Moscato is a grape that can give many different wines, first of all because the genetic varieties of Moscato are many and different. There is Moscato Bianco, which we analyze in this article by Sentieri di Vino. There are also Moscato Giallo (cultivated mainly in Veneto and Alto Adige), Moscato d’Alessandria (referring to Alexandria of Egypt), Moscato Ottonel, Moscato Rosa and Moscato Nero d’Acqui.
History and characteristics of Moscato Bianco
It seems that the Moscato grape grown in Piemonte is the same that, over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks called Anathelicon moschaton. The Roman historian Columella (in the first century of our era) wrote about these Muscat grapes, particularly sweet and appreciated by bees, calling it Apianae. The oldest records of this vine in Piemonte date back to 1303, on a document where it is possible to read: “bono e puro vino moscatello”(which can be translated in:“good and pure Moscatello wine”) referring to wines produced in the Alba region. Moscatellum is then mentioned in several subsequent documents. In 1597 the Duke of Mantua asked for a certain number of Moscato cuttings to the inhabitants of Santo Stefano Belbo, still today the heart of the best production of Moscato d’Asti Docg in Piemonte.
Moscato Bianco is grown in several Italian regions. In Piemonte it is particularly suitable for cultivation in the hills. It grows best in soils with a prevalence of limestone. It has been found that soils containing both marl and sandstone give the bunches a broader aromatic profile and more intense aromas. It prefers the continental climate, with snowy and cold winters. During the summer, Moscato grapes do not easily suffer from water stress; however, the best results are obtained when the vineyards enjoy a hot and dry summer climate.
Ripe Moscato berries are completely golden, they take on the color of amber on the part of the bunch exposed to the sun. It is a fairly early variety: the ideal ripening always takes place in the first part of September. The wines obtained from Moscato grapes maintain the same aromatic profile as the grapes harvested and eaten in the vineyard. This attitude of keeping the aroma from grapes to wine unchanged is a peculiarity common to very few grape varieties.
The primary aroma, that is, deriving directly from the grapes, which makes the scent of Moscato unique is linalool. It is a molecule naturally present in the skins of grape berries. The most typical aromatic descriptors of Moscato Bianco are yellow peach and the Moscato grape itself, as well as acacia, wisteria and lime flowers and acacia honey. Some soils are able to transfer Moscato wines herbaceous aromas, including sage.
Moscato grapes have been vinified since immemorial time to obtain sweet wines. The natural residual sugar, from the sweetness of the berries, is maintained by blocking fermentation. This is not a technical article: to simplify, let’s just say that by cooling the fermentation vats with temperatures close to 0 ° C, the transformation of grape sugars into alcohol is suddenly blocked. The resulting wines are therefore low in alcohol (5-5,5% alcohol) and sweet.
Moscato grape embodies a “magical” balance, almost an alchemy, between acidity and sugars. This is why Moscato wines have an extraordinary freshness and fragrance. Even if at the first taste the wines are round and sweet, our palate is not overwhelmed by sweetness (as would happen for example for honey). The second glass is almost always welcome!
Different shades for each hill
The production district of Moscato Bianco in Piemonte is incredibly vast.
The industrial processes of sparkling wine have allowed the production of millions of bottles of Asti Docg, the sweet sparkling wine produced in Piemonte from this grape. It is a market dominated by multinationals that debase the extraordinary value of this grape to create large masses of millions of bottles with no identity. These sparkling wines are now a commodity managed by buyers of large European and North American distribution chains who are interested only in seeking the lowest price, without any care for the quality and values of the landscape.
However, there is another wine, which is able to enhance the value of Moscato Bianco, the identity of the territory and the work of the producers.
This is Moscato d’Asti Docg. Again some wineries produce fairly homogeneous masses of millions of bottles. Nevertheless, for this wine there is a lucky demarcation between industry and producers who respect the territory. Even among large producers there is the habit of keeping the musts that come from different vineyards separate, because the features are different. Vineyards with exposure and height give wines with a more complex aromatic profile and good acidity; grapes from calcareous soils alternating with sands are able to give greater finesse and elegance; finally from the less suitable vineyards, a production of average and constant quality is anyway obtained. Moscato d’Asti Docg could therefore have different shades on each side of the hill!
These hills are beautiful to visit in any season. But it is between October and February that the vineyards of Canelli, Santo Stefano Belbo and Mango give the best of their aesthetic beauty.
The autumn mists give the villages at the bottom of the valley a fairytale look, while on the highest Sorì (the best exposed crus) the sun still warms as a few months before. Then comes the season of foliage, with woods and vineyards that change color from day to day. The winter snow cover will contrast the soft natural curves of the hills with the linear geometries and angles that delimit the different vineyards.
This is the first part of the article that explores Moscato Bianco and the wines that are produced from it in Piemonte.
A second article will take in examination the most excellent wines produced in Piemonte with Moscato Bianco. The journey continues and there will also be our tasting notes!
4th February 2021,