By Rick Riozza

Last time we started a game plan to experience lesser known wines—particularly very refreshing whites, which are none-the-less an excellent buy, as they are reasonably priced and absolutely tasty.

This time around, let’s do some more delving as we throw in a little bubbly, and, even a red that can take a chill and still provide quaffing pleasure.

Sometime ago, we did it up with Moscato Madness. And it’s a good time to re-visit this Italian sparkler as it speaks to the bubbly lover, the Asian-fusion foodie, and the wine aficionado who have a yearning for and have learned that Moscato d’Asti from the Piemonte is world class.

Moscato is known for its surprising perfume-like fragrance, light-body, semi-sparkling spritzy character (frizzante), lower alcohol content (around 5-8%) and its dazzling fruit-forward palate profile with a welcoming sweet factor. Moscato’s inherent aromatics are simply splendid—orange blossom, honeysuckle,  almonds, ginger and expressive fruit dominated by green grapes, citrus tones and ripe peach nuances.

On the palate, it’s a wonderful lineup of fresh, forward fruit along with medium acidity.  The delicate cascade of bubbles, light body and that welcomed “light summer sweet” surprise climax to provide all sorts of wine lovers a quaff for all seasons—not just for the hot summer.

The notion of enjoying a “sweet” wine is often times dismissed by “real” wine lovers.  But c’mon, a delicious world class wine is always welcomed at the table. Even though Moscato has traditionally been thought as only a “dessert wine” vino enthusiasts are lovingly liberal; granted, there are still a few wine “haters” around.

While cheaper Moscato wines typically exhibit a fruity sweet focus, the higher quality Moscato steers clear of sugar-soaked fruit and brings a vivid spotlight to ripe stonefruit, with apricots, peaches and an intoxicating floral garden eager to impress “dessert wine doubters”. The light sweetness simply melds well with all of the other fruit complexities.

And again I point out: while Moscato d’Asti is downright delicious with apple desserts, fresh berries, summer salads, meringue pies, peach cobbler, hazelnut desserts and lemon-poppy breads and cakes, it’s not simply a “dessert wine”.

Pairing Food with Moscato

As I covered in Moscato Madness, this wine is the stealth bomber that simply soars when matched with all types of Asian-fusion dishes.  If you had to choose just one wine for pairing with Szechuan, Hunan, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, or Indonesian dishes, the adroit, sexy and classy move here would be to grab a Moscato d’Asti.  It handles spicy foods perfectly with the low alcohol levels, and, the aromatic sweetness of Moscato matches the aromatic spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and chili peppers. It meets up well with lighter meats like chicken and light flaky fish and can stand up to Asian-spiced pork.

Any fine dining Asian restaurant these days must have at least a couple Moscati on their wine list.  And if not, then surely the establishment should waive any corkage fee when they see your Moscato on the table—because as the culinary world is learning, the wine will enhance the flavor of the meal just that much more.  Of course when bringing in your Moscato d’Asti, do offer a pour to both the owner and the chef to surely win them over.

As one can tell, Moscato is very versatile—it’s an ideal aperitif candidate along with pairings of cheese courses, charcuterie or antipasto plates. Fun, festive, that summer touch of sweet flavor, it’s becoming fast the wine world’s most fashionable brunch-time guest and party starter.

Now here’s the deal: Ruffino Moscato d’Asti sells for around $12 a bottle.  Generally that price gets you the sweeter stuff out there.  With Ruffino, you’re getting a world class wine producer fashioning a quaff for all seasons and reasons: Refreshing with fragrances of peach and orange blossom, followed by a similar palate with a hint of rose, then a long, floral orange blossom finish. Low alcohol at 6%!  Perfect for the hot day!

Okay, even though it’s as hot as can be outside, most of us still love a red wine around dinner time—all we need to do is chill it up a bit.  A wine I can absolutely recommend is the 19 Crimes Red Blend that can literally handle both the heat and the cold. I can report this because I just experienced both temperatures with this wine.

Although it’s a great time for wine columnists all over to receive samples of wine for review, it’s the worst time for me being out in the desert here as the samples just get too hot in the transport.  I have to alert the distributors to stop sending during the desert’s long hot season.

Well—the 19 Crimes found its way to my doorstep and the bottle was blazing hot! That’s death to most every wine.  But just for kicks, I brought it down to room temperature to see how bad it “cooked”.  To my amazement, the wine was delicious!  A medium-full bodied red blend with a truly superb balance from start to finish—amazing after that long heat blast!

It’s basically a Shiraz wine with Grenache and Mourvèdre in the mix: A black cherry base over a blackberry-esque core.  The nose was rich with slightly over-ripe black and blueberry notes. This is backed by undertones of cinnamon, vanilla and lightly toasted bread with blackberry, boysenberry and pomegranate undertones. Along with a finish of cacao, it’s a treat of a red wine.

And after leaving it in the freezer longer than I wished, the very chilled wine, although a bit muted, tasted just as delicious.  Who knew!  Although full of fruit, the wine is predominantly dry. Great with summer grilled ribs and meats of all kinds.  Cheers!