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.

Things to do in Piemonte in winter months.

The idea to come and visit your favorite winemaking region during winter months when tourist season could be at it lull, is a good idea.  There are plenty of Christmas Markets to visit and and also some things to keep in mind while you are visiting. The pro’s to visiting during off season is you will benefit from the off season rates for flights, hotels and car rentals. The cons are because there is a low in tourism many places take advantage of the quite season as of recently there has been more and more movement in this area, so people are closing up shop and going to their favorite island to bask in some sun.

Winter holiday, here in Italy we take our holiday very seriously and holidays to keep in mind are 8 December Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Christmas 25th and the 26th is Boxing Day or the second Christmas day. The first of January is also a national holiday.  Normally during these holidays it will be hard to find places in the restaurants or hard to find a taxi service or driver services as many people will too be celebrating with their families and friends, or they will be just over booked.   Also keep in mind that if any of these holidays fall on on a Tuesday or Thursday most people will take advantage of having a long weekend and plan to do things in another area of Italy.  With this overload of Italians in circulation it will become more difficult to find tables in restaurants, long lines at the ski lift, difficulties also for making appointments in wineries they will become full very fast, and we must not forget about the traffic.  So keep in mind it is best to do a little research beforehand to make sure you are booked where you would like to go, instead of trying to pop into somewhere.

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Weather conditions it is winter here, we don’t tend to get to much snow and the temperature does not drop to often below zero centigrade. But it can and it does. So it is a good idea to bring some winter gloves, a nice warm winter jacket with a hood is a good idea incase you need in a pinch, a hat, a scarf, and a good pair of boots that are comfortable for walking and also are good in the snow.   Also here the cold weather doesn’t get us down.  There are plenty of things to do on the weekends, farmers markets, Christmas markets or festivals that will have you outside walking around.  It isn't uncommon to find many people eating drinking and dancing outside in the winter months.  It actually helps get rid of those cooped up winter blues we sometimes can encounter.

Christmas markets are plentiful here in Northern Italy as well as Germany, Austria, and other European countries.  The Christmas markets are nice, they will typically have some traditional music playing, hot dishes to eat, and one thing to keep an eye out for is the mulled wines “Vin Brûlée” that will help keep you warm and get you in the spirit.  Be careful as most people tend to add a little kick to the wine of either a Brandy or Rum.  Usually the people displaying their wares are artists or crafters if you would like to find something hand made this is usually your best bet.  Most of the items will be Christmas themed like tree ornaments, or cookies and candies, but sometimes you can find wooden products and jewelry, etc.

Some markets worth visiting:

Canale (Roero) every weekend, in the center from the first Saturday in December until the weekend before Christmas there will be different activities and also a market.

Alba (Langhe) Every Saturday Alba hosts a very large market where you can get everything from fresh vegetables, meats, cheese, to Italian made clothing, and household goods. But once a year they host a market dedicated to all things Christmas.  This year it took place on Sunday 18 December.

Torino being the larger city in the area they have a few more things going on than the other parts of Piemonte. Every day starting from the 26th November to the 8 of January they have a Santa Clause Village that is open everyday of the week from 10am until 11pm.  Located in Piazza d’Armi. It offers visits from Santa Clause, ice skating rink, and street food vendors.

You have a more Traditional Christmas market (Torino) open Monday to Friday from noon to 7pm, on Saturday and Sunday 10am till 8pm.  Located in Piazza Borgo Dora 34.  Here they have about 100 vendors, this market is half inside and half outside and there is a large variety of crafts, typical food products, and Christmas ordainments to keep you busy for a few house.  I typically go to this market every year as it has many wonderful things, and if you go on Sunday you can have the added bonus of the Antique market in the near by distance.

The idea of the Christmas market was started in the Germanic countries and to honor the idea in Torino they have an Ital-German market. Located in Piazza Solferino from the 8 November untile the 23 November.  This market embraces the Germanic traditions of Christmas and here you have the ability to taste your way though over 100 different types of beers!

One Christmas market that is very popular in the Langhe\Roero is the Govone market. Located around the Castle of Govone here this market is open weekends and holidays from 10am until 7pm and will run from 19 November until the 26 December.  This market brings in many from all over so be prepared if you don’t find a parking spot right away.  Also there is a wonderful Trattoria right next to the market that is not to miss called Trattoria Pautassi, they make some wonderful traditional dishes and if you are vegetarian have some delicious options as well.

Ressia - the beginning of a Classic!

Barbaresco Wine Tasting

Fabrizio is humble and passionate Barbaresco producer, and anyone who has the chance to meet him in his winery walks away with an unforgettable experience. Working only 5 hectars in the vineyard Canova located in the village of Neive, he grows Moscato, Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. Ressia has owned and farmed their land for 3 generations since 1913 and it was when Fabrizio’s time to take over he decided to build a winery and start to make wine. Little by little Fabrizio started to buy equipment, and expand the family’s farmhouse for the winery. [embed]https://www.instagram.com/p/BFYxvKqIdWZ/?taken-by=amandaswineadventures[/embed]

2015 Evien Bianco: a white wine from Moscato that undergoes a maceration of 2 days before fermentation starts, then 70% is aged in Austrian acacia while the rest remains in steel. Fresh, floral, aromatic, light body and great acidity.

2013 Evien Serie Oro: This wine is Moscato taken from a special selection in the vineyard that will then be aged in barrel for 2 years. Much bigger on the pallet, orange peel, floral, tropical fruits. Has the potential to age.

 

2013 Barbera d’Alba Superiore: 2 years in Botticella (the staves are French oak, and the heads are Slavonian oak). The Slavonian oak helps the fruit, more cherry notes raspberry, where the French helps to make the wine more round.

2012 Barbera d’Alba Superiore: round, sweet, red fruits, floral

2010 Barbera d’Albal Superiore: complex, red fruits, full on the pallet a really beautiful wine

2008 Barbera d’Alba Superiore: black fruit, vanilla, very smooth, rich

2004 Barbera d’Alba Canova: this wine is only aged in stainless steel. Typically when made this way the fruit and acidity is bright and lively. Typically a wine not for aging too long. Here the wine showed notes of cocoa, chestnut honey, bright acidity and a long finish. I am always impressed to see a Barbera of this style age so wonderfully.

 

2013 Barbaresco Canova: for Ressia’s Barbaresco will stay 26 months in Botticelle before it will be bottled. Fresh fruit, elegant, floral, Strawberries, smooth elegant tannins, rich and velvety.

2012 Barbaresco Canova: classic Nebbiolo, cherries, dried rose, fennel, and currants

2010 Barbareco Canova: red fruits, wild sage, herbs, and absolutely beautiful, long finish with silky tannins.

2009 Barbaresco Canova: great example of 2009, nervous tannins.

2008 Barbaresco Canova: classic fruit, fresh, sweeter tannin

2006 Barbaresco Canova: cherry Jell-o, chocolate, tannins are still hard

2005 Barbersco Canova Riserva Oro: this was the first vintage a Riserva for this house was made. Tobacco, chocolate, tea, blackberries, a full mouth feel, wonderful long finish.

 

I am very happy that I had the opportunity to taste through this wonderful lineup of great wines. I feel that Ressia has a wonderful representation of the fruit, the vineyard and the vintage. The wines are clean and expressive and have shown wonderfully a decade of wonderful wines. Since they make a very small amount of bottles you will not find Ressia everywhere so it is my suggestion the next time you are in Piemonte to stop by for a tasting.

If you would like other things to do while in the area of Barbaresco you can visit my blog here.

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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