Moscato d’Asti is the most widely consumed sweet wine in the world. It was given a Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origins (DOCG) in February 1994, and is part of the largest and most diverse family of grape varieties known.
These three facts are enough to know that we’re talking about a giant on the international wine scene. So it shouldn’t surprise you that Moscato’s history is particularly rich and ancient. As we’ve already seen, Moscato bianco was cultivated during the time of the ancient Greeks under the name Anathelicon moschaton, while the ancient Romans renamed it apiano because bees, or api, love its exquisite aroma.
Moscato was hugely successful in the medieval ages in the form of a sweet wine called musquè, from muscum, or musky, aromatic scents. Its popularity in Piedmont is owed to Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, who decreed a limitation on all kinds of importation in order to favor local production. Moscato was soon seen all over the region in wine cellars and on tables, building a great reputation from critics and the public—so much so that at the end of the 1700s, the prestigious Agricultural Society of Turin noted it as a Piedmontese variety able to produce some of the most prestigious wines of the region.
IL MOSCATO D’ASTI DOCG – TECHNICAL INFORMATION
Moscato d’Asti is made from white Moscato grapes and has a more or less intense straw yellow color. Its fragrant and characteristic aromas distinguish it, while its flavor is sweet and aromatic but never sticky—in fact, it leaves a clean sensation in the mouth. It has a minimum of 10.5° and at least one third of its sugars have not yet fermented. Best drunk young, it is a classic end-of-meal wine that pairs perfectly with baked goods like panettone. Store horizontally in the bottle and drink chilled, between 12 and 15°C. Moscato d’Asti Spumante, made through sparkling wine production, is also a highly-prized wine; for this reason, it is often counterfeited. Moscato d’Asti Spumante shares almost all the characteristics as the wine that it originates from, with the difference of having a minimum 12°, of which 7 to 9.5° are already fermented.
The capitals of Moscato
In the 19th century, Canelli and Asti became the symbolic cities of Moscato. Canelli is distinguished as the historical capital of the Moscato bianco grape in Piedmont, largely known as “Moscato bianco di Canelli.” Asti, on the other hand, is a city with strong enological roots and the seat of important events, fairs, commercial activity, and wine studies, and thus has become a natural reference point for Moscato. Still today, Asti brands the label with the image and name of its patron saint, San Secondo. Around the end of the 1800s, Piedmontese production of Moscato grapes weighed in at about 148,000 quintals. Canelli constituted the principle area of cultivation with a total production of 72,000 quintals; and large quantities came from the municipalities of Santo Stefano Belbo, Calosso, Strevi, Castiglione Tinella, Acqui Terme, and Ricaldone.
From Epernay to Canelli
During the second half of the 19th century, the history of Piedmontese sparkling wine began. In the mid-1800s, the entrepreneur Carlo Gancia learned the methods of producing sparkling wine in Epernay of Champagne and returned to Canelli to begin producing the first bottles of Italian spumante. It was called “Moscato Champagne.”
The bottles used at the time were specially made to withstand up to 10 atmospheric bars of pressure, and were called “Asti pesante,” or “heavy Asti” bottles. In addition, men working in the cellars wore protective leather aprons and screened masks in case of bottle explosion (which could happen during the uncontrolled secondary fermentation). Only in 1940 with the discovery of autoclaves was Asti spumante metodo Charmat and Martinotti produced on an industrial scale—upwards of a million bottles were produced.
Out to conquer the world
The 20th century was the century of the “legal” triumph of Moscato d’Asti. On December 7, 1932, the Consortium for the Protection of Asti was formed—officially recognized two years later—which set itself to the task of obtaining the Denomination of Controlled Origins (DOC). They achieved their goal in 1967, four years after the rules for protecting DOCs for musts and wines were published. And on February 1, 1994, as mentioned above, they achieved another success in receiving the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origins (DOCG).
LA DENOMINAZIONE ASTI DOCG
Two wines are made from the “Moscato bianco di Canelli” grape variety.
– The first is the Asti DOCG spumante, recognized for its mushroom top cork and heir of the experimentations done by Carlo Gancia. Today, it is produced in about 100 million bottles annually through the industrial method, using pressured autoclaves.
– The second is Moscato d’Asti DOCG, which has a regular wine cork. This is produced in an artisan manner by about one hundred wineries that make a total of 15 million bottles annually. It’s characterized by its natural effervescence, and is bottled when the wine has not yet completed fermentation; this permits it to retain a sweetness that, with its incredible aromas, is reminiscent of newly harvested grapes, making Moscato d’Asti DOCG unique in all the world.
Currently, about 4,000 families in 52 municipalities cultivate Moscato (whose growing zone was defined in 1932) in about 10,000 hectares dispersed among three provinces: Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo. In the territory of Canelli, where the variety has been cultivated since the ancient Roman era, the Moscato d’Asti industry began developing at the end of the 19th century. With the activity of its vinicultural entrepreneurs, the city was in touch with the most modern and international artistic trends, turning Canelli into one of the most significant centers of art nouveau (called Liberty in Italian) in Piedmont.
Moscato d’Asti experienced an explosion of popularity with the new millennium, enchanting the world with its fragrant bubbles. Today, it is undoubtedly the most widely consumed sweet wine in the world. It is appreciated in the USA—where it can even be found on the tables of actors and actresses—and across the continents to the East, where it is particularly popular with the Chinese public, who prefer it over the complex and structured red French wines. They named it the perfect celebration wine.
The hundred or so bottlers of this type of wine turn out almost fifteen million bottles a year. Moscato d’Asti is beginning to be made in an ever more authentic and personal way: many producers like to emphasize unique characteristics, and very recently Sorì—or cru—have been classified for this extraordinary sweet wine.