Amazing Moscato

10/17/14 - 

(Ricardo and Maria Bianco in their vines, May 2014.)

Moscato has become a top-selling wine in the US, threatening to overtake the mighty Chardonnay and the even mightier Pinot Grigio; we had a look at the website of a big store upstate, and they offer 136 different bottlings of Moscato! The wine – fizzy and sweet – is credited with helping to expand the ranks of wine drinkers in America. I dislike the aspect of this success which justifies the marketing department view that Americans only want sugary comestibles, but just about anything that helps people to enjoy wine in general  is a step in the right direction. What may get lost in a sea of industrial Moscato is the fact that it can be very good wine, even (very occasionally) a great wine. To many wine lovers the default version seems to be La Spinetta, and there’s no question that their Moscato d’Asti is my favorite of their range of wines. The salient feature is that decent Moscato shows some complexity and moves past just sweet and fizzy. Our new “discovery,” the wines of Marco Bianco, are in their own class entirely and far surpass in quality anything else we’ve tasted (although Vittorio Bera Moscato d’Asti remains a benchmark).

We’ve only been served (or have served) Moscato d’Asti at the end of a meal, by itself, with cheese, and with not-too-sweet cake or biscotti, and it works really well, in part because good Moscato is refreshing, with natural acidity that balances the sweetness. 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 Bianco (the current proprietor at Marco Bianco) suggested 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.

Marco Bianco only makes Moscato d’Asti – everyone else we’ve met who produces Moscato also makes other white and red wines – and it’s easy to imagine that this focus brings rigor to their wines. It’s an old family property and Riccardo Bianco showed us some pre-phylloxera vines that he says are 170 years old. The youngest vines average 40 years old and the farming is organic. Chemicals and fertilizers have never been used on this land, and there’s full vegetation in the vines, which reminded us of Roagna’s vineyards – absolutely beautiful. And 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

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