Moscato: sweet with a wild side
- Written by Laura Avidano
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A land of borders between the Langhe and Monferrato, the zone of Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti has the fortune to retain unique characteristics of both territories. To the southeast beyond Santo Stefano Belbo, wild and steep hills climb over green valleys that are little known and less explored, such as those of Bormida and Belbo. To the northwest near Canelli, the Asti Monferrato stretches out with gentle hills, rather more tamed and disciplined, dotted with church spires, bell towers, and castles.
Visualizza Moscato, dolce e un po' selvatico in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori
The ideal point of departure is at San Marzano Oliveto, a community high on the hills of Canelli and Nizza Monferrato. Its name is curious: while the first part is dedicated to St. Marziano, a bishop martyred in Tortona, the second part probably derives from the fact that olive trees flourished in the area during ancient times. San Marzano is also famous for its high quality apples (while San Marzano in Campania, southern Italy, is famous for its tomatoes!), appreciated for their crunch and sweet-tart balance.
In the community of Saline, we suggest you discover the adventurous side of Moscato. Here is the seat of Freequadasti, where one can rent quads to reach the less-trodden trails that are a bit further away. The great thing about traveling this way is the ease of driving and the quad’s sturdiness over rugged terrain, and can even go off-road. Trips of just a few hours to day-long excursions can be rented; if going all day, your guides will lead you to the heart of the Alta Langa of Asti, through woods and hilltop towns like Cassinaco and Loazzolo, a community famous for its rare Moscato Passito – and the smallest DOC area in all of Italy.
For a more classic trip, go from San Marzano Oliveto towards Calosso, important not just for its production of Moscato d’Asti, but also for Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Pinot, Chardonnay, Freisa, and the native Gamba di Pernice (the “Patridge Leg”), whose peculiar name derives from the stalk that reddens right before it gets ripe, turning a similar color of the feet of these birds. This vine, cultivated in just 6 hectares (15 acres), barely escaped total extinction thanks to the dedication and tender loving care of some producers of Calosso that brought it back to life after the phylloxera destruction in the first half of the 1900s. Today, the Gamba di Pernice is added to the vinification of Barbera and other wines, but some bottles are produced as pure Gamba di Pernice, which obtains a pronounced personality, with spicy hues and aromas, well-adapted to aging and well-deserving of recognition and appreciation. The Gamba di Pernice, which also produces the version “Passarà” using dried grapes (passite), became Calosso DOC in the summer of 2011; about a dozen producers make it. A highly-recommended place to taste it is at the Crota’d Carlos, a restaurant and wine bar with a splendid terrace overlooking the vineyards.
From Calosso, follow the road for the panoramic point Bricco Crevacuore; reach it from the south, turning onto Crevacuore from the Viale Partigiani. Don’t forget your camera, as this is a scene worth remembering forever: vineyards lining the roads, fruit trees, a certain species of vineyard peach (rare, and best for making delicious marmalades), hazelnut trees, and a sign pointing to a winery at every corner.
From the peak, after passing the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, follow indications towards Santo Stefano Belbo. The downhill is narrow and winding, and will conduct you towards the main road. Take a right and continue towards Canelli. This piece of road is not particularly charming, but it allows you to go through one of the capitals of Moscato to reach Alessandria-Nizza in the direction of Calamandrana, announced to passers-by with its well-known winery of Michele Chiarlo, which received three glasses from the Gambero Rosso wine review for its Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Court 2009.
Keep to the road that takes you on a continuous downhill towards San Marzano Oliveto, from where you began this itinerary. Those delicious apples can be found if you knock on the door of the farmhouse Ca’d Lisonna or that of Renzo Lovisolo (Consorzio Mela Divina): they will be delighted to show you their orchards; if the saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is the same in Italy (una mela al giorno leva il medico di torno), it must be true!