Excellences of Moscato in Piedmont

Author: Marco Negro

close up Moscato Bianco in Asti region

In the previous article we analyzed the origin of the Moscato Bianco grape and the features of the wines produced from this grape.

With regard to Moscato d’Asti Docg we had said that “each hill could correspond to wines with different nuances, depending on the different geological and microclimatic components”.

In this new article I will tell you about the encounters made by the team of Sentieri di Vino with some producers of Moscato Bianco wines. We will start from the sub-areas of Moscato d’Asti Docg.

The sub-areas of Moscato d’Asti Docg

The legislator, conscious of the differences between wines from different areas, recognized the existence of three different sub-areas within the Moscato d’Asti Docg appellation.

Moscato d’Asti Docg, the map

Among these, the “Canelli” sub-area circumscribes an area of ​​vineyards bounded by the path of streams and hilly ridges. It is the unique combination of geological and microclimatic factors that are able to give Moscato d’Asti Docg a precise and different identity in this production area. They have a wider aromatic framework and are marked by unique finesse and elegance. At the moment, a process of recognition of an independent new DOCG, which will be called Canelli Docg, is underway (probably starting from the 2021 harvest).

Monferrato Nizza

We visit the Ghione Anna farm, whose vineyards are within the current “Canelli” sub-area of ​​Moscato d’Asti Docg. Anna welcomes us: she immediately accompanies us to the vineyard; a glimpse of a very beautiful landscape, dominated by the Torre dei Contini, built around 1585. Anna in a few moments shows us the two most important reasons why in this sub-area the wines from Moscato are particularly fine and elegant: the white marls and the height of the hills that exceeds 400 meters. The microclimate is characterized by very pronounced temperature variations between day and night and very dry daytime breezes: in short, the ideal vegetative conditions for Moscato Bianco. Anna takes us to visit her very old vineyard, the highest on the hill; here the vine stocks have an average age of 80 years and produce a limited amount of small clusters.

Ghione vineyards in Canelli

From my notebook of wine tasting I carry the notes taken; it was Moscato d’Asti Docg – Canelli sub-area “piccole gioie“, harvest 2019. “Straw yellow color, with golden reflections. As soon as it is poured it creates a light foam. The perlage is very fine and persistent. Intense fruity aromas of yellow peach, acacia honey and light hints of aromatic herbs. The sensation on the palate is that of eating freshly picked Moscato grapes. Wine of remarkable freshness; the light pétillant sensation increases the sensation of easy drinkability. Long and pleasant aftertaste. It does not leave cloying sweetness on the palate “.

Anna reminds us of the older grapes she had shown us in the vineyard. The harvest from this vineyard is kept separate. He offers us the comparison and tasting of this second wine. The sensation is that of an even more complex Moscato d’Asti Docg – “Canelli” sub-area. “The fruity olfactory sensations are very intense and fade with delicate  notes of sage. On the palate, the perception of Moscato grapes is complemented by sensations of peach in syrup and exotic fruit. Exceptional balance between sweetness and acidity. The aromaticity is long and persistent “. The confirmation that Moscato Bianco is really capable of giving different wines for diverse locations on the same hill!

The crus of Moscato d’Asti Docg

The crus Moscato d’Asti Docg deserve a separate discussion, which in Piemonte are called Sorì (literally “sunny”, that is, characterized by excellent sun exposure). The southern exposure is not enough to make a crus or Sorì out of a hillside. It is the lucky combination of many factors including the microclimate, the composition of the soil and the exposure. Moncucco (in Santo Stefano Belbo) and Sant’Antonio (in Canelli) hold a place of honor among the historical Sorì.

Moscato Bianco vineyards in Santo Stefano Belbo

Vineyards in Moncucco are characterized by the dry stone walls that support the terraces. Due to the steep slopes, the processes are all manual.

dry stone walls in Moncucco vineyards

Viticulture here is defined as “heroic”. The soil is made up of a very fine white limestone of marine origin. It should be remembered that steep soils are better able to absorb daytime heat. The high altitude guarantees a wide temperature range during the ripening period, with daytime breezes and very cool nights.

These are the ideal conditions for very broad and elegant aromatic profiles to develop in the few and small clusters of these vineyards. The vineyards of Sant’Antonio, on the other hand, are defined by the decay of a very ancient bluish tuff, they are soils with very little potassium.
These hills are very high, with a beautiful South-West exposure which has always guaranteed perfectly balanced grapes. Here the dry microclimate is able to guarantee healthy grapes, regardless of the trend of the vintage. These are the reasons why in the past the Sant’Antonio grapes were chosen and paid more by the intermediaries who controlled the sale of the grapes to the processing cellars of Canelli.

Aged Moscato

The extraordinary balance between sugars and acidity present in Moscato musts also allow for results unknown to most consumers of Moscato d’Asti Docg: aging. Alessandro Boido collects the grapes from an old vineyard (now over 60 years old) when they are slightly overripe. A batch of this production is then kept in bottle aging until the fifth year after the harvest.

An extraordinary variety of aromatic descriptors can emerge from a tasting of Alessandro’s legendary bottles (the name of his winery is Ca d’Gal). Over the years I have had the privilege of participating in three vertical tastings of his Moscato d’Asti Docg “Vite Vecchia“. Each of these alone would be enough to fill an entire article! From my notebooks I notice that the tertiary aromas developed are different for each vintage: from golden apple to exotic fruit, from lavender flowers to caramel… to sage and rosemary. Often with evident flavor peaks and richness of mineral salts.

Moscato d’Asti Docg Vigna Vecchia, Cà d’Gal

Loazzolo Doc

In the south of the Moscato d’Asti Docg production region the landscape becomes wilder; the valleys are narrow, with many woods and few vineyards located on the highest steep slopes facing south. We are in the small town of Loazzolo, where Moscato Bianco grapes are utilized not only to produce Moscato d’Asti Docg, but also the rare and precious Loazzolo Doc wine. This wine interprets the local tradition of over-ripening in the vineyard and, then, in the attics of the small bunches of Moscato Bianco collected from the highest and better exposed vineyards. Loazzolo Doc owes its unique identity not only to the geology of the soil and the microclimate, but also to the traditional “saper fare” (Italian expression referring to processing techniques historically rooted in local traditions, as “know-how”).

The appointment is with Silvio Laiolo, owner of the Piancanelli winery. The soil is white, calcareous, resting on layers of tuff; the most suitable for giving finesse and freshness to Moscato wines. The vineyards from which he collects Moscato Bianco for Loazzolo Doc are over 500 meters high, facing South-West and with very pronounced slopes; every operation in the vineyard is strenuous. The steep slopes prevent the land from slowly and deeply absorbing rain. In these conditions the old Moscato strains (over 60 years old) can only produce small and sparse bunches (with few berries, very spaced apart).

At this height the ripening process is naturally slow. Silvio postpones the harvest time as much as possible; over-ripening is therefore not a quick drying. It is a real process of chemical evolution within the berries that continues until the rains arrive (weeks of good weather are increasingly frequent, even in October). After harvesting, the grapes are placed on racks where the dehydration process continues, accompanied by the attack of Botrytis molds. The latter consume a part of the sugars naturally present in the berries and are able to develop new odorous molecules.

Loazzolo Doc, therefore, is a Moscato wine that carries within itself the action of many unique factors: soil, height, exposure, microclimate, over-ripening, drying in the loft and the effect of Botrytis molds. After pressing, the must is fermented in barrique. Loazzolo Doc is a wine that does not need modern refrigerated vats; the wine rests in wooden barrels, as it did in the past, then even more time in bottle. In barriques the aromas evolve and become even more complex (tertiary aromas) and stable. I carry from my notebook the tasting notes of Loazzolo Doc “Bricchi Mej” 2016. “Very clear, golden color, with amber reflections. Some of the typical floral aromas of Moscato are present, including the elegance of the wisteria flower; the hints of apricot and overripe fig are more evident. In the glass the aromas evolve, delicate notes of beeswax appear. In the mouth there is an unexpected sensation of freshness and a sweetness well balanced by acidity. I find the taste of grape skins. It has an unexpectedly fresh and “vinous” trait. After a few minutes an ethereal, almost balsamic scent of musk and delicate resins remains in the glass“.

Year after year there may be differences in the vegetative cycle, in the weather trend during ripening and withering. This is why the wines of each vintage have their own precise identity. Vertical tastings of Loazzolo Doc are wonderful experiences!

Strevi Doc

We move to the south-eastern region of ​​the production area of ​​Moscato d’Asti Docg. In this area of ​​Piemonte an ancient wine has survived, always made with Moscato Bianco. This is Moscato passito, which, exactly due to its strong link with ancient and established production techniques, has deserved a separate denomination: Strevi Doc. Producers have always selected the most suitable bunches, those not too large and “spargoli” ( an expression that indicates bunches with sparse berries, very spaced). These are not very productive bunches for other productions, but ideal for drying, which is carried out on racks exposed to the sun, or in covered but ventilated rooms (attics and lofts for example).

small Moscato bunches for drying

The climate in Strevi is generally warmer than in other production areas of Moscato d’Asti Docg. The harvest is early. The wines from here have, in general, less floral descriptors on the nose, but at the same time are characterized by a very full, round fruity taste and a long persistence.

We arrive at the Marenco winery, where we meet Michela, one of the three sisters of the family. She takes us to the “Scrapona” vineyard, the hill from which the grapes with which the homonymous Moscato d’Asti Docg and the Strevi Doc wine are produced. The soil is a very fine limestone marl, which is still compact tuff in depth. We are in the heart of the Bagnario Valley, a valley once called “the valley of the sheiks” because those who were lucky enough to have vineyards here could count on revenues from the sale of the grapes that were much higher than the average; a tangible sign of a vocation for the production of excellent grapes. Michela explains to us: “our wine is a passito wine from Moscato that is not only linked to the grape and the terroir… it is an old know-how that has been handed down from generation to generation”.

Moscato bunches on rack for drying

Following withering on the racks, the grapes lose weight; sugars and all aromatic substances are concentrated, a small part of berries is also attacked by Botrytis molds. After about six to eight weeks of drying, the only way to press these bunches is through the force of a press. A part of the skins (without the pips) is added to the must in slow fermentation in steel vats. Skins still contain sugars and many aromatic substances. This is followed by an aging in barrique for about two years.

After tasting his two different Moscato d’Asti Docg, we move on to tasting the Strevi Doc “Passrì di Scrapona” wine. “Golden color, with light amber reflections. You can see the sugar density on the walls of the glass. On the nose it has aromas of ripe apricot, candied orange peel and fig. There is a light note of sweet spices, such as vanilla or cinnamon. In the mouth it has a fruity taste, which first recalls ripe yellow fruit, sometimes dried fruit. Round and very complex; the sweetness of honey and baked apple is balanced by a certain contrasting acidity. Long and persistent taste“.

Also for this white Moscato wine, evolution continues inside the bottle. We plan to meet with the sisters Marenco and Andrea for an upcoming vertical tasting of their bottles of Strevi Doc. As per tradition, we will bring cheeses and other gourmand rarities to try the best pairings!

24th February 2021,

Marco Negro

Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.
Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.

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