With Prosecco having achieved such international infamy for its quality, it is only natural that more people are becoming interested in other types of sparkling white wines from Italy. In truth, consumers really are spoilt for choice when it comes to their selections, but there are some varieties that stand out from the crowd thanks to their own qualities.
One of those wines is the spectacular Moscato d’Asti, so here we are going to take a brief tour through the history of this wonderful wine and why it has become such an indelible part of the Italian wine industry.
The Early Years
The Moscato Bianco grape, from which Moscato d’Asti and a number of other wines are made, has been cultivated for centuries in the Piedmont region, marking it out as one of the oldest grapes in the Italian wine industry, and certainly one of the most revered in the entire Piedmont region.
However, by contrast, the Moscato d’Asti is actually a fairly new wine, especially when considering the age of the grape. While the wine itself had often been made by producer, using the frizzante style, in general it was kept back for the producers themselves to enjoy, rather than being made available for the general public. As such, it had a minor reputation as a winemaker’s wine, rather than one that would be commercially viable for a number of years.
That all started to change as the 19th century drew to a close, and by the 1870s, Moscato d’Asti had started to become something of a regular fixture in stores and households.
The wine itself stands out from the crowd because of its low alcohol content, which some may argue sets limits on its place in the pantheon of great Italian wines. Often measuring in with approximately 5 percent alcohol content, compared to the 12-14 percent of most other Italian wines, this is a wine that is made for easy drinking at any time of day. That is what led to its popularity for winemakers, before the wine started doing well commercially, as the low alcohol content meant that it was a wine that could be consumed by workers during lunch, without impairing their abilities to do their jobs effectively.
During this time, and through into the modern era, the wine also became a regular fixture of the long, multicourse meals that are something of a tradition in the Piedmont region. It would be used as a digestif, which meant the wine would cleanse the palate between courses, before a more heavy or suitable wine was used for the meal itself. However, it did serve a purpose in these meals beyond palate cleansing, as many would also use it to prepare the palate for the sweetness of a dessert, which is what has led to the wine developing a reputation as a dessert wine into the modern era.
Today, the wine has the strict regulations that you would expect from one of the true Italian classics. Moscato d’Asti is limited to being only 5.5 percent ABV, which results in the fermentation process being halted part-way through to more alcohol is not generated. This leaves behind a lot of the natural sugars that are used during the fermentation process, which in turn contributes to the sweet taste that the wine has become famous for.
It also differs from other sparkling whites, notably Champagne, in that there is no secondary fermentation that occurs in the bottle. While this would be unavoidable using traditional techniques, a Moscato d’Asti will undergo a specialised filtration process before it is bottled, preventing additional fermentation while also giving the wine its characteristic golden glow, which has proven so appealing to people throughout the years. What’s left behind is an indelibly sweet and simple wine that has been gaining popularity in recent years.
The United States, in particular, has taken a shine to Moscato d’Asti, with sales of the wine rising year on year since 2011. In fact, the wine’s sales have improved by 73 percent since that time, with an average increase of 10 to 15 percent in sales annually. Predominantly, Moscato d’Asti has proven popular with people under the age of 45, but there are also other factors that may be at play.
For one, affordability has allowed the wine to gain a foothold in the market. Often available in the United States for as little as $10 per bottle, it has become an easy wine to purchase and one that can be enjoyed at practically any time of the day. Some also argue that the effect of hip hop culture has proven to be positive for Moscato d’Asti, with some commentators pointing out that it is now becoming the wine of choice since Champagne started to fall out following comments made by Frederic Rouzaud in regards to the Cristal brand of Champagne.
So what legacy, if any, does Moscato d’Asti leave behind? Well, perhaps that is a premature question since the wine is currently one of the most popular in the world, however, if nothing else it does show that there is room for wide varieties of wine in the industry. While many would point towards it being a little bit of a lesser cousin to the more famous brands of sparkling white wines that have been developing their reputations in recent years, Moscato d’Asti is one of those simple, elegant, and easy wines that will always have a place at the dinner table.
It is this simplicity, combined with good quality and affordability, that are likely to help the brand continue the remarkable growth it has enjoyed throughout the 21st century. For a wine with such a rich history, including that of the grape, which has been used in Italian winemaking for centuries, this continued modern success is ample reward.
It has been an interesting evolution, from a winemakers wine through to being used as a palate cleanser and dessert wine, into becoming the wine of choice in the hip hop culture. We look forward to finding out what the future has in store for Moscato d’Asti.