One of the many things I love about Italian wines is that the most serious, ageworthy ones can rub along in close proximity with the fun, light and frivolous. UK wine lovers can have a tendency to revere the serious and to view anything sweet and fizzy as not worthy of their attention. Italian drinkers, it seems, have no such qualms. My summer holiday this year in Piedmont provided a wonderful example.
Piedmont is most famous for the twin (or at least sibling) regions of Barolo and Barbaresco either side of the picturesque town of Alba, famous for its truffle market. They produce big-boned, long lived red wines from the Nebbiolo grape which, as they age, can develop haunting aromas of English rose and tar, but with tannins which continue to exert a firm grip.
But a mere grape’s throw away, in villages around the small city of Asti, are Muscat vines which go to make Asti (Asti Spumante as was) and Moscato d’Asti.
Asti tout court is a fully sparkling wine with lowish alcohol, definite sweetness and a musky grapiness. It’s a completely valid style of wine, but the ones we tend to see in this country are made by the big producers and can be rather basic.
Moscato d’Asti is lightly sparkling, deeply fruity and sweet, but with alcohol of around just 4.5-5.5%, generally made on a more artisan scale and have more interest and character as a result.
They can be hard to find – not least because retailers tend not to put them on the shelf with other sparkling wines; and they come in standard bottles and corks, so don’t stand out amongst the still wines either. However, there are some to be found – independent merchants are a happy hunting ground for this kind of thing – and here are a few pointers to get you started. One final tip: Moscato d’Asti is a prime example of a DYA (Drink Youngest Available) wine, so always look for the latest vintage.
Fontannafredda Moscato d’Asti Moncucco 2015 – £9.95 from slurp.co.uk
Elio Perrone Moscato d’Asti 2016 – £8.25 from The Wine Society
Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015 – £12.95, slurp.co.uk; £13.99 The Wine Reserve Cobham and other independents