Asti, that lovely, hillside village in the north of Italy + Spumante, literally “sparkling” in Italian: the combination evokes memories of early dates accompanied by sweet, somewhat fizzy wine. That was then. Today, the wines of Asti are much, much more.
Asti, a DOCG zone (guaranteed place name under Italian wine law) is located in the northern Italian province of Piedmont in the foothills of the Alps. A variety of grapes are grown there, primarily Dolcetto, Barbera, and Moscato.
The most well known wine of this region is Asti (no longer called Asti spumante,) the delicate, sparkling wine made from Moscato grapes. Given a somewhat dubious reputation by inexpensive wines sold under that name, a well-made Asti has slight peach overtones with a high acidity to balance its sweetness. Asti is made using a unique process that allows the wine to start fermenting, then is stopped and restarted. This keeps the alcohol level down (about 8%) while retaining the wine’s bright fruit flavors. Asti is best when drunk within three years of bottling. It is ideal as an aperitif or with a crisp, green salad.
A cousin to Asti is Moscato d’Asti, also crafted from Moscato grapes. Less bubbly than Asti, Moscato d’Asti is a technically a fizzante (the Italian term for a lightly bubbly wine.) Its flavors are more delicate than those of an Asti and it has a lower alcohol level, generally between five and seven percent. Freshness is even more important with Moscato d’Asti. Drink this wine within two years of the vintage. Moscato d’Asti is a refreshing summer wine or an ideal accompaniment to biscotti.
One of two major regions in Italy to grow Barbera grapes (the other is Alba,) Barbera d’Asti is slightly lighter and leaner than Barbera grown elsewhere. Aged in oaken casks, Barbera is rich, dark, ripe, and somewhat spicy with a pronounced acidity. Barbera is perfect with spicy foods and hearty dishes especially those with tomato-based sauces.
Dolcetto d’Asti is a dry, rich, medium-bodied red wine. More tannic than Barbera, this wine has flavors of black pepper and rich berry fruit. Best when served young, Dolcetto d’Asti is traditionally served with antipasto dishes, but is also good with chef salads, spicy foods, and pizza.
Asti, Moscato, Barbera, or Dolcetto: whichever one you choose, make sure Asti is on your wine-shopping list. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.