Moscato. For many people, this word brings up an image of sweet, bubbly wine that they’d rather say, “pass” to. But they’d be missing out on a wonderfully fresh, easy-pairing wine that’s a delight to drink if so.
Moscato is a grape grown all over the world and known by several names, creating various kinds of wine from sweet and sparkling to dry and still. Moscato d’Asti is the most famous iteration, a low-alcohol, semi-sparkling (frizzante) wine made in Piedmont, Italy. This is what most people think of when they see the word “Moscato,” and it’s what we’ll be looking at here.
Moscato d’Asti DOCG is known for its aromatic bouquet with luscious, fruity notes of peach, apricot, and orange and heavenly floral scents of honeysuckle, orange blossom, and elderflower. It has a rich, bright palate with a delicate mousse and a small amount of acidity that, together with the bubbles, helps balance the sweetness. Find a well-made Moscato d’Asti like Michele Chiarlo’s Moscato d’Asti Nivole DOCG (SRP $14.99) (nivole is Piedmontese dialect for “cloud,” highlighting its dreamy appeal), and you might not want to stop drinking it. A glass of Moscato d’Asti can be truly out-of-this-world delightful and will normally sell for just $12-$17 for a high quality bottle.
Here are a few more facts you might not have known about this incredible wine and grape:
5 Things You Didn’t Know about Moscato d’Asti
The Moscato grape was one of the first grape varieties ever to be cultivated by humans.
While many grape varieties, especially in Europe and the Middle East, can be traced back hundreds of years through historical documentation, Moscato (Muscat, Moscatel, Muskateller) stands out because of its extensive genetic mutation. It has 200 clones spread all around the world, which points to thousands of years of evolution to obtain this many genetic variations. A bit of wine with your history?
While we’re on the subject of grapes…Moscato is one of the only wine grapes that doubles as a table grape (perhaps the only).
Table grapes and wine grapes are not the same. Which one would you think was sweeter? Imagining crunching down on a juicy, fat grape from the store, you might be surprised to learn that wine grapes contain significantly more sugar in them—and it’s a good thing, because we need those sugars to convert into alcohol. They are also thicker-skinned, juicier, seedier, more acidic, and quite more complex than table grapes. All of those wonderful flavors are what go into making nuanced wines.
Table grapes are tasty, but made more for munching and for show. Whereas wine grapes fall into Vitis vinifera family, there are 15-20 types of table grapes, such as Vitis labrusca, Vitis rotundifolia, and others (like the varieties of apples you’ll find in the supermarket!).
Moscato d’Asti comes from caves.
Not exactly from caves, but some of Piedmont’s Moscato d’Asti wines are fermented and stored in historical caves that span over 11 miles underneath the city of Canelli, making it a veritable floating city—on sparkling wine! Starting in the late 17th century, producers began excavating caves from the calcareous tuff rock underneath Canelli in order to store their wines. Today, casks and pupitres line the long, bricked tunnels and fill large, arching rooms. There was no plan to grow these cellars to such cavernous dimensions, but they were enlarged chip by chisel as the wineries above them grew in number and size. The caves have the perfect natural thermal insulation, maintaining a constant temperature of 12-14 degrees C (54-57 degrees F). They are called Underground Cathedrals and today are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pairing Moscato d’Asti with food is easy and a lot of fun.
Because Moscato d’Asti is sweet, it pairs best with bold, savory, spicy flavors. Bitter and sour also do well with Moscato d’Asti—and it’s a lovely dessert wine. It’s hard to go wrong when pairing it, and very easy to discover some fun combinations! Just keep in mind that it is an intensely fruity wine, which might be a flavor note that you do not want to combine with, say, your steak.
It is great with brunch and lunch, mixed in for an exquisite cocktail, and with highly spiced and hot-spicy foods, giving it bonus points because pairing wine with spicy food can be difficult: alcohol increases the perception of spicy in the mouth. Its low alcohol content at 5-7%, sweet notes, and semi-sparkling texture make it ideal for Mexican and Thai cuisine.
With desserts, Moscato d’Asti shines: just pair it with pastries, pies, and gelato. In a historical bar in Piedmont called Caffe Fiorio, they serve large portions of gelato doused with Moscato d’Asti (or other wines), sprinkled with hazelnuts and topped with whipped cream and a wafer, a concoction they call simply the coppa, “cup.” You’ll never look at a root beer float again.
The Moscato d’Asti cork isn’t like a Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, or other sparkling wine cork.
The cork sealing a bottle of Moscato d’Asti is a normal, straight-edged, straight-laced guy as opposed to the mushroom-shaped corks that seal other sparkling wines, and which are kept in place by the little metal cage that you twist off before opening, called the “muselet.” This is because Moscato d’Asti is subjected to just about 1 atmosphere of pressure compared to 5-6 found in Champagne and other sparkling wines, thus a normal cork will not be pressurized to pop out of the bottle.