flows into a clean sweet finish. Perfect far from the table with friends.
And next, several Asti DOCG wines:
Mondoro Asti DOCG 2007
This wine is sold in a showy green glass bottle of the sort a (lady) genie might chose to live in. It's pale brassy white with brassy reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is fairly intense, with bitter accents, some pungency, and underlying sweetness. On the palate it's ample and fairly rich with bitter notes that settle into a bitter finish.
Romano Dogliotti La Selvatrice Asti DOCG 2007
Pale brassy white with fine perlage. The bouquet is fresh with floral accents and some very ripe honeydew melon. On the palate it's full, soft, and sweet, with clean loquat fruit supported by delicate loquat acidity combined with sparkle that flows into a clean fairly rich finish. Pleasant, and will be nice with friends after dinner, far from the table.
Martini ASTI DOG 2007
Pale brassy yellow with greenish reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is moderately rich, and though sweet has a pungent underpinning and some savory accents. On the palate it's fairly rich, and by comparison with the Moscati considerably drier, with the greater dryness translating into a less seductive mouthfeel. In terms of fruit, there's ripe loquat laced with clean slightly savory accents that flows into a clean sweet finish that again has a slightly savory underpinning. Well made but in a mass market key.
Cinzano Cuvée Asti DOCG 2007
Pale brassy white with fine perlage. The bouquet is fairly rich, with white berry fruit and some underlying pungency that confers savory accents to the sweetness. On the palate it's full, with the fullness both fruit -- moderately intense loquat -- and perlage, flowing into a clean sweet finish. It has a slightly dilute feeling that may be related to the volume produced, but is pleasant and will drink well as a direct dessert wine.
Taken as a group, I found the Moscato 'Asti to be richer and creamier. Asti was on the other hand lighter, and crisper, and a couple of the wines had a slightly dilute feeling to them as well. Considering the relative volumes of Moscato D'Asti and Asti produced, the differences make perfect sense, and would lead me to prefer bottle of Moscato D'Asti if wine-loving friends came calling and I decided to open a bottle of something light and sweet to enjoy as we talked. Asti might instead be a better bet at the close of a meal, when people are talking and less likely to be devoting all their attention to what's in their glass.
Winding Down, a selection of Romano Dogliotti's other wines (tasted separately):
20, Strada Brosia
12053 CN - ITALIA
Romano Dogliotti La Caudrina Moscato D'Asti DOCG 2007
Pale papery white with greenish reflections and fine perlage. Rich bouquet with floral accents mingled with loquat, honeysuckle, and very ripe honeydew melon. On the palate rich, with powerful clean tart loquat fruit supported by creamy sparkle and sweetness that flow into a long finish with loquat and honeydew melon sweetness that gradually fades into tarter loquat. Very fine, and will be wonderful in the shade on a hot day, or in the evening with friends.
Romano Dogliotti La Galeisa Moscato D'Asti DOCG 2007
Pale brassy white with fine perlage. The bouquet is quite rich, with pungent honeydew melon supported by minty hints of sage, honeysuckle, and sugar. Mouthwatering. On the palate it's rich, with clean loquat-honeydew melon fruit supported by sugars that are deft and not at all cloying, and by smooth, creamy sparkle that flows into a long graceful finish that lasts and lasts, with the baance between loquat, sweetness and acidity holding rock steady as it fades. In a word, impressive.
Romano Dogliotti Redento Piemonte Moscato Passito DOC 2003
Pale brassy yellow with white rim. Rich bouquet with white fruit laced with sugars and clean spice, and some underlying lemony accents. Quite inviting. On the palate it's rich and full, with powerful white berry fruit supported by moderate sweetness -- it's not as sweet as the sparkling wines -- and by clean bitter accents from wood, while the texture is powerfully creamy, and flows into a clean finish in which the sweetness is again moderated by bitter accents. Quite elegant, and tightly controlled; the grapes were dried at low temperatures, which makes for freshness, while the wine went into wood to knock down the sweetness as well. It's extremely interesting and a very different expression of Moscato passito. If you like sweet wines, it will seduce you.
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