Pure Pleasure: Moscato d’Asti

March 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

The following was published last September, but I refer to it in my column this week on Piedmont winemaker Michele Chiarlo, who makes a stunning Moscato even though it’s not listed below. And anyway, it’s getting warmer and that means y’all should be drinking more Moscato d’Asti!

from Portland Press Herald, September 1, 2010

The subject for today is sheer pleasure. I will write about pleasure, and it was a nearly absurd pleasure doing the “research.” The pleasure is of a ripe, frankly sensual, quality, so look out, cards-close-to-your-chest Mainers: here comes Moscato D’Asti.

Moscato D’Asti, a Piedmontese sweet-and-sparkling wine, is made from the Muscat grape, an ancient varietal cultivated in almost every winemaking country and made into a spectacular, fascinating variety of still and sparkling wines.

These are usually considered “dessert wines,” but I find that the best way to enjoy Moscato – indeed, all “dessert wines” – is either on its own or with savory foods. Otherwise, you’re piling sweetness upon sweetness with too little contrast. Why someone would pair a peach-tinged wine with, say, peach tart, is beyond me. The wine press and the labels do it constantly, but no one ever accused those guys of imagination.

Instead, try it at brunch; at 2 p.m. when you’re done with the yard work; with blue cheese or foie gras or instead of dessert. I’ve never seen a Moscato D’Asti with more than 7 percent alcohol, and most clock in below that, so for non-waylaying, no-downside pleasure-seeking or work-rewarding any time of day, there’s nothing better. Also, many are available in half-bottle sizes; ask your favorite shop.

For such fun, yummy wines, I was curious as to how much variety there would be. Maybe because they’re often nectarine-y, I’d assumed I could obey Mel Brooks’ line in “The 2,000-Year-Old Man” about nectarines: “Even a rotten one is good.” And good’s fine – but when you have a juice-down-the-arm August nectarine, you know what’s what. These wines run the gamut from purely hedonistic to slightly intellectual (but still very cute).

Marenco Strev Moscato D’Asti 2009, $14 (Pine State): A Moscato template – fresh pear and apricot, precise frizzante, and a combination of wildflowers’ floral aromas and bitter defenses. Bitterness is good: it broadens the food possibilities and argues against my contention that Moscato is unsuited to dessert; try this with a nut torte.

D’Altieri Moscato D’Asti 2009, $14 (Mariner): Pure apricot up front, then gets cool and clean like the palest of honeys. With light, even austere composure, this could really work at dinner. I had it with an Indian dal and spicy chutney – not a perfect pairing, but the classy sweetness was up for navigating the all-over-the-place challenges of cumin, turmeric and chiles.

Neirano Pitule Moscato D’Asti 2008, $12 (Crush): Less a jarring bite of peach – as are some Moscatos – than the essence of peach. This is on the thicker-bodied end, spumante (fully sparkling), with consistent stonefruit from tongue tip to finish. A fun, long party.

Tintero Moscato D’Asti Sori Gramella 2009, $16 (Nappi): Unfined and unfiltered, imported by Kermit Lynch, with all the layers those characteristics imply. On-the-nose honey, honeydew, custard. Bubbles are fine, digital and slight; body is on the light (un-syrupy) side. A pleasant old-library character adds complexity to the stonefruit, which tightens on the finish.

Saracco Moscato D’Asti 2008, $10 (Wicked): Another out-of-the-ordinary Moscato. This is a half bottle, often just what you want. There’s no burst of stonefruit here; rather, a more stately, complex nose of golden raisins, toasted nuts, even cardamom and cumin. Really amazing.

Marchesi di Gresy La Serra Moscato D’Asti 2006, $18 (Pine State): Stunning. Check out the vintage – Moscato usually wants to be drunk young, but this 4-year-old pops supremely fresh and clean, with relatively little sweetness. Flavors of straw, sunshine and ripe pears. A luscious body but upright and strong, not cloying and flaccid. An unfortunate reminder that you often get what you pay for

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