Saturday, July 21, 2012

Moscato d’Asti—Summer’s Perfect Wine

Moscato d’Asti is produced mostly around the town of Asti in Southeast Piedmont, probably Italy’s most important wine producing region. It is made in a frizzante (lightly sparkling) style, is low in alcohol (4.5 - 6.5%) and has a zippy acidity that makes it an ideal summer refresher. Despite being modestly sweet, the low alcohol and good acidity clear the palate, so it's not syrupy or cloying. This makes the second glass as good as the first. It is made from the Muscato Bianco grape, which has been grown in Piedmont for hundreds of years.  Although made in the same area and from the same grape, it is distinct from Asti Spumante, a fully sparkling wine typically done in a drier style.

Moscato d’Asti is known for its freshness, elegant floral aromas, and delicate flavors of peaches and apricots. The wine is typically paired with non-chocolate desserts, particularly the classic Panatonne (a sweet bread containing candied orange, citron, and lemon zest), fruit tarts, or dry pastries made with hazelnuts or almonds. It’s also a great apĂ©ritif.

Many wineries produce this wine, including some of the most well known estates in Piedmont. It is not particularly expensive, usually in the $12.00  to $20.00 range.

Vietti Cascinetta is made from only the best grapes harvested from thirty-five year old vines. The nose suggests aromas of peaches, rose petals, and ginger. On the palate, its modest sweetness is perfectly balanced with acidity and minerality. Fresh apricots round out the creamy finish. Price tag? About $16.00.

A bit pricier at $15.00 per half bottle, but probably one of Piedmont’s best Muscatos, is Michele Chiarlo Nivole. Nivole means “clouds” in the Piedmontese dialect, and it appropriately suggests the wine’s airy, elegant quality. The fragrant, intensely fruity bouquet is offset by musky notes and leads to flavors of fresh peaches, apricots, and a hint of lemon.  Its refined sweetness is supported by an excellent balance of acid and bubbles. The finish is clear and crisp. You’ll wish it came in full bottles. The half is simply not enough of this beauty.

I drink dry wines ninety-five percent of the time. When I’m in the mood for something a little sweeter, Moscato d’Asti is the one I choose (except for the occassional Riesling or Port, of course.) Give it a try. You’ll love it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It’s Greek To Me

When considering Greek wines, many think of Retsina as the country’s only contribution. This bizarre wine, flavored with the resin of the Aleppo Pine, has a taste reminiscent of disinfectant and turpentine and is drunk in wide-mouthed tumblers to prevent the aroma and flavor from overwhelming the drinker.

This is NOT the final word on Greek wines.

In fact, Greece produces many beautiful wines both on the mainland and on the islands. These wines are made from unfamiliar-sounding grapes that result in fresh, aromatic whites and bold, flavorful reds.

One very reliable producer is Domaine Skouras from the northern part of the Greek mainland. They make several wines, but the first I ever tried remains one of my favorites—the Skouras White. This is a blend of Roditis and Moscofilero. It is aged over lees in stainless steel resulting in a light to medium bodied wine with husky, citrus, floral, and herbal aromas.  Flavors of tangerine, lemon, and melon combine with a fresh, crisp acidity and a minerally finish – all for about ten bucks.

The Skouras St. George Nemea 2008 is made from 100% Aghiorghitiko. The nose is of berries – blackberries, raspberries and even strawberries. On the palate, the fruit turns more towards blue – blueberries and plums with a bit of vanilla. The wine is medium bodied, earthy, with ripe tannins and a nice acidity.  This is a fun wine for $14.00.

Alpha Estate’s Axia 2008 is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Xinomavro, and it is a mouthful of wine! A complex bouquet of spices (vanilla, clove and pepper) and violets with hints of blackberry hits the nose. Wonderful berry fruit (blue and black), earth, and spice strike the palate. The tannins are velvety and the acidity is just right. This is a great wine on its own and also with food.

Not to be outdone by the mainland, the island of Crete is responsible for 20% of Greece’s wine production. The Alexakis family is a cooperative that makes great wines. The 2011 Malvasia Aromatica, related to the Malvasia of Italy, is well named. This wine is intensely aromatic with sweet notes of honeysuckle, orange, and jasmine. The nose suggests a sweet palate to follow. However, it is fresh, crisp, and citrusy  with a beautiful acidity.  This is a great food wine, and the contrast between the sweet aromatics and the dry, refreshing palate makes it a fascinating sipping wine.

The  2008 red wine from this co-op is a blend of 40% Syrah and 60% Kotsifali. The latter is the most traditional red varietal on Crete. This wine has aromatics of cinnamon, clove, and blackberry. The medium bodied wine has a background of berry fruit with lots of spice (cinnamon, pepper) and earth (dirt, actually).  I am pleasantly reminded of a forest floor. This is a very interesting wine that I’m going to have with my next lamb dinner.

Next time you are thinking of a white, instead of Chardonnay think Malvasia Aromatica! Instead of Zinfandel, think Xinomavro!  But by all means think about giving Greece a chance to impress you. You won’t be disappointed.