I am going to let it out, the good, the bad, and unfortunately the ugly about the Moscato grape and it's wines. I talk to a lot of people and well, most people tell me that they are not fans of Moscato d’Asti. When they were younger and willing to try this slightly sweet, fizzy wine they were quickly surprised by how sweet and unbalanced many of the wines that are easily accessible at the local liquor store are. There are many reasons as to why it is easier to find a bad Moscato than a good one. I am going to point you in the right direction to finding the best Moscato.
When Moscato is picked it is harvested by hand, because here in the Asti - Langhe areas we have very steep slopes that are dangerous to drive tractors so hand picking is essential, and once in the vineyards the workers will go through each bunch one by one to make sure there are no rotten or raisin like berries. Those will come off. Then the grapes will be placed into small plastic baskets that are filled with holes for breathing purposes. This is important as during the warm summer days, you don’t want the grapes to be to hot or if one berry does break you don’t want that to start to ferment when you are on your way to the cellar. (This could create problems)
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If the grapes are hot, you will wait until they cool down to crush or use dry ice to lower these temperatures. The grapes need to be cool in order to maintain the most aromatics in the wine. Once the grapes have gone into the crusher de-stemmer they are moved immediately into a press to get the juice off of the skins. From there the juice goes into a temperature controlled stainless steel tank where the temperature will remain under zero centigrade. This is important that the wine does not start to ferment until after it’s two filtration.These filtrations are to help take off the dirty sediments that might be left after the crush and pressing. The first filtration is used to take off the larger sediments and then after a much finer filtration to take off any sediments that might discolor or leave an off flavor to the wine. This process happens immediately in order to obtain a must as clean as possible. After this process has finished the grape must will stay in the tanks under -1° degrees centigrade until that barrel is needed to make wine. They can keep these barrels like this for months until the time is ready for the Moscato to be made. This is important because the longer the must stays in contact with the fine lees the more aromatics and complex the wine will turn out.
Once the wine maker decides it is time for some Moscato they will slowly raise the temperature of the tanks at about 10 - 15 °C to get the fermentation going, at this point there will be selected yeast added to help with the fermentation process. Because this wine has been taken off the skins and filtered twice before the initial fermentation the select yeasts are very important for the wine. Without these yeasts you might wind up with a wine that has off aromatics and has too much trouble making the alcoholic fermentation. The fermentation takes place in a autoclave* and this process can take 30 - 40 days total. Slow soft fermentation allowing the bubbles to gently integrate with the wine and making sure to keep those wonderful fruity flavors in the wine.
*An autoclave is a pressurized tank that has double walls to keep the bubbles in the wine.
Once the wine has finished the fermentation and the pressure of the bubbles in the wines do not surpass 2.5 bar of pressure then the wine is ready to undergo a sterile filtration that will remove any yeasts that might start to ferment in the bottle. Remembering that there is still a high content of sugars in Moscato, it is important to not have fermentation starting up again in the bottle!
After this filtration process the wine is then ready to be put into bottle under pressure. The wineries will have to have a special bottling machine to keep the bubbles in the wines.
Just to stress a bit more, Moscato is a wine that needs a lot of care. I only spoke really about 3 filtration but in reality there are over 10 that will happen to the wine before it makes it into the bottle. This is a very delicate wine and runs a high risk of becoming spoiled, both in the winery and after the final product is finished. So from this it is best to know your wines and here are some things you should look for. To make a Moscato the winemaker must have a lot of passion for this grape as during the harvest the time to relax and have a good night sleep are few. (I know this as my husband painstakingly makes Moscato every year and thus late nights and early mornings)
Understanding that reading labels is not easy it is even harder to read and understand Italian labels. But I am going to help you to understand. Here are some quick pointers.
First if a Moscato is coming from anywhere else than Italy, then it is not a D.O.C.G. Moscato d’Asti. These three words Moscato d’Asti D.O.C.G. are very important for the quality of the moscato. The D.O.C.G. is a set of very strict regulations, in order to have this label on your wine it must pass a series of sever tests. In the vineyard, a chemical analysis, a blind tasting by other winemakers, etc. So when you see this you know you are at a good starting point.
If you see the name just Moscato written on the label without any other designation, this means they can make the wine how ever they would like and you could wind up with something flat, or overly sweet. Unfortunately this plus the overload of producers who need to have a Moscato to complete their catalog are some of the things that makes it very hard to find a good quality, hand crafted product. Moscato Madness if you will.
Some of my favorite Moscato d’Asti DOCG wines on the market today:
Gianni Doglia: A small family run winery it’s just Gianni and his sister Paola taking care of the winery. They make about 80,000 bottles a year in which they have 2 Moscato wines, both of very high quality and both very different.
La Spinetta: One of the larger wineries in the area, but one of the first to take Moscato to another level of quality. Giorgio Rivetti and the beginning of his career was making up to 5 different single vineyard Moscato d’Asti wines to show off the differences from each vineyard. Today they only have 2 labels and maintain a consistent product every year. More about La Spinetta here!
La Caudrina: Another great family run winery, Romano Dogliotti in the 1970’s took over the family farm and put La Caudrina on the map with high quality Moscato d’Asti and also an amazing Asti Spumante. The next generation wine team for the Dogliotti family has added a few more wines to the family portfolio and have been maintaining a great quality. More about La Caudrina here!
Scagliola: The fourth generation of winemakers for this family has been recently taking over this absolutely beautiful property. Working together with the 3rd generation, family Scagliola are making still traditional wines as well as trying some new techniques. The wines are fresh, clean, and high quality! Also try their Brachetto.
Elio Perrone: A very small family producer working with only indigenous grapes from the Asti area, Stefano Perrone became famous for his wine Bigaro. A blend of Moscato and Brachetto grapes, made the same way Moscato is made so a bit fizzy and sweet with a great rose color.