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I’m not sure why Riccardo Bianco decided to change the name of his winery – some family complication, I think. The new name is Mongioia, which presents a challenging combination of consonants for Americans; it’s pronounced Mon-joy-ya, so it’s simpler to say than it looks. We’ve been selling Riccardo’s Moscato for several years, and a recent tasting makes me wonder why I don’t drink his wine more often – why we don’t all drink it more often. For my palate almost all Moscato (and most sweet wines, even at the highest levels) lack dimension and are quickly fatiguing – of course it may not help that they are almost always presented at dessert, when one might have already had a glass or three. But with the newly arrived Mongioia Moscato Lamoscata, you can have your cake (or cheese, or fruit, or nothing) and a glass of refreshing wine too – at 5-6° alcohol it’s lighter than most sweet wines, and the light fizz adds a festive aspect. So much wine-promo space is given to specious food pairing advice that it’s become a joke here: “goes well with fish, chicken, and red meats” is a favorite quote. But when we saw the list of dishes that Riccardo suggests as good matches for his Moscato d’Asti ‘Belb’ we were intrigued: “baccala, foie gras, creamy goat cheese, herbed cheese with fig jam, strawberries, tropical fruits, pastries” – and that's just for their entry-level wine.
What’s more, this is wine made from spectacular, beautifully farmed vineyards, with 80+ year old vines that have always been worked without chemicals save copper and sulfur. There is also a patch of pre-phylloxera vines that Riccardo says are almost 180 years old.
Mongioia only makes Moscato d’Asti – everyone else we’ve met who produces Moscato also makes other whites and reds – and it’s easy to imagine that this focus brings rigor to their wines. The results are gorgeous and compelling. The idea that I’d be really excited about Moscato d’Asti comes as a surprise to me, but any such detailed, precise, and complex wine deserves our attention – sweet and fizzy, or not. Jamie Wolff
In the Moscato d’Asti zone, farming is driven by volume over quality – almost all the wine made there is from industrial agriculture and industrial winemaking, which is why Moscato is usually cheap wine in every regard. The fruit for Belb comes from edenic hillside vineyards where chemicals have never been used. The winemaking matches the farming. The result is one in a million (think Moscato from Bera, the best possible alternate to Belb) – a focused wine, fresh and clean, with deep layers showing classic Moscato attributes like apricot and pear, delicate floral hints and nutty flavors. Belb is relatively low in residual sugar so it tastes fruity rather than cloying. We sell a lot of Belb to people looking for Barefoot or one of the other brands; despite the relatively high price they come back for more, converted. Jamie Wolff
Lamoscata 2017 is the first wine that Mongioia has made in anfora – in this case ceramic, so not very porous, with a very small exchange of oxygen – this is not Georgian-style wine. Instead I think the anfora confers some extra texture and complexity. How else to explain this quite extraordinarily, crazy complex Moscato, like no other in its class? The nose is multi-dimensional, with intense rich peach and apricot, and hazelnut dominating. The wine is very clean and fresh on the palate, boosted with a hint of green apple and plenty of those stone fruits. They carry through to a very long and lingering finish that seems to be supported and freshened by citrusy, icy spring water. A wild wine – a must try. Jamie Wolff
Crivella is made with fruit from Bianco’s oldest vines, including some planted in the mid 1800s by Riccardo’s great-great-something grandfather; such old vines are extremely rare, and while they produce very little fruit, it’s impossible for Riccardo to even think about replacing them. At a tasting in the shop a customer said, “Like Sauternes with bubbles!” which was a lovely way to describe the wine and its rich and unctuous character. made lively with fizz. While there’s no botrytis, Crivella is much more complex and detailed than all but the very best Sauternes. I’ve certainly never tasted anything like it — a stunning wine. Jamie Wolff