This sparkling gem from Asti is another dessert favourite. Like Moscato d’Asti, the wine is low in alcohol and headily fruity. As a fully sparkling wine, it boasts more fizz that Moscato’s semi-frizzante qualities, giving it a fresher, crisper appeal. It achieved DOCG status in 1993, after which it came to be known as simply Asti.
The Moscato Bianco grape is said to the oldest in the region – next to the much prized Nebbiolo grape, of course. Legend has it that the first Moscato Bianco vine was planted alongside the foundations of what would later become the thriving municipality of Asti. However, Asti Spumante’s arrival occurred at a relatively late stage in 1870, when wine-maker Carlo Gancia attempted to create an Italian version of French champagne through a single tank fermentation process. In France, this was known as the Charmat Method. Gancia ensured that for Asti, it was recognised as Metodo Italiano. His first experimentations took place in the town of Canelli.
In the Metodo Italiano, wine is fermented in a singular, enamel-sealed tank. The sealing of the tanks prevents carbon dioxide – the valuable component that gives Asti Spumante its effervescence – from escaping. The tanks are stored at frigid temperatures in order to control the activity of the yeast in the wine – and consequently, the generation of its alcoholic properties. When the alcohol and sugar levels are at their required percentages, the temperature is brought down further, arresting the behaviour of the yeast entirely. Alcohol levels in finished bottles of Asti oscillate between seven and nine per cent.
Ripe peach and tart apricot dominate the initial sip of Asti Spumante. The wine is acidic enough to counterbalance its natural sweetness and ensure that it is not cloying. The inherent muskiness of the Moscato Bianco grape also features both on the tongue and the nose, the latter of which is underscored by floral aromas. It is an easy-drinking wine that is slightly drier than the Moscato d’Asti, but works just as well as a dessert wine and aperitif. It reaches its peak relatively early, and should be enjoyed at a young age.
Piedmontese desserts and Asti Spumante marry gorgeously. Cakes and tarts made from locally farmed hazelnuts are notable partners, as well as fresh blackcurrants and plums. Enjoy with a sweet slice of pannetonne or a spongy mouthful on vanilla Genoise cake. Cream-filled crepes are also ideal. As for cheeses, pair with buttery crumbles of gorgonzola.
What better place to enjoy a decadent glass of Asti Spumante than in the town of the same name? The municipality rose to prominence in the 1200s as a wealthy trading centre that was granted exclusive liberties by the Holy Roman Empire. The homes of affluent 13th century Italians can still be viewed today. It also continues the tradition of the Palio, a medieval festival that showcases a range of sports, most notably bareback horse-racing. The original banners from the early Palio festivals, as well as the reputed bones of the sacred saint of Asti, are housed in the Collegiata di San Secondo.