Ah, spring. Birds are chirping, people are smiling, the world is alive again. And, after more than 60 inches of snow this winter, we seem to be taking the allergies, stink bugs, and re-mulching in stride. No sooner do the first daffodils peek through the barren earth than do I raise a glass to the overdue return of this splendid season. The wine closest to match the fragrance, delicacy, and revelry of spring (at least for my well-irrigated palate) is northwest Italy’s Moscato d’Asti. Just thinking about it makes me want to kick off my shoes and run in the grass after butterflies.
SIX WAYS TO DRINK IN SPRING
Bera Moscato d’Asti 2009. Special order from your favorite local wine retailer. $24.00
La Spinetta Bricco Quaglia Moscato d’Asti 2007. Tastings of Charlottesville. $17.95
Lodali Moscato d’Asti 2009. Market Street Wineshop. $13.99
Marenco “Strev” Moscato d’Asti 2009. In Vino Veritas. $15.99
Tintero Moscato d’Asti 2008. Whole Foods. $14.99
Vietti Cascinetta Moscato d’Asti 2009. Mona Lisa Pasta. $16.99 (for 750ml) or $10.99 (for 375ml).
Piemonte is a region better known for its noble reds (namely Barolo and Barbaresco). Nonetheless, wine from the DOCGs (the highest level of Italy’s regulated wine appellations) of Asti and Moscato d’Asti account for Piemonte’s highest production at a combined annual total of 90 million bottles. The grape, Moscato Bianco (in France, it’s Muscat Blanc), is derived from the Latin word muscum, meaning must, and is one of the grapiest grapes around. To create the “frizzante” or semi-sparkling style of Moscato d’Asti, producers interrupt fermentation by rapidly chilling the juice so that the yeasts stop their task of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. What remains is a lightly sweet wine that’s low in alcohol (4-6 percent), slightly fizzy, and sealed with a regular cork. The fully sparkling version from the same region (the perfectly pleasant, though mass-produced Asti, or Asti Spumante back in its 1980s heyday) is left to ferment until about 9 percent alcohol, resulting in less residual sugar, more bubble, and a Champagne cork and cage closure. Asti accounts for all but 3 million bottles of that 90 million-bottle total and is leaner, crisper, and lighter than the plumper, creamier, and fleshier Moscato d’Asti. In beer terms, Asti is a Coors Light while Moscato d’Asti is a Dogfish Head IPA.
Redolent of honeysuckle, apricot, and orange blossom, the smell of Moscato d’Asti will make your head spin with hedonistic delight. On the palate, as with all wines, balance is tantamount, and great examples of Moscato d’Asti flutter gracefully between a peaches-and-cream sweetness and a cleansing spray of acidity. Basically, it is a glass of liquid sunshine complete with a soft, spring breeze.
I am so certain of Moscato d’Asti’s beguiling charms that I declare there isn’t a person who wouldn’t like it. Of course, getting Americans to try a sweet wine is another thing (incidentally, why such hate from a country who invented Mountain Dew?), but venture one succulent sip and you’ll have no greater desire than to finish the bottle. The best part is that at such low alcohol, you can! Take no concern with the glass you drink it from (coffee mug, flute, beer stein), the time of day you drink it (morning, noon, night) or its accompaniments (berries, runny cheese, almond cookies)—anything goes. Just enjoy it with reckless abandon and consider it, along with this weather, a heavenly gift from the gods.