Moscato d’Asti - What you really need to know

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

La festa del Ruché – Castagnole Monferrato

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Ruché: a grape varietal found today in Piedmont, it is believed that this varietal has traveled from France but there is no written documentation of this variety.   Ruché is a varietal typically found today in Castagnole Monferrato and has a very unique and special characteristic, an aromatic red grape varietal. Like most red varietals in Piedmont this varietal was always made into a sweet wine, and it wasn’t until the town priest, Don Giacomo Cauda who in 1964 was the first to make this varietal into a dry wine. Today there are a handful of producers working with this grape making it into a dry aromatic style, and here I have listed some of my favorites from the tasting of 12 producers.

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Bosco 2015 Ruché- right off, I think the bottle was just opened because we arrived early. There were tropical fruits on the nose and pallet and at first it reminded me a lot of Gewurztraminer. After we had made the rounds went back to have a proper glass because we enjoyed it so much and at that point had opened up greatly. Did not have that sweetness at first taste but had good red fruit, floral, showed much more elegantly and a long finish. Could be a bottle my husband and I could enjoy easily.

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Francesco Borgognone 2014 “Vigna del Parroco” – Francesco Borgognone has a close connection with priest Don Giacomo Cauda and today produce their Ruche’ from the same vineyard where the priest made his first dry Ruche’. The impression I got from Francesco was he had a great passion and understanding to this grape and was able to display it in its purity. This wine showed black fruits, violets, and peppery notes. This will be a producer I will visit in the next weeks.

Gatto 2015 Ruché – Gatto is an established family run winery since the 900’s in the area of Castagnole Merferrato, and amongst other wines are producing a wonderful example of Ruche’. The 2015 vintage is going to be a promising one for many different wines here in Piedmont. It is a BIG vintage very giving and really showing off the power of some of the grapes varietals. Here we have full mouth of darker fruit, floral wild rose, violets, and spice with some nice tannins.

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I plan to visit some of these producers and will report how the tastings went, with photos of their gnarly old cellars!

Got my fill of Barbera d'Asti and some other little treats!

Got my fill of Barbera d’Asti and some other nice treats, thank you Castagnole delle Lanze for such an wonderful wine and food festival. One thing that I love about living in Italy are the festivals. Every town has their specialty, weather it be foods, wine, or even antiques. Every weekend there is something to do here and people travel from all over to partake in the freshest ingredients.

Last weekend was the Castagnole delle Lanze Barbera d’Asti festival and there were about 23 different producers strategically placed around the historic part of the town. With every producer was live music and a different type of food to pair with your wine. Which means I got to taste a lot of wine, and here are the greatest ones that I have tasted.

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Barroero Barbera d’Asti 2013 Azzurra; Marco is the winemaker and makes about 600 bottles a year. Super small high quality production. This wine was wonderful showing fruits of blackberries, plum, iron kind of like raw meat (something very typical of Barbera) had a great acidity and a long finish.

Four friends who had a love for sparking wine during an ongoing dream in enology school had decided to try making a sparking from this area’s most prized grape Nebbiolo. They call them selves Erpacrife for (Eric, Paolo, Cristian, and Federico), and they make a wonderfully dry sparking wine. I have always said if you have fish and chips this would be the perfect wine. What they have been able to show here is the power of the Nebbiolo’s acidity. The 2011 Erpacrife Nebbiolo was wonderful, pink grapefruit, peaches, white flowers. The color they have been able to maintain from the Nebbiolo is the color of an onionskin pink. The vineyard where they collect the grapes is in the area of Alba Madonna di Como and here their vineyards are located in this amphitheater where the climate is a bit cooler, helping to mature the Nebbiolo slower and also maintaining sugar levels lower and acidity levels higher.

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Gianni Doglia had a few things to try at his stand, and so I did! First I tasted the Grignolino 2015 strawberry, floral, a bit of tannins showing very rich in the mouth. Everyone in this area seems to be very happy with the 2015 vintage, making bigger, fruit driven wine. The Barbera s’Asti 2015 was the bomb. Black fruits, plum, pleasant acidity (lot less meaty quality than the 2013’s).

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Dogliotti 1870 as you can imagine there are many generations of winemaking going on in this house. It all started in Castiglione Tinella and not to long after had decided to move their production area to Castagnole delle Lanze where the winery and family are currently today. Barbera d’Asti 2014, elegant, linear, red fruit, and floral respect some other vintages, has a nice clean acidity.

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This festival is always a good time, and I will plan to go again next year. I just hope it does not rain.

Cascina Castlèt - History Tradition Innovation

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In the small town of Costignole Asti in the Asti Monfferato hills following along a winding street surrounded by vineyards you will find the farmhouse of Cascina Castlèt.   A family that holds records dating back to the XII century. What once was the house that the family Borio called home they have now transformed it into a fully operating cellar.  Cascina Castlèt has managed to balance very nicely tradition with modern, both in the style of the cellar and expressions of their wines.

Mariuccia was and still is ahead of her time, when the winery was handed down to her by her farther in 1970 she was young and determined. Working with Giacomo Bersanetti she recreated her first modern label for the wine Passum in 1983, a Barbera that is treated kind of like an Amarone. Once the grapes are harvested they are placed into small shallow baskets and left to dry. The first part of this drying process takes place in a room with dehumidifiers and after a few weeks the wine is then moved to the attic where the heat from the sun and the dryness of the air will complete this process.

With other innovations and a will to keep tradition alive at Cascina Castlèt has something very special and very rare amongst them. A grape varietal that was commonly found in the Asti and Canelli areas, today Cascina Castlèt is the only remaining producer of this varietal. How they make this wine is also quite interesting because this varietal is very close to Nebbiolo it is the last varietal to come in the cellar and usually they have to harvest it before it is ready. They had mentioned that if they waited for full ripeness it could be as late as end of November/December. So what they do is the same process of the Passum wine they dry the grapes so that way it gives the skins and stems time to mature. This wine is not sweet and also it is not high in alcohol. When I tasted this wine vintage 2011 I got on the nose strawberry fruit, pink peppercorns, and some tobacco leaves. In the pallet this wine is assertive, a bit dusty feeling, the tannins are pretty rustic, I did have the same flavors in the pallet as the nose and the finish was long. This wine for me would be great on a cold day with a nice stew or braised meat.

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Now for my little guilty pleasure, I love sparkling Barbera! If I had a t-shirt that said it I would wear it. It is our wine that reminds me a bit of Lambrusco. Goj is the name of the wine and it is coming from the Piemonteìs dialect meaning a joyful moment, and this is exactly what it does for me. Light, fresh, and refreshing, this wine is better off with a few hours in the fridge before serving and goes excellent with BBQ, or even pizza. If you can get your hands on a bottle I recommend giving it a try.

La Caudrina and the return of Asti Spumante

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La Selvatica Asti Spumante

I possibly cannot stress as to how important the grape Moscato is. I mean in Italy is one of the oldest varietals, in Piedmont alone has been growing since the 1300’s, and also they have discovered some of its mutations include Chardonnay and Chasselas. Pretty cool huh? They have also found that the molecules in Moscato are responsible for the aromas and flavors that you will also find in Pineapple, honey, and sage.

On to taste some Moscato, come on don’t make that face. Living in Piemonte where it is very important to finish a meal with Moscato, I now have really come to appreciate this wine/grape. It is amazing how the aromatics of Moscato when you eat the grape and taste then the semi sweet sparking wines from Asti (Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante) you understand exactly how wonderful this grape varietal really is. Even the grappa made from Moscato is much more enjoyable thanks to these aromatics.

The Dogliotti family two generations of wine making but have been Moscato farmers for many more generations, are the kindest, most generous, and loudest people that I know. They are real Piedmontiés. And the wines that they make and the grapes that the family harvests are an important piece of Piedmont history and culture. I have been tasting a lot of Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti around these parts and I cannot say enough that hands down my favorite wines are from La Caudrina. Every year they have such a wonderful expression of the fruit, the acidity is bright and the wine is dangerously gulpable. Good thing it only has a max of 7% alcohol!

La Selvatica is taking it’s name from “the wild” would be it’s direct translation. They came up with this name for the wine because there once was an abandond cascina where their winery is today. This cascina had “wild” moscato growing all around it. By wild could be that it looked like it was a jungle because it was coming from a vineyard that had been abandoned. The woman on the label is one of Romano Levi's drawings (La donna selvatica).  I will talk about him and his importance another day.

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