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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Moscato d'Asti and Asti Spumante - Piemonte's Sparkling Wines

Just because New Year’s Eve and champagne are practically synonymous doesn’t mean you have to open something French to make a bubbly toast. Italy has its own versions of sparkling wine, with three of the most popular types all originating right here in northern Italy. Moscato d'Asti, franciacorta, and prosecco; Italy’s own sparklers. In this holiday week between Christmas and New Years I’d like to write a bit about these. This first post in my short series on northern Italy’s sparkling wines will focus on Piemonte’s contribution to this category.

Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante are produced, naturally, around Asti, in the foothills of the Italian Alps in Piemonte. The Moscato d’Asti is a DOCG wine that has been produced in these hills for centuries. There are references to it found in writings of the 1200s, and a recipe printed in 1606 is not all that different from how the wine is still made today. The ripe Moscato Bianco grapes are separated from their stems just before being pressed. Then, the unfiltered grape juice is separated from the skins. The juice is fermented using the Charmat method, in the tank rather than in the bottle, but only for a short period of time. After fermentation the wine is filtered several times, finally leaving a clean and clear wine. Naturally high in sugar and low in alcohol, slightly fizzante, fizzy, Moscato d’Asti has become a sweet and fruity year-round favorite; perfect for apertivi or lunch, as well as paired with desserts. Simple and perfect.

Its cousin, Asti Spumante, is more effervescent than the Moscato D’Asti. Spumante, literally foaming, is also produced from 100% Moscato Bianco, and produced similarly to the Moscato d’Asti, with the unfiltered grape juice being stored in tanks at near freezing temperatures to prevent fermentation until a desired time. Then, temperatures raised and yeast added to the tanks in the Charmat method, fermentation begins. The main difference between the two wines is the length of fermentation time. Shorter for Moscato d’Asti, and longer for the Asti. Asti is a non-vintage wine, meaning best to find a fresh bottle and drink it soon.

It’s tradition here in Piemonte to have a holiday toast with one’s neighbors and family with one of these sparkling Moscato wines and panettone. Nice tradition… let’s keep it going. 

Asti is an easy day trip from Stresa and many of the wineries are open for tastings.

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