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Beginner's guide: moscato

Moscato wine is having a moment with people loving its signature sweetness, but there’s a lot to learn about this often misunderstood and underappreciated elixir.

Moscato wine is having a moment with people loving its signature sweetness, but there’s a lot to learn about this often misunderstood and underappreciated elixir.

Moscato wine is…what, exactly? You ask most folks and they will probably tell you it’s a sweet, pink, bubbly bottle of vino which is totally for dessert drinking. And they might be right – if it’s that particular type of moscato. The truth is, there are several types of moscato, and some are actually quite dry. This fine fermented beverage has been having something of a renaissance lately, but for those late to the party, the product of the humble muscat grape has a rich history and tradition. In fact, the very first recorded version comes to us from way back in the 13th century, and it was actually a white moscato. There’s a great deal to learn about this sublime concoction and its origins. Ready for some more surprises about this fascinating slice of viniculture?

Types of moscato

In total, there are no less than five primary styles of moscato. The most famous is the variety of sparkling wines, primarily the Italian Moscato d’Asti (semi-sparkling) and Asti Spumante (sparkling). Aromatic, sweet, and crisp, they are most often prized as a treat to be savored after a nice meal. Sweeter still are the moscato dessert wines, made primarily in France, Spain, and Portugal. The pink moscato is a little bit of a gimmick, adding some merlot to the mix to achieve the color and adding strawberry notes to the usual peach and citrus the grape yields. A bit less common, red moscato comes from a black grape which is actually a hybrid of a rare type of muscat grape and another Italian varietal, offering earthier tea and raspberry tones. Last but not least, is still moscato, which has none of the bubbles of its more famous cousins and while very aromatic, is actually dry. The most well-known of this would be moscatel from Spain.

How to make moscato

All of the moscato types have a low alcohol profile, coming in at about a 5.5% ABV – far closer to beer than most wines, which are more than double that. Their natural sweetness begins with the muscat grape, the essential ingredient regardless of type. Harvested when sugar levels peak, they are crushed with the pulp chilled close to freezing. Fermentation is stopped to keep the ABV low, yet allowing the natural sugars to remain, making it sweet. The original formula comes from the Italian region of Piedmont. In fact, those from the area have their own official designation – called a DOCG classification – which are applied to true Moscato d’Astis and Asti Spumantes and are governed by strict production laws. Included in these laws is the prevention of second fermentation, meaning that they will never be as fizzy as Champagne.

Flavor of moscato

Two things to consider about moscato wine: how do they compare in taste to popular types of white wine and what’s the best way to pair them? When you compare it to, say a typical chardonnay, it’s obviously a different animal. Moscato is far less acidic and obviously, much sweeter. But then, there are many sweet whites out there like some varieties of riesling. However, you’ll never get the same level of sugars or aromatics as you will in the moscato. This brings us to pairings. That signature sweetness makes a fine accompaniment with spicy foods: think Chinese, Thai, or Cajun. Light meats like chicken and fish play nice, but steaks will run up against it. Moscato also compliments desserts except perhaps for chocolate which can overpower with its richness. Try it with brunch as an alternative to the stalwart mimosa as well.

However you decide to enjoy moscato, keep in mind that there are quite a few to taste out there. Using your newfound knowledge of the basics, seek out the niche which sounds most appealing and stick to the pairings and flavor profile expectations so as to not taint initial tastings. If you want to start with the baseline best, stick to DOCG Astis – it’s the authentic original, after all, and Italy’s regulations will ensure quality. From there, check out the amazing product California producers are putting out there. It’s a whole world of marvelous moscato out there. We are glad you’re discovering it!
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