That of muscatel is indeed a very large family. From north to south, Italy offers a plethora of Muscat wines obtained from highly differentiated grape varietals: White Muscat, Yellow Muscat, Pink Muscat, Moscato di Scanzo, Moscato d’Alessandria, Moscato di Terracina, Moscatello di Saracena, Moscato Nero d’Acqui etc. One of the finest is Moscato D’Asti, from Piedmont (North Italy).
Muscatel is an ancient varietal originating from the eastern basin of the Mediterranean which then spread to many other areas. In Piedmont, there is evidence of this sweet wine production dating back to the 1300s. The term “Muscat”, meaning fragrant, first appeared in the Middle Ages but it was already widely used by the Greeks and Romans.
Moscato d'Asti is taking over the dining tables of the world. Moscato Lovers are increasing in numbers by the day: of the 30 million bottles produced in the Asti Consortium, 20 end up in America.
The difference between Moscato and Spumante
The White Muscat grapes grown in Piedmont cover a very vast area to the south of Asti and the resulting wines take the place names of this region: Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti. The grape varietal is the same, White Muscat, but it is processed differently: Moscato d’Asti wine has fewer bubbles than the spumante version, which is able to enhance the fragrance of the grapes from which it is made.
Why is it so popular? Because Moscato d'Asti is sweet without being excessively sickly. It has a musky aroma, a subtle yet intense taste recalling wisteria and linden, peach and apricot with hints of lemon and orange blossom. However, a good bottle of this wine can be identified immediately by the hints of sage it reveals on the palate. It is also appreciated because of its low alcohol content of around 5% and because it is increasingly consumed on all sorts of occasions, and not only as a traditional accompaniment to desserts. So much so, in fact, that it is starting to be viewed as a rather surprising meditation wine.
Before we start, one basic rule must be respected: sweet with sweet. It is possible to roam from aromatic spumante to passito, and even fortified wines, but when pairing wine with dessert, there has to be a close affinity.
- Excellent when paired with a plain sponge cake, sablé pastries or Granny’s home-made ring cake. Serve it at 6°/8° C. Its carbon dioxide, alcohol and low sugar content well suit the soft texture of these cakes.
- With fruit tarts of all types, with the exception of orange marmalade.
- With sweets and biscuits containing almonds and all dried fruit, such as Tuscan cantucci biscuits.
- A very rich and pleasant wine, endowed with a remarkable balance, it is traditionally served with oven-baked Christmas cakes containing yeast, such as Panettone and Pandoro.
Many believe that Moscato is only for pairing with sweets and desserts, and it is indeed certainly excellent with traditional cakes and pastries. However, for the farm labourers who used to work the land in Piedmont, it was customary to drink Moscato with savoury snacks. Many of today’s sommeliers have drawn inspiration from this peasant tradition.
- Such a pairing was recommended by Mario Soldati, one of the first Italian gourmets, in the form of fresh salamiaccompanied with figs or melon. Also in this case, the carbon dioxide cuts through the grease and cleanses the mouth, while the savoury taste of salami and the sweetness of wine regale a pleasing contrast.
- Another interesting pairing is with the hot spicy dishes of ethnic cuisines, particularly Indian food.
- Possible the boldest pairing of all is the one with molluscs and oysters. When attempting a sweet-savoury pairing, serve the wine cold to reduce the sugary sensation and enhance the acidity.
Never serve this wine with foods that finish on a bitter or alcoholic note.
- With sweets containing liqueur, such as trifle, which would overpower the moderate alcohol content of Moscato.
- With very sweet and creamy coffee-based desserts with a somewhat bitter aftertaste, such as tiramisu.
- With citrusy and acidic marinades, of the type used in ceviche and marinated fish dishes.
- With chocolate-based desserts.