By Rick Riozza

Funny—isn’t it? Your wine friends think there’s some semblance of vino sensibility going on, so when you show up at their little dinner soirée and unveil a bottle of Moscato, they readily think it’s a gag gift. Of course when they realize that’s all you’ve brought, they all start rolling their eyes knowing how little you think of them by bearing cheap sweet wine.

Enough already! Let’s just take deep breath and realize that the real stuff, known as Moscato d’Asti, is alive & flourishing and continues to be produced alongside the best Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, and Barbera vineyards and wines in the Piemonte area of Northeast Italy. This info should be very comforting for those wishing to “walk the edge” and to actually enjoy a good bottle of Moscato—no matter what the neighbors think.

Certainly there was some heavy Moscato brew that was very sugary and full of bubbles—actually made for the American palate back in the day. It came with the generic name of Asti Spumante—“spumante” meaning a spewing of bubbles. Modernly the “spumante” has been dropped and Moscato d’Asti is the correct name and is produced in the legally protected DOCG zone.

You’ll even notice that the famed Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante bottle of the past, has left off the “spumante”. It’s now simply called Asti, Sparkling Wine. And every wine producing country on earth puts out some sort of Moscato made from the Muscat grape. Some are very good, like California’s Quady Essentia Orange Muscat, while others just grab at the name and make sweet sweet stuff.

Back to the real Moscato d’Asti, it’s typically and fashionably Italian: mildly effervescent—frizzante, aromas and flavors of gently sweet peach, apricot, orange blossom, honeysuckle, almonds, citrus tones, and ginger that is embraced with medium acidity to keep things fresh and lively. For the local piemontese, this is not so much of a dessert wine but one that is enjoyed throughout the meal. For example, the traditional Piemontese sauce—bagna cauda—made from anchovies, olive oil and garlic and used for dipping bread & vegetables, always finds itself pairing with the local Moscato.

What’s so lovely about this wine besides being so aromatic, tasty, and, charismatic, is its low alcohol level. Generally around 5 to 7 percent, it’s the perfect all day quaffer on its own, and the impeccable pairing for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I know, for all you foodies out there—the lights just blared. Two words:“Asian Cuisine”. If you had to choose just one wine for pairing with Szechuan, Hunan, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and 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.

Fortunately, there are all types of Asian cuisine restaurants opening up lately throughout our desert valley; unfortunately, there is a scant amount of Moscato d’Asti on their wine lists. But the good news is that your favorite eatery will soon be carrying a wise selection of Moscato due to your casual insistence that they bring up their A-game when it comes to food and wine pairing.

By the way, an interesting phenomenon is the surge of Moscato sales in the US that is fueled by the influence of hip-hop culture. Since the rapper Jay-Z initiated a boycott of Cristal after “cultural bias” comments by the Champagne House, Moscato was soon being served at parties in New York and Los Angeles, and the wine was name-dropped in rap songs.

Lil’ Kim is believed to have first rapped about it in 2005: “Still over in Brazil sippin’ moscato, ya must have forgot though, so I’mma take you back to the block yo.” And in “Do It Now,” for example, the rapper Drake calls for a “glass of Moscato for the girl who’s a student and her friend who’s a model.” Drake’s other lyrics include, “It’s a celebration — clap clap bravo. Lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato.”

Myx Fusionsis the name of a drink by Nicki Minaj. It is a fruit infused Moscato beverage, blended with natural fruit juices and flavors. It is produced and distributed by beverage company Myx Beverage, LLC.Not only does she endorse thefranchise, butshe is alsothe co-owner.

Granted, this is not Moscato d’Asti, but the generic name Moscato with its “muscat aromas” are making the rounds worldwide. “I’ve been following the wine category for over 10 years,” says Danny Brager, the senior vice president of Beverage & Alcohol practice at Nielsen. “Frankly, I haven’t seen anything like it at all. The number of Moscato brands has doubled in the past three years — and it’s not over yet. Sales will keep growing, he says, at about 25 percent a year!”

Moscato d’Asti brands I especially recommend is the Castello del Poggio, sold over at Costa Nichols’ Desert Wines & Spirits/Go-Deli Market in Palm Springs for $14.99. This is a great example of Italian Moscato for all occasions. At Pavilons in Rancho Mirage, you’ll find a sample of an aged Moscato with notes of flowers and cherries showing up in the Lo Duca, for the sale price of $13.99—while supplies last. Also Risata and Mia Dolcera, along with their rosés, sell for around $13.

Total Wine in Palm Desert, also provides a nice selection, along with Nicki Minaj’s Myx Fusion at $9.99—I know, just for kicks!


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