Moscato, the sweet Italian dessert wine, comes from the Muscat family of grapes. This versatile grape produces white, yellow, pink and black grapes, depending on the location. California is a centre for Moscato production, including 250 acres of the rare Black Muscat grape. Often considered the oldest domesticated grape variety, Muscat is enjoyed worldwide in different forms. In France, it is used in the production of the fortified wine range vin doux naturels, while in many other large wine-growing regions, it is used in sweeter wines, or produces a dry and fragranced drink.
The Moscato grape is versatile and thanks to its different colors, offers a variety of wine types to suit many occasions and tastes. As an unfortified wine, it is generally sweet and fruity in taste, hence its use as a dessert wine. The Moscato wines can be red, white or pink, and in California, the pink Moscato is widely available thanks to the E&J Gallo owned Barefoot brand.
Unfortified, the wine is light and has a low ABV, often around 7%. In a vin doux naturel, the sweetness is still there, but the percentage is up around 16%. Due to its sweetness, Moscato is often served as a complement to Oriental food and spicy dishes such as chili con carne. It partners well with spices such as ginger, cardamom and chili so this is not surprising, given that some chili dishes can be made with chocolate in to offset the heat and sourness of the taste. Moscato is similar to Riesling and Gewurztraminer in taste, so matches easily with lighter meat like chicken and fish. This makes it a versatile wine for all meals.
What’s more, Moscato has a relative – Moscato d’Asti. Often abbreviated to the more familiar title of ‘Asti’, this wine comes from the Muscat blanc a petits grains strain of grapes. Made exclusively in the Piedmont region of Italy, this lightly sparkling white wine is an alternative to Spanish cava or the more expensive French champagnes.
Like its parent Moscato, Asti has a low alcohol content. By law, this can be no more than 5.5%, which means that it is naturally sweet. Moscato d’Asti is made in small batches by small vineyards in the Piedmont region, so exclusivity is almost assured. Like its Moscato parent, Moscato d’Asti is sweet but dry and has been cultivated for centuries. It is prized because of its lightness. This means it can be drunk at lunchtime or as an accompaniment to the evening meal, where it is traditionally drunk before dessert. Such is the versatility of a light and sweet wine. The weather in the Moscato d’Asti growing region is cooler than in the main Moscato areas so this leads to a different tasting wine; lighter, fizzy and sweet. Presently it is a very popular wine, with sales growing exponentially in the last few years. Younger drinkers have taken to the drink’s affordability, plus it has been seen as the drink of choice for celebrities for several years. Cava and Moscato d’Asti have a lower ABV than traditional French champagne, so the price point is lower than champagne.
For those drinkers who prefer a classy wine with some history, Moscato and Moscato d’Asti are an ideal option. They have been made for generations and are lower in alcohol than champagne and other still wines. Therefore they are cheaper to buy, but just as good to enjoy.