Ricardo and Maria Bianco in their vines, May 2014.

Amazing Moscato

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Moscato has become a top-selling wine in the US, threatening to overtake the mighty Chardonnay and the even mightier Pinot Grigio; we had a look at the website of a big store upstate, and they offer 136 different bottlings of Moscato! The wine – fizzy and sweet – is credited with helping to expand the ranks of wine drinkers in America. I dislike the aspect of this success which justifies the marketing department view that Americans only want sugary comestibles, but just about anything that helps people to enjoy wine in general  is a step in the right direction. What may get lost in a sea of industrial Moscato is the fact that it can be very good wine, even (very occasionally) a great wine. To many wine lovers the default version seems to be La Spinetta, and there’s no question that their Moscato d’Asti is my favorite of their range of wines. The salient feature is that decent Moscato shows some complexity and moves past just sweet and fizzy. Our new “discovery,” the wines of Marco Bianco, are in their own class entirely and far surpass in quality anything else we’ve tasted (although Vittorio Bera Moscato d’Asti remains a benchmark).

We’ve only been served (or have served) Moscato d’Asti at the end of a meal, by itself, with cheese, and with not-too-sweet cake or biscotti, and it works really well, in part because good Moscato is refreshing, with natural acidity that balances the sweetness. At 5-6° alcohol it’s lighter than most sweet wines, and the light fizz adds a festive aspect. So much wine-promo space is given to specious food pairing advice that it’s become a joke here: “goes well with fish, chicken, and red meats” is a favorite quote. But when we saw the list of dishes that Riccardo Bianco (the current proprietor at Marco Bianco) suggested as good matches for his Moscato d’Asti ‘Belb’ we were intrigued: “baccala, foie gras, creamy goat cheese, herbed cheese with fig jam, strawberries, tropical fruits, pastries ” – and that’s just for their entry-level wine.

Marco Bianco only makes Moscato d’Asti – everyone else we’ve met who produces Moscato also makes other white and red wines – and it’s easy to imagine that this focus brings rigor to their wines. It’s an old family property and Riccardo Bianco showed us some pre-phylloxera vines that he says are 170 years old. The youngest vines average 40 years old and the farming is organic. Chemicals and fertilizers have never been used on this land, and there’s full vegetation in the vines, which reminded us of Roagna’s vineyards – absolutely beautiful. And the results are gorgeous and compelling. The idea that I’d be really excited about Moscato d’Asti comes as a surprise to me, but any such detailed, precise, and complex wine deserves our attention – sweet and fizzy, or not. Jamie Wolff

Bianco, Marco 2011 Moscato d'Asti "Crivella"

Crivella is made with fruit from Bianco’s oldest vines, including some planted in the mid 1800s by Riccardo’s great-great-something grandfather; such old vines are extremely rare, and while they produce very little fruit, it’s impossible for Riccardo to even think about replacing them. At a tasting in the shop a customer said, “Like Sauternes with bubbles!” which was a lovely way to describe the wine and its rich and unctuous character. made lively with fizz. While there’s no botrytis, Crivella is much more complex and detailed than all but the very best Sauternes. I’ve certainly never tasted anything like it — a stunning wine. Jamie Wolff

Moscato d'Asti is usually a fairly light and simple affair, but this bottling has gravitas to stand up to the most complex, aged cheeses. If an old Stilton and Port sounds a bit much, try this invigorating Moscato for a bit of a lighter approach. John Rankin

  • white sparkling off-dry
  • 2 in stock
  • no discount
  • $44.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur
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Bianco, Marco 2013 Moscato d'Asti "Belb"

John Rankin and I were tasting at VinItaly — all day, dozens of wines, fighting the crowds... it’s harder work than you might think, and finding exciting wine is a needle-in-haystack operation. In the end, one of the real highlights was this wine — pure, clean, rich but fresh, with lovely aromatics of peach and apricot, and layers of fruit flavors.  It’s quite light in body and has fairly intense fizz, which keeps it lively on the palate. We think this is a great addition to our stock — it so far outperforms the standard (and at a very fair price) that we really hope you will try it. Jamie Wolff

*The photo shows Moscato grapes just before harvest at Marco Bianco, September 2013

Many of us cringe at the saccharine overload of dessert with dessert wine, but Moscato d'Asti's vibrant acid and cleansing bubbles make this wine a refreshing pair to pies, cakes and fresh fruit desserts. John Rankin

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  • white sparkling off-dry
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  • $16.99

  • Organic
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Bianco, Marco 2012 Moscato d'Asti "Villa"

Villa is from 70-year-old vines on a steep hillside in San Stefano Belbo (where all of Bianco’s vines are located); it’s the heart of Moscato d’Asti, in what’s considered the best terroir for the wine. Naturally lower yields from the old vines produce a richer and sweeter wine than the “Belb,” but there is excellent balancing acidity so the wine is fresh and not at all cloying. We had no idea that Moscato d’Asti could reach such heights of complexity. There’s some of  Moscato's typical musky floral notes and intense creamy apricot and peach that extend into nutty and stony aromas. These follow through on the palate, and the finish is long and satisfying. A remarkable wine! Jamie Wolff

*In the photo, Riccardo points out some old vines. You can also see new plantings between the older vines. May 2014

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling off-dry
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  • $22.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur