On the gently sloping hills of the Alta Langa Astigiana and Basso Monferrato, Piemonte produces about one-third of the world’s total cultivation of a grape that is as globally widespread as it is cultivated: Moscato Bianco.
In Piemonte, it is known primarily as Moscato d’Asti or Moscato di Canelli. It’s used to produce sweet, still, sparkling, and dessert passito wines, and it’s appreciated all over the world. Follow the grape on a journey to find out where this wine is produced, and discover the many faces of this intensely aromatic variety. As the guiding theme, we chose the link between Moscato and art, beginning in the vineyard until finally arriving at the wine tasting – the culmination of a journey made from passion and originality.
1. Art in the Vineyard: the Sorì
The first work of Moscato art is, without a doubt, its vineyards. “Canelli and Asti Spumante” is one of the core zones listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage, and includes the most important zones for cultivating Moscato: Canelli, Santo Stefano Belbo, and Calosso. Here, the vineyards are often called “Sorì.” In local dialect, sorì means “sunny spot;” these vineyards are known for excellent sun exposition in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Sorì are parcels of land between 300 and 400 m asl (though can reach as high as 600 m asl) that are steeply sloping and characterized by terraced land cultivated in vineyards. An impressive 336 hectares of land exceeds 50% slope; a concentration of 74 hectares of these vineyards are in the township of Santo Stefano Belbo. To admire these stunning vineyards, drive along the road that leads from Santo Stefano Belbo to Castino. The Sorì are one of many examples of “heroic” Italian viticulture: vineyards created and cultivated from sacrifice, hard work, and love for the territory. Here, humans and nature are one, working together to give life to genuine wines of excellent quality.
2. Art in the Cellar: Sweet Artisan Wines
Most of Moscato d’Asti production is made by small to medium-sized wineries. This sweet wine is unfortunately relegated to a narrow category and drunk only with dessert; often, restaurants and enoteche fail to serve them properly. They remain in the background, depriving wine lovers of what is an unforgettable first taste.
But how is Moscato d’Asti produced? One of Moscato’s great strengths is its intense aroma. Winemakers use techniques to ensure this quality is present in the finished wine. They use modern machines to provide a soft pressing, and they strictly maintain low temperatures during the entire productive process. This enhances the freshness of its aromas and gives its must and wine an essential cleanliness, keeping it clear and avoiding problems that residual yeasts might cause. Moscato d’Asti is sweet, in fact, because alcoholic fermentation is interrupted when the wine still contains a certain amount of natural sugar. It takes attention and special care to get a wine that best reflects the grapes that grow in this territory – its production is an artform. Small producers are the engines of the Moscato world – the authentic one – far from big production numbers, but genuine and rich in aromas and flavors, to drink and enjoy all day long.
3. The Art of Celebration: Asti Spumante
Join the party! Moscato grapes make the most famous off-dry Italian spumante in the world: Asti. In the mid-1800s in Canelli, Carlo Gancia applied Champagne production methods to the sweet Moscato grapes in the hills of his territory. He halted fermentation when just a residual amount of sweetness was left, creating an “off-dry” (not as sweet as Moscato d’Asti) wine lower in alcohol with all the unique aromas and flavors of Moscato. It was the start of Canelli’s fame as Italy’s sparkling wine capital. Not long after in 1895, Asti native Federico Martinotti invented the new fermentation method in stainless steel autoclaves (the so-called Charmat-Martinotti method, as it was later adapted for industrial production by Frenchman Eugène Charmat; today, the Charmat-Martinotti method is used for producing sparkling wines around the world). From that moment, the success of Asti skyrocketed. All over the world, Asti bubbles are synonymous with elegance and style. The latest trend in Piemonte are Asti Hour cocktails, “exciting, light, and all-natural drinks” based on Asti Spumante and juice.
→ Want to know more about the differences between Asti and Moscato d’Asti? 13 Things to Know about Piemonte’s Sparkling Wines
4. Graphic Art: Moscato Dresses Up
For wineries, one of the first advertising vehicles was the billboard. Asti and Moscato conquered world markets thanks to this form of advertising. In fact, collectors prize these vintage prints, and they are the pride of many local museums in the territory. For most part of the last century, these advertisements were incredibly windespread.
The art of wine meets graphic art in mass communication and on the label. In the heart of the Alta Langa hills in Asti, you can visit the winery La Caudrina, whose bottles are works of art – and not just for what’s inside them. The designs on their labels are a faithful reproduction of works by artist Alessandro Lupano, who used simple materials tied to the earth and the farmer’s life: river rocks, stones from the hills, tiles, and shingles. Their Asti Spumante La Selvatica was created from the friendship between the winery’s founder, Romano Dogliotti, and another Romano, Levi. Levi was a grappa producer who designed every label by hand that went onto his bottles; he became famous for his donna selvatica, “wild woman.” Moscato and Asti represent the heart of La Caudrina, which includes 25 hectares, of which 20 are cultivated with Moscato; they produce 200,000 bottles, half of which is Moscato. The winery is family run, and a visit will allow you to see, up close, one of the many examples of Moscato production – the king of sweet Piemontese wines.
5. Art in the Kitchen: Wine outside of the glass
If you think wine is just meant to be paired with food, think again. The best recipes always include a glass of wine, from sauces to salsas, fish to reductions. And not only are red and whites used, but sweet wine is an excellent ingredient for adding flavor to recipes. Follow Moscato around the kitchen, and you’ll be surprised! Have you ever tried duck breast caramelized in Moscato d’Asti? Or risotto al Asti spumante? And don’t forget jams and Piemontese mostarda paired with cheeses. And, of course, there is dessert: gelato, zabaione, creams, and fruit salads. As for the international palate, many countries love sweet and salty combinations. In the United States, for example, Moscato is consumed at many different moments of the day: sipped alone, as an aperitif, or during the meal. It is even paired in situations that Italians might even call “extreme,” such as with bacon or salmon.
→ Have you ever had Moscato with breakfast? Trust us, it’s wonderful: Moscato for Breakfast: the wine pairing you weren't expecting
Moscato is a work of art, from the fruit of the beautiful Asti hills to the creativity of winemakers who continue to make Italian wine history. The territory of Moscato will welcome you with heady aromas and soothing colors as you embark on your journey through nature and wine.
Elisa Pesce is a translator and wine writer – for work and for passion (it's difficult to distinguish between the two). She is convinced that wine and translation have much in common, beginning with communications and relational aspects. She lives in Turin, but was born among the hills of Monferrato and co-manages the blog Uncorkventional. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.
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