Published on in Approfondimenti, History

Moscato: Bubbles of the Barbarians?

Moscato is a wine that transcends time: from the ancient Romans to the current day, its popular consumption was probably influenced by the Barbaric invasions. 

Among the “native” Piedmontese grapes, moscato is one of the most ancient varieties. This grape variety was already known among the ancient Romans by the name Apianae, called such because their high sugar content attracted multitudes of bees, or “api.” Even Pliny the Elder, and later Palladio, makes an explicit reference to the grapes in his agrarian writings. Its current-day name of Moscato seems to come from its “highly aromatic scent, like musk” that characterizes this delicate, fragrant grape [1].

However, this grape, although highly appreciated in Italy since ancient times, cannot actually be considered a truly native Piedmontese variety. The wine made from this grape was originally imported from ancient Greece to Italy, passing through either the northern Padana plains or the southern territories of Italy to arrive, finally, in Rome.

In fact, the history of moscato should lead us to perhaps rethink the value we attribute to our strict concept of native grapes. Because the value of a grape depends on several factors: its adaptability to root itself in a certain territory, its capacity to express its maximum potential through said territory, and overall, the ability of the grape to generate strong, enduring traditions like what happened, a couple of centuries ago, in Canelli and its surrounding areas.

coppa romana vino

Coppa romana da vino – Roman wine cup


The ancient palate, in general, had quite the sweet tooth. Just think about the Roman mulsum, a mix of wine and honey offered at the beginning of lunch; or ancient Greek mead, a sort of precursor to wine made from the combined fermentation of water and honey.

First of all, it’s important to note the differences between northern consumption patterns of the Celtics and Germans (known as Barbarians), and that of the Romans. The northern populations did not dilute their wines like the Romans did, and loved to conserve their natural effervescence as much as possible. Indeed, their drinking vessels were tall and narrow to help reduce evaporation and conserve the drink’s bubbles.

The Romans, on the other hand, liberally watered down their wine after conserving it in resin-lined amphorae and enriching it with spices and herbal infusions. Romans drank from wide, shallow cups, ideal for smelling the strong aromatics of the drink, which was often served warm.

It might sound paradoxical, but the truth is that our modern, sophisticated way of drinking wine derives from the gradual influence of the northern Barbaric cultures over Roman habits, which were considered much more civilized at the time [2].

moscato bicchiere 1

Interestingly, already by the First Century A.D., the town of Hasta (the Latin name of current-day Asti) stands out for being one of the most renowned places for the production of wine “glasses” made for non-diluted, slightly sparkling wine [3]. It was this very city that, coincidentally, was to become the capital of Moscato, destined to become a worldwide symbol for sweet and sparkling wine per eccellenza.


[1] A.Strucchi, Il Moscato di Canelli, UTET, 1895, pag. 9

[2] I. Gaddo, La vite e il vino nell’astigiano, Accademia University Press, 2013, pp 62-63

[3] Plinio, Naturalis Historia, libro 35, paragrafo 160