It’s a little late for Christmas wine recommendations, I realize. But it’s still early for New Year’s, so that’s still all right.
Especially when you suggest a wine that is as festive as it is (relatively) inexpensive, so much so that it could be pulled out for any excuse for a celebration.
The wine is moscato, or more precisely, moscato d’asti, the low-alcohol, sparkling, refreshing, fruity wine that is a specialty of Piemont, in Northern Italy. Made from that most aromatic of grapes, muscat, it offers oodles of peaches and apricots, with floral notes and explosive fruity flavors.
All that with a very reasonable alcohol level – generally 5%, no more than 7.5% – and a nice amount of acidity that keeps it fresh and, even though it is sweet, far from the liquorous character of most dessert wines.
My wife’s grandmother used to call moscato d’asti – and its bubblier but less tasty cousin, asti spumante – « champagne for kids », and consequently served it to young children for special occasions. A light and delicious way to get your first buzz, I guess. (All of my wife’s relatives of the same generation grew up to be tall and healthy individuals, by the way. And so did I, even though I had my first sips of this particular bubbly stuff before I was 12.).
Anyhow, I recently tasted an excellent one, the Tintero moscato d’Asti, which is imported to the United States by Kermit Lynch, and which Insolite Import, the agency I collaborate with, is considering importing to Quebec. It’s one of the brightest examples I’ve tasted, with lovely, pure flavors of apricots, a bit of honey, fresh citrus fruit, all with a very sunny and bright disposition.
The idea of a sparkling, sweet moscato wine has also travelled beyond Piemont, as demonstrated by Innocent Bystander’s Pink Moscato – a wine I contribute to importing to Quebec with Insolite, and which is also available in the US and the rest of Canada as well. This Australian tipple is made pink by the use of almost half of Black Muscat, with the more traditional Muscat of Alexandria (or Gordo Muscat, as the folks at Innocent Bystander call it too). It adds a bit of a red fruit component, but the wine keeps its essential freshness and easy-drinking character.
They suggest serving it with strawberry crepes and ice cream, and I’m sure it’s lovely. But I also know for a fact that the moscato does wonders with marzipan, a frequent part of Christmas season desserts, and as well with sugar cookies, fried donuts and fruitcake, other traditional sweets served at this time of year.
The great advantage, for the end of a heavy meal, is that it’s much lighter than other dessert wines. And that’s something few people would say no to, after all the trimmings.
So cheers to all, and a very sweet, bubbly and merry holiday season.