by Dave Nelson
No wine captures spring in a bottle better than a good moscato. It's a fresh, lightly carbonated glass of fruit and flowers. Yes, it's on the sweet side, but really just enough to make it a perfect match for the first ripe strawberries and melons of the season. Plus, there's usually plenty of acidity to balance. In fact, it's entry in the Oxford Companion to Wine refers to moscato as "the perfect breakfast wine."
Moscato d'Asti, the most commonly seen moscato in the U.S., hails from the land surrounding the city of Asti in Piemonte. This region in the northwest corner of Italy is also home to some of Italy's brawniest, longest-lived red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, yet it also produces the delicate, low alcohol frizzante wine from the moscato bianco grape.
There are high quality moscatos from other areas of Piemonte as well, and today we give one of 'em a try...
An initial rush of carbonation settles to a slow but steady stream of bubbles through a pale yellow sea. Imagine smell that couples fresh-cut flowers with perfectly ripe melon. The subtle buzz of the bubbles combine with a light backbone of acidity to balance the rush of sweet fruit flavor. Still, the flavors win out.
This wine would be terrific with a lightly sweet fruit dessert such as a simple tart or strawberries with just a touch of cream, but it offers enough complexity for sitting in the sun and sipping. Freshness is key to moscato; it's never going to be any better than the moment you buy it. So, if you pick one up, drink it up.
The verdict: Thrill
Unlike sparkling wines produced by the Champagne method, moscato is only fermented once. (Champagnes undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, which provides the carbonation.) When the alcohol level reaches 5.5 to 7 percent, a moscato producer chills the wine to stop the activity of the yeast. The wine is then bottled with a low level of carbonation, and some unfermented sugars, and sold straight away. The result is tremendous freshness and life, but none of the yeasty, bread-like characteristics of sparkling wine made in the Champagne method.
"Thrill or Swill?" aims to expand wine drinkers' horizons -- including Gut Check's. If you have been curious about a grape or wine and want Gut Check to try it, let us know via the comments thread. If we can find it (and if we can afford it), we'll buy us a bottle, yank the cork and report back.