Moscato wine of course is made from the muscat grape and is typically a very light sparkling white wine popular amongst people who have only recently been introduced to wine. Made in the Piedmont region of Italy, it’s full name Moscator Asti, is actually quite popular with seasoned wine experts and critics as well, not necessarily as a regular drink, but when one seeks something light and sweet either as an aperitif or with a lighter meal such as brunch, dessert or an afternoon snack.
The Muscat Grape
What many people don’t realize is that the muscat grape isn’t not a single type of grape, but a family of more than two hundred grape varieties. In addition to its prolific use in moscato wine, the muscat grape is also used as table grapes and raisins around the world. They’re well regarded for their sweet and floral aromas and since they’re such a large family, it’s universally accepted that the muscat may in fact be one of the oldest domesticated grapes in the world.
While the grape varieties come in a range of colors from white and yellow to pink and black, it’s the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grape specifically, which is used as the predominant grape in the production of Moscato wine. In addition, it’s used in many of the vin roux naturels, a fortified French wine.
Aside from its very floral and sweet aroma, the muscat has create notes of citrus, rose blossom and peaches.
Even though, Moscato is an Italian wine, the grape is often misunderstood to be the same used to make an off-dry to sweet white wine with the same name from Australia, South Africa and the United States. In parts of central Europe, the grape is turned into a very dry and aromatic wine called Muscat Ottonel. What’s important to remember is that the actually Muscat grape used is true Moscato wine is a completely separate and distinct grape variety from the ones listed above.
The Piedmont Moscato
Moscato d’Asti is described as a Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita sparkling white wine which is primarily produced in the Province of Asti in Northwest Italy.
In addition, there are smaller regions that also produce the wine in Alessandria and Cuneo. The wine, as mentioned, is an ideal wine for individuals who are new to wine tasting due to it’s sweetness and low ABV. Because of how light and sweet the wine is, it’s often served with dessert or a sweet brunch where the main dish could be an apple pancake drizzled in maple syrup. Since it’s commonly served with dessert, it necessarily follows that it is categorized as a dessert wine.
The Muscat grape is grown in the small hilltop town of Asti on Montferret in Northwest Piedmont, Italy. Due to the size of the vineyard, it’s typically produced as a small batch wine.
While no one really know for sure where the Muscat grape got it’s name, many believe it to be from it’s overt musky aroma. Originally named Apiana by the Romans, the grapes date back as far as the 1300s.
The reason the muscat grape is so flavorful and aromatic is because of the cooler climate in Piedmont. The soil is a perfect harmony of limestone and sandstone that effortlessly provides the hydration and flavor profiles to these wonderful berries. The grapes are then harvested when the brix is ideal and then crushed. Once the must is created it’s actually chilled almost to the point of freezing in an effort to keep the fermentation at a stand still. The reason for this is because law requires that Moscato wine be a maximum of only 5.5% ABV so by stopping the fermentation it keeps a significant amount of sugars in the wine.
Aside from not being in the right region, another reason Moscato can’t be compared to that of champagne is because there’s no secondary fermentation that is allowed in the bottle. Almost immediately prior to bottling for sale, the Moscato is put through a filtration stage leaving it with it’s glorious translucent golden color.
Even though the Muscat family is so large, the Muscat à Petits Grains grape which is locally known as Moscato bianco is widely considered to be the most superlative grape within its 200+ member family. The small grape ripens quite early in comparison to other grapes and is capable of being used to produce a variety of wines from light and quite dry to sweet or sparkling and even a very decadent dessert wine with strong whiffs of honey. What’s interesting to note is that unlike many other grapes, the Muscat à Petits Grains can vary in color even producing different colors on the same vine in consecutive years. Many consider the grape to be the eldest of all grapes grown in the Piedmont region and experts estimate that it’s been cultivated for many centuries on the very same hilltops.
Despite the grape being regularly available in the region of Piedmont, Moscato d’Asti, as we know it today, only began to be produced in the early 1870s. It was made in what winemakers refer to as the frizzante style which is a semi-sparkling dessert wine, and was surprisingly produced by winemakers for themselves and initially not for commercial sale or distribution. The reason the winemakers opted to do this was because the taste was so enjoyable, and yet it was such a light and low alcohol wine that they could drink it with their lunch and not be affected by the alcohol.
Soon, winemakers began to take the wine home to share with their family. For anyone who has dined at the home of someone from Italy, you know all too well about the extensive multi-course meals made with love.
Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I were blessed to be invited to the home of some friends of ours for dinner. Although we knew that the wife had recently emigrated from Italy, we didn’t take into consideration how huge and decadent the meal would be. I dare say it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
It’s because of these incredible feasts that Moscato became so well known in the region. Hosts would begin to offer it as a digestif to help cleanse and then stimulate the palate in preparation for homemade desserts.
Once the popularity of the wine caught on, the respective artisan winemakers soon began to receive orders for the delectable wine.
The reason that The cooler region in which Moscato bianco is grown and produced has the perfect blend of limestone and sandstone soils that give the provide hydration and flavors to the grapes. The grapes are harvested when the brix is optimal and then crushed. The must is chilled almost to the point of freezing to keep the fermentation process at a halt until the time is right. By law, Moscato D’Asti can only be 5.5% abv so the fermentation process is halted with a lot of the natural sugars still left in the wine. Unlike Champagne, there is no secondary fermentation allowed in the bottle. Right before bottling, the Moscato d’Asti goes through a filtration process that leaves the wine with a translucent golden color.
Moscato wine is best known for its unique perfume-like aromas. It has a very light-bodied, spritzy character similar to a frizzante wine as we discussed. Regardless of whether you’re a newcomer or a wine enthusiast there is no arguing that the Moscato is a beautiful, fruity wine that’s sweet but not too sweet.
The wine can only be described as breathtakingly fresh. It has hints of honeysuckle, apple blossom, fresh citrus, almonds and ripe peaches. It’s an impressive show of fresh fruit with semi-sweet sugary undertones wrapped up in a perfect compliment of acidity. In almost any bottle you try, the wine will have consistent hints of green apples, pear and ripe juicy apricots. It’s one of the fruitiest wines you’ll ever try and one that you’ll most likely continue to go back to now and then.
The sparkling bubbles make this wine even lighter and even for a man like myself who enjoys a monster of a red, I have no problem savoring the sweet perfection of a Moscato wine.
One of the big benefits, especially for new wine lovers is that Moscato wines are typically some of the least expensive wines you can find. As you progress into some of the more expensive varieties of Moscato, the light fruit flavors tend to grow into this very voluptuous show of ripened fruits that’s backed by a floral fragrance unlike anything other wine you’ve tried.
Moscato – Food Pairings
We’ve already discussed that Moscato historically has been served as both an aperitif and a digestif. It pairs exquisitely with desserts or a light brunch. Since it’s such a fresh, fruit-forward wine, it’s best served chilled and works superlatively with fruit based desserts.
One of my favorite things to enjoy Moscato with on a summer day is berries with cream. It also works nicely with apple based desserts including cobbler and pie.
It can pair elegantly with most fresh salads. I really enjoy wines like this with a spinach and strawberry salad with a poppyseed dressing and sliced almonds.
Aside from fruit based desserts, Moscato pairs well with any nutty desert, as well as dessert breads and lighter cakes.
Even though it’s categorized as a dessert wine, the Moscato can work well with a variety of appetizers as well.
It works marvelously with cheese and charcuterie platters as well as antipasto. Since it’s both sweet and acidic, it is an extremely versatile wine that compliments most light summer dishes. Obviously, I don’t recommend serving it with red meats or tomato based pastas, but dependent on the recipe, it could potentially serve you well paired with some (not all) chicken or fish recipes.
For brunch it works remarkably well with other sweet dishes such as fruit pancakes and waffles. One delightful idea is to serve it outdoors with a variety of fresh berries and ripe fruits. Provided you’re not starving at breakfast, it should be an excellent start to your day.
When my wife and I were on our honeymoon, we sat outside at one of the restaurants every evening and enjoyed a fresh cut fruit platter with a cocktail or two. Moscato is a prime choice for an evening such as that. It pairs well with melons, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, oranges and a variety of other sweet fruit.
Moscato, like many sparkling wines is an excellent base for a variety of light and refreshing cocktails. One idea that I enjoy is serving it with fresh raspberries and blackberries in the glass. Of course, like any sparkling wine, I recommend serving it in a champagne flute or at the bare minimum, a white wine glass.
It is an exquisite wine that is sure to please even the most discerning palates. If you’ve never tried it before, consider taking my advice and doing so now. Summer is without question, the best season to serve this wine in.
Should be throwing a garden party, it is a great alternative to many of the more expensive white wines and champagnes.
Finally, Moscato proves to be one of the most consistently delicious wines available and provided your bottle is a true Moscato from Piedmont, you will not be disappointed.