Asti DOCG 2022 – Special Report

 

Asti’s ascent from authenticity to sustainability and unmistakable wines

as seen on WineAlign

The northwestern Italian territory of Asti DOCG covers the area of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato and together they form the first Italian wine landscape to be recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. The grape variety moscato bianco grows in vineyards in all three to cover the counties of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria. The area is a cultural and modern gem in the heart of Piedmont (Piemonte, in Italian), about 55 kilometres east of Turin in the plain of the Tanaro River. A sense of spirit, community and great heart echoes and reverberates through wines voracious in their appetite to capture both traditions and also the new and forward thinking Asti stories. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are challenging wines to produce but these folkloric producers have to do it. It Is their heritage, imperative and pleasure.

Asti Spumante DOCG and Moscato d’Asti DOCG are considered as the two most authentically aromatic Italian white wines and rank among the great wines of Piedmont. Asti Spumante is undoubtedly the world’s best-known aromatic sparkling wine and Moscato d’Asti are among the few wines in which the sensory qualities of the grapes remain unaltered as a result of soft pressing and incomplete alcoholic fermentation. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are declinations of the same grape variety, made from 100 per cent moscato bianco grapes that grow on limestone soils in the UNESCO World Heritage hills between Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo. Asti Spumante can be tasted in different versions, from Extra Dry, Dry, Brut and the most popular Dolce, but also in the classic method or “Metodo Classico” version.

Asti DOCG Aromas

Asti Spumante DOCG

Asti Spumante DOCG is made entirely from moscato bianco grapes, gaining benefit from chalky soils and microclimates typical of hilly areas. It has a characteristic musky flavour, well-balanced sweetness, acidity and moderate alcohol content. In recent years Asti producers have set an important new course, paving the way to expanding the range of Asti styles, based on different residual sugar levels from Demi-Sec through Extra-Brut.

The concentration of the precious aromatic substances (called linalool) produced by the moscato bianco berries peaks in the last few weeks before the grapes are harvested in early September. Harvesting is still accomplished by hand to keep the bunches whole and preserve the characteristic aroma of the grapes – factors that contribute to making Asti Spumante the most widely consumed aromatic sparkling wine in the world.

Characterized by particularly fine and persistent beading, Asti offers a fresh mouthfeel that makes it suitable as a full-meal wine. On the nose, one can appreciate a delicate floral (acacia, lavender, sage) and fruity (apple, pear, banana) bouquet.

  • DOCG Status since: 1993
  • Grape variety: moscato bianco
  • Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
  • Color: straw to pale gold
  • Foam: fine and persistent
  • Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of linden and acacia
  • Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, well-balanced
  • Clarity: brilliant
  • Minimum potential alcohol content: 11.5 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol seven per cent by volume for Asti Dolce and approximately 11 per cent for the other styles from Demi-Sec to Pas Dosé

Moscato d’Asti

Moscato d’Asti DOCG

Following the recognition of the Asti Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (DOCG) status in 1993, Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti were identified as two different historical expressions of the same varietal. Moscato d’Asti DOCG is one of the most characteristic products of the Piedmontese wine tradition. The wine has a distinctively intense musky aroma of the grapes it is made from, a delicate flavour that is reminiscent of wisteria and linden, peach and apricot, with hints of sage, lemon and orange blossom. It has some residual sugar and a low alcohol content.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG is not technically or ostensibly a sparkling wine, as it only undergoes partial fermentation in pressure tanks. Fermentation is terminated when an alcohol content of about five per cent alcohol by volume is reached. The use of cold chain technology in the production process means the aromas and flavours of the grapes are preserved and the product can be stabilized, ready for storage and transportation.

  • DOCG Status since: 1993
  • Grape variety: moscato bianco
  • Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
  • Colour: straw yellow
  • Foam: fine and persistent
  • Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of sage
  • Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, characteristic
  • Clarity: brilliant
  • Minimum potential alcohol content: 11 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol 4.5 per cent by volume

For Moscato d’Asti it begins, as it must, with weight and measurements. The math is straightforward: 100 kilograms of grapes is equal to 86 of must. The first press of moscato yields 15 per cent of that 86, or 13 kg. Often only a small percentage is used for the top cuvée. The rest of the must is kept at freezing temperature (approximately -2 degrees celsius) and there are producers that keep past vintages (generally up to four) for the production of their Moscato d’Asti wines. The DOCG rule says that a vintage dated wine must consist of 75 per cent must from that year’s production.

As for recent vintages, 2021 is certainly close to the top while 2020 is widely considered to be la crème de la crème. That said 2019 was not the most aromatic, like 2016, very hot and the moscato grape does not need too much sun. The grapes will dry out, burn, lose freshness and perfumes. From tasting the must you smell honey which proves the grapes are not perfectly mature. This is where the vision of using 25 per cent must from the three preceding vintages works to great advantage. Phenolic holes are filled, absent aromas are engaged and layers of intricacy are cast. Smell an example of 17 and note the exaggerated development, rich and full of glycerin, nearly cloying. The 2016s are certainly sweet and somewhat out of balance, but there is delicacy, floral notes and it’s never cloying. The ’18s are clearer, easier to comprehend, showing nary a trace of honey. The presence of white flowers and apricot in a wine lighter in hue and more delicate in mien speaks exactly to what producers are after. When fermentation happens those aromas increase by 80 per cent. There’s the rub and the magic. Special terroirs like Castiglione Tinella are the kind that breed some of the highest acidity for moscato. A pH that averages out at 3.4 when bottled will lower to 3.1, because this is when the acidity rises.

Consorzio dell’Asti

The Consorzio coordinates and promotes the area of origin of moscato bianco grapes, whose cultivation covers approximately 10,000 hectares across 51 municipalities of the provinces of Alessandria, Asti and Cuneo. There are 10,000 hectares of vineyards for these lightly sparkling, off-dry to sweet Asti white wines and the Consorzio is entrusted to promote and protect the wines in the appellation. They are widely imitated and so undertaking legal action and registering trademarks in every country is a necessary side-hustle of the job. In terms of producer requests, all changes and modifications applied for must be approved by the consortium. An integral aspect of the work involves field, vineyard as well as laboratory research. More than 1,400 ha have a gradient over 40 per cent, with 330 hectares of this area over 50 per cent. These are vineyards historically named sorì, where no mechanical equipment can be used and vines are tended exclusively by hand. The Asti DOCG hills were the first vineyard landscape to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Born in 1932, the Consortium for the Promotion of Asti has a clear mission: to perform all the necessary actions to protect, promote and enhance the value of Asti and Moscato d’Asti, in Italy and the world. The sustainable manifesto is clear and one day spent inside the offices of the Consortium will instruct and explain all you need to know about economic, social, environmental, export, security and what Italians refer to as disciplinare policies. Regulations regarding vineyard yields, levels of alcohol, sugar, extract and bars of pressure are so defined as to ensure current production and sales viability but also explicitly what the next generation will need to carry the work forward.

Moscato Bianco

The Consortium carries out technical assistance, draws up research proposals and economic assessments aimed at enhancing the value of the designation. It is there to protect and safeguard from improper use, unfair competition and counterfeiting, Asti’s officers carry out, on behalf of all those who are subject to the designation-related checks, the functions of protection, promotion and valourization, as well as informing consumers and generally looking after special interests. Policies are adopted regulating supply in order to contribute to improved coordination of the designation’s distribution on the market, through consultations with sector representatives. The consorzio plans for improving the quality of the products that must appear before judicial and administrative authorities, in Italy and abroad, in order to safeguard and protect the designation and defend the interests and rights of the producers. Surveillance actions are carried out, mainly in the distribution stage.

The Hills

The hills of the Langhe are elongated, with extended crests and steeper slopes, while those of the Monferrato are rounder and gentler to look upon. Two different landscapes, with infinite variations. Where life prospers among the orderly rows of grapevines, tended by hand as they have always been. Where the seasons bring new colors against the majestic crown of the Alps, where the horizon stretches out to infinity. Where every detail amazes and warms the heart, to be treasured forever. Un territorio Patrimonio dell’Umanità. Sedimentary soils that date back 10-15 million years predominate. One is the Pliocenic basin of Asti to the northeast. The to the west around Canelli there are Serravallian (Middle Miocene) soils, stratified layers of blue clay, sand and lime. Many believe this to be the best composition for Moscato d’Asti. To the east in the area of Strevi the ground is Tortonian (late Miocene), younger at five to 10 million years, with more clay and more lime in deeper layers and colour.

The crux of the varietal situation is twofold, at once for vineyards subsisting at the foot of the Alps and also drawing energy being proximate to the sea. Seventy-five per cent of the vineyards are directly protected by the mountains. As seemingly everywhere, climate is changing here too. In the last 15 years average temperatures have increased by one degree. In the past 58 years the average increase has been by two. More important are temperature abnormalities. The centrepiece moscato bianco is a very sensitive grape and easily subjected to diseases.

Guyot training is appropriate for poor quality soils and lower yields. Broken down by altitude, 44 per cent of the vineyards are at 250-300m and 30 per cent at 300-450m. In terms of slope, 2,770 of 9,700ha have a gradient higher than 30 per cent, 336 ha with a gradient of more than 50. “Heroic agriculture” is the moniker bestowed. “The Sorì vineyards.” No mechanization is employed and a certain crucial must is picking times, especially in terms of the preservation of moscato bianco’s aromatic compounds.  Yields per hectare are set at 9.5 tonnes for Asti and Moscato d’Asti.

Moscato Vineyard

The Consortium’s Laboratorio Analisi for the Tutela dell’Asti DOCG is one of the most advanced and technologically impressive anywhere, with the mechanization capable of carrying out a diverse set of analyses. Under the guise of Guido Bezzo, who incidentally also happens to be a virtuoso trumpeter, the lab exerts its expertise far beyond pedestrian testing of alcohol, sugar and varietal purity. It delves deeper than mere organoleptic conclusions. The lab’s research works to investigate the impact analysis results for one 750 mL bottle of Asti wine covering categories that includes a mind-boggling set of parameters: Climate change; Reduction of the ozone layer; Toxicity and carcinogenic effects on humans; Particulate/smog caused by emissions of inorganic substances; Ionizing radiation effects on human inorganic health; Photochemical ozone formation; Acidification; Terrestrial, aquatic and marine eutrophication; Ecotoxicity in freshwater aquatic environments; Soil transformation; Resource depletion in water, minerals and fossils. Heady stuff indeed.

The 60,000 tonnes kept at negative four degrees in summer costs dearly in equipment and energy. It is widely believed that juice can stay in tank for up to two years without losing aromatic concentration. Fermentation takes place at 20 degrees in pressure tanks developed by Italian sparkling wine pioneer Dr. Federico Martinotti, director of the Research Institute for the Wine of Asti, who patented the method in 1895. Martinotti is credited with creating the method of developing the bubbles inside of tanks. The juice can stand pressures of more than 10 bars. Yeasts must be stopped abruptly (in a matter of a few hours) to avoid off odours and flavours, i.e rotten egg and cooked cabbage. Centrifuge and filters are used. In the past pasteurization at 50 degrees was the norm but now micro filtration screens out the yeast (at 0.2 microns) and stabilizes the wines. Agronomist/viticuilturalist Daniele Eberle also explains how Fratelli Gancia used the same techniques that the French used here in Piemonte in the late 1800s. The city of Canelli, cultural home of Asti holds the highest concentration of companies that make all the equipment necessary for bottling Spumante wines.

The association soon yielded positive results. Production gradually increased from two million bottles in the 1940s to forty million in the 1970s. A figure more than doubled nowadays. The history of the Consortium is all Piedmontese and begins from the town that is considered the capital par excellence of spumante: Canelli. It was in its cellars that, day after day, with dedication and affection, techniques were refined that nowadays give us a fine, delicate and unmistakeable sparkling wine like Asti DOCG. The know-how handed down for generations, together with the latest scientific discoveries, have led to the optimization of the production process and the definition of important procedures indispensable to guarantee the high quality of Asti DOCG.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Living wine in the moment at Scarpa Winery

There are mornings when the conditions are ripe: A mind at ease, a calm and benign wind, an empty highway, a good companion. On the fifth day in Piemonte straddling the passover from November to December these were the conditions and so the first pour at Scarpa Winery was captured in full attention. Not lost in any particular thought there was a perceptible air of quiet, a quivering in the air and very, very quietly the barbera fell into the glass with the slightest burble as if the liquid whispered “shoykill, shoykill.” With very little to distract this breakfast pour had more to do with time than space. The movement was sublime, it was beauty, of time passing, for grapes in a way no longer alive drawn from vines still very much so. This ephemeral configuration of a year’s cycle for making wine encapsulated in movement and the moment. In wine this is how we must see things and live our lives, perched between what is beautiful and what has passed.

Living wine in the moment at Scarpa Winery. The idea that in life we are tracking what is gone or in the past is not lost when you consider how no other Nizza Monferrato producer both waits to release wines and also holds back library vintages for future release. No other estate will make you feel this longing, this sense of contemplation and aesthetics, of thinking about the past. A walk past the cages of older wines is the precursor but their stacks of 1982, 1987, 1990, 1995 at al are there because they will be sold to consumers who will drink them. Every other winery walk through shows old vintages as museum pieces. Not Scarpa. They live wine in the moment, irregardless of age, no matter the reason.

Andrea Roccione

My chaperone was none other than Valerio Bertolino of the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato and our hosts were Andrea Roccione, Gregorio Ferro and Riikka Sukula. The building that houses the cantina is 119 years of age with 1966 being the first year of current operative production, though there is a bottle of 1949 Barolo on site. Harvest lasts six to seven weeks, from Moscato d’Asti in late August through to Nebbiolo in mid-October. The total production is 100,000 bottles. In 2018 six further hectares were acquired which should increase production by 30,000 bottles. Most everything is macerated and fermented in steel with aging times anywhere from six months to a year. The exceptions are barbera and nebbiolo in La Bogliona, Barolo and Barbaresco. As for museum pieces, Il Filtro Sacci Olandese still hangs, a typical instrument for filtering moscato in the 1900s. The Dutch (sack) filter that looks like a set of inverted bagpipes ceased to be part of production in 1959.

Tasting, assessing and writing about Scarpa wines is exactly the kind of assignment that I believe sits at the antipodes of human understanding. I recently tasted with Andrea over three occasions: At the winery during this December visit, over lunch in Alba and at Grandi Langhe in January 2020. These are the notes on the 11 wines.

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOCG Casascarpa 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $22.00)

Taken from vineyards all from the Monferratto estate of 26 planted (on 50 hectares), mostly located in Asti Alessandria. The ideal amalgamation and from an ideal vintage, everything ripening in synch and all coming together in balance. The freshness comes at the three year mark and that can’t be argued. The acidity melting into high level fruit is ideal in a secular wine for the ages. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOCG I Bricchi 2014, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $50.00)

From the brownish clay of the single vineyard and the barbera that positions itself between the estate Casa Scarpa and the Bogliona single cru bottling. Challenging vintage with near ideal fruit and above the norm acidity. Dark fruit actually set against a sky of Asti lightning and barbera thunder. Aching for food with the highest impression of passion and feeling. Singular barbera of Asti designation and off of a very steep slope. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa La Selva Di Moirano 2013, Monferrato Freisa Secco DOC, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $32.00)

Not the youngest but the best freisa currently on the market. A varietal of demanding tannin that settles after five years but won’t likely improve much further after that point. A dry and still version using a conceptual style fast fading from production. Scarpa is one of the keepers, even now from just 1.5 hectares planted. Sharp red berries and a clementine meets blood orange halfway citrus acidity. Another crazy useful gastronomic wine with a finish of zesty tonic. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa La Selva Di Moirano 2003, Monferrato Freisa Secco DOC, Piedmont, Italy

Freisa in dry form is not necessarily the norm and the vineyard was slightly larger than it is now (1.5 hectares) as a portion was over-grafted to barbera. This turns back the clock of freshness preservation and overturns the table so to speak and the culpability for speaking its mind to say “I can age.” This from a crazy hot vintage and if you need proof that wines from this territory can maintain acidity and freshness all you need to do is taste this 16 year-old freisa. Some dried fruit but so very notable for high tones, a salty streak and great persistence. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG La Bogliona 2011, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $80.00)

A powerful vintage widely considered as a great one and also from I Scarpese as such, from lighter, rich in magnesium sandy soils. How this translates is in a particular saltiness that compares to few others and there are many salty wines of this earth. Two years in large French cask and another two in bottle before being allowed out into the world, with ’13 being the current release. Not a Riserva so it is made in every vintage. A cru. An important and essential cru. Fruit of many ilk including dark berry, plum and cacchi. Fresh as the day it was conceived albeit with many developing complexities and more than a magnesium shake of intrigue. Grains of sand, tannin and time, all dropping slowly through the glass. Approximately 14,000 bottles are produced. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $80.00)

At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa Rouchet 2016, Monferrato Rosso DOC, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $56.00)

Rouchet is made from ruché grapes but cultivated outside of the production zone and so the kitschy French spelling tells the wink-wink, nudge-nudge tale. Classic varietal expression, bright and rich, very floral aromatic and the steely version here is effusive, effective and expressive. Such a promising vintage for age ability. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa Rouchet 2007, Monferrato Rosso DOC, Piedmont, Italy

This elderly one reveals an old school ruché with more secondary notes then either barbera or freisa show at such a stage in their age. There is tar and earthiness, wet forest and real herbology; rosemary and lavender plus a graphite note. Like old cabernet sauvignon! The wood obviously does the talking but both acidity and tannin remain sharp, pointed and full of prescient tang. This one is sadly not for sale. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Scarpa Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Bric Du Nota 2017, Piedmont, Italy

From two parts of a 2.5 hectare vineyard just outside of Monteu Roero, the highest wine-producing village in the Roero. A soil presence of fine-grained sand for an exacting expression of Roero nebbiolo. Launches with the typically traditional Scarpa design and the exceptionality is 36 months in large Slavonian cask for a later and mellower release than many. Quite formed and refined while constantly regenerating its energy in the glass. Fine tannic refrain and purpose. As goes Scarpa, in every incantation, in every wine. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Scarpa Barbaresco DOCG Tettineive 2016, Piedmont, Italy

Tettineive is “the rooftop of Neive,” a Piedmontese dialectical reference to a small collection of hills. Grapes come direct from the town. Here is the cool, silky smooth nebbiolo in Barbaresco clothing, transparent on the road to ethereal. There is indeed a crunchy feeling in this fruit circulating inside a tension filled housing. Very solid construct and highly recommended for a 10-15 year run. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Scarpa Barolo DOCG Tettimorra 2015, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $52.00)

Fantasy name, not a vineyard, indicating La Morra and the top of that place. The grapes are purchased though as of ’18 there will be nebbiolo coming off of owned vineyards. Rich and heady nebbiolo with an earthly construct and high acidity. Tannins are very grippy, very firm and very in control. Three years in two types of wood, large Slavonian and smaller French cask, then one year in bottle. Such a baby. Approximately 4,500 bottles are produced. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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