The Moscato family encompasses nine distinct grapes which give rise to intensely aromatic and perfumed wines. These include Moscato Blanco, Moscato Giallo, Moscato Rosa (white, yellow and pink Moscato respectively), and Zibibbo, amongst others. Cultivated throughout Italy, from the hilly Northern region of the Alto Adige to the tiny island of Pantelleria between Sicily and the North African coast, the expression of the Moscato grape varies according to the region it calls home. In the US, this grape is cultivated mainly in California, where you may also have come across it in its French guise, as Muscat.
Which are the best Moscato wines? Starting in the North, the Alto Adige region gives rise to Moscato Giallo wines which are densely flavored and richly fruited, whilst not overly sweet – similar to those produced to the West of this region, in Val d’Aosta. The Alto Adige is also home to a heady pink Moscato Rosa wine, also known as ‘rosenmuskateller’, which is planted on fewer than 70 hectares in the whole of Italy. This Moscato rosé is popular among devotees for its rose bouquet, with nuances of candied fruits and exotic spices.
Moving slightly South, to the Piedmont region, we find a gently sparkling white Moscato of international renown, in the form of the Asti DOCG. Moscato d’Asti has delicate floral and stone fruit notes, and is a low-alcohol wine, at 6.5 ABV or under. This makes it a sophisticated alternative to other sparkling wines for daytime events. The center of Italy on the other hand is home to the Moscadello di Montalcino DOC, which uses exclusively Moscato Blanco grapes to produce a variety of styles, both still and sparkling, for perfect light summer drinking.
Arriving in the South of the country, alongside ‘straight’ sweet versions we also begin to find richer, fortified Moscato wines, characterized by more concentrated flavors and a higher sugar content. As expected, the alcohol content here rises correspondingly: Puglia is home to the Moscato di Trani DOG which, in addition to its Dolce Naturale style at around 11.5-12.5 ABV, also produces a fortified ‘Liquroso’ version, at a punchier 18% ABV.
Last but not least, crossing to the islands, Sardinia’s DOC encompasses its entire territory! From the Moscato Blanco grape, dry and ‘passito’ style wines are produced, alongside a lightly sparkling version. Sicily’s Noto DOC additionally produce a fortified version, ‘Moscato di Noto Liquoroso’, whilst Pantelleria is home to one of the most famous denominations of all, the ‘Moscato di Pantelleria’. Indeed, for such a tiny island, Pantelleria offers a surprising number of varieties of Moscato wine! Its ‘Passito di Pantelleria’ is one of the world’s best-known sweet wines, made from Zibibbo grapes that have been dried by the sun – sometimes even on the vines themselves. The resulting liquid gold has exotic notes of orange blossom and apricot and is a true treat for the senses.
Often thought of as dessert wines, it is true that many Moscato styles pair beautifully with cake at celebrations and are the ideal accompaniment for sweet tarts and pastry confections after a festive meal. However, the low alcohol content of the sparkling and drier styles also makes them the ideal option for an aperitif or a perfect match at brunch, whilst fortified and passito styles can quite happily be savored solo, drop by precious drop.