The bubbly star of rap songs and sweet alternative to vodka shots for woo girls, Moscato d’Asti might seem like a simple wine. But contrary to what pop culture would have us believe, this Italian white is more complex than it seems — both tasting it and making it.
To start, not all Moscato is created equal. Moscato is the name of a grape, known for its floral, grapey (yes, like grape juice) flavors and low acidity. It’s the grape in anything labelled “Moscato,” and a relative of “Muscat,” or “Muscat of Alexandria.” Most of the time, Moscato makes off-dry wines that are delicate, spritzy, and floral. Like sundresses, these wines are cute and easy.
Moscato d’Asti, however, refers specifically to Moscato wines produced in the Asti subregion of Piedmont in Northern Italy. Unlike generic Moscato, the production of Asti is regulated by the Italian government, which mandates sweetness and alcohol levels, and even requires that the wines have that signature spritz.
More than their American or Australian counterparts, Moscato d’Asti trades simple apple juice flavors for a multifaceted flavor profile that fuses ripe peach, candied orange, lemon zest, and an entire florist’s shop into the glass. While still fresh and light –they’re not aged long or in oak — these wines have a candied complexity that satisfies both wine novices and sommeliers. Honestly, these bottles are way tastier and a way better value than they’re often given credit; a designer sundress, if you will.
But the real beauty of Moscato d’Asti lies in the simple fact that the world will never run out. Unlike traditional winemakers, whose wine production is regulated by a single annual harvest, Moscato d’Asti producers make wine all year long. Instead of picking, crushing, and vinifying a year’s worth of grapes at one time, Mocato d’Asti producers pick, crush, and stop. Once the juice of millions of Moscato grapes, called “must,” has been gathered, winemakers begin fermentation per usual. But — and here’s where the technique differs — they don’t ferment all of the juice. Instead, they separate the must into several large lots and chill it.
Keeping the must cold prevents any ambient yeasts from leaping into the sugary must and starting a spontaneous fermentation. Cold temps also preserve the aromatics of the must and prevent bacterial growth. Refrigeration, unlike other techniques for preserving grapes, also preserves the fresh, delicate flavors of Moscato, meaning quality doesn’t suffer as a result of staggering fermentations throughout the year.
Every month or so, the Moscato makers select a lot, raise the temperature, and begin fermentation. Inside large stainless steel tanks, the must quickly reaches 6-8% ABV, and the carbon dioxide released in fermentation gives the wine its fizz. Batch by batch, the year’s harvest is vinified, filtered, bottled, and shipped.
By staggering the fermentations and aging Moscato to give it its fizz, winemakers create a consistent supply of fresh Moscato d’Asti for thirsty drinkers worldwide. Instead of selling out their stock and asking consumers to wait a year, the longest period between Moscato d’Asti bottlings is two or three months.
Across the 52 communes that permit the production of Moscato d’Asti, almost everyone is doing it. At a recent Moscato d’Asti seminar, streamlining year-round production was one of the few things top producers agreed on wholeheartedly, including well-known brands like Ceretto and Michele Chiarlo. To drink it fresh, you have to make it fresh, they chorused.
While popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, Moscato d’Asti has a 500-year history in northern Italy, where it’s considered an easy-drinking aperitif or dessert accompaniment. With bottlings from $15 to $50, it’s easy to see why, and a delicious experiment if you’re not yet convinced. Whether your next Moscato d’Asti adventure is tomorrow or months away, rest assured, you’ll always be able to find a bottle.