Elegant bubbles ideal for celebrating Olympian moments
Bravo Beijing! Under the most challenging conditions ever, Beijing has successfully delivered a resoundingly successful Winter Olympics with a host of dramatic memories.
From Gao Tingyu's speed-skating breakthrough, Gu Ailing's explosive snowboarding success and popularity to Mikaela Shiffrin's trials and tribulations and Shawn White's bittersweet farewell, this has indeed been a memorable Olympics featuring all the compelling thrills and heartbreaks of elite sports.
Viewers worldwide have been on an emotional roller-coaster watching their winter sports idols and cheering on their nations' athletes. To assuage these emotional extremes, I suggest a proper glass of wine.
But not any wine will do; in the true Olympic spirit, we need our featured wine to be celebratory and inclusive. The perfect solution is a very special style of wine from northwest Italy.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG
Surrounded by bucolic rolling hills in the middle of Piedmont is the provincial capital of Asti. Dating back to Roman times, this town boasting numerous Romanesque churches and abbeys has served as a crossroad between most of Europe and the Italian peninsula.
Ancient traders, pilgrims and wanderers would replenish their weary bodies with the wines of Asti, the most famous of which would evolve into Moscato d'Asti.
The Moscato Bianco grape has been cultivated in Piedmont for over 800 years on the sloping hillside vineyards in and around Asti, making it one of Italy's most enduring grapes. Mosacto d'Asti as we know it today was the creation of Giovanni Batista Croce in the 16th century who experimented with fostering and second effervescent-creating fermentation in small tanks.
Following Croce's lead, over the succeeding centuries, Asti winemakers refined the process of making sweet and elegant sparklers. However, unlike other wines, these gentle bubbles were almost exclusively consumed by the winemakers and their family and friends. There were precious few commercial sales and as a result, these Moscato frizzante wines developed a reputation as a specialty wine of the locals that connoisseurs had to visit Asti to enjoy.
Asti winemakers prized the wines as a digestive to be served between courses or after a meal and were also frequently the wine of choice at family or local celebrations.
In the last few decades of the 19th century, people in northern Italy and then gradually throughout Europe increasingly developed a taste for these enticingly fragrant light sparklers. During the racy and heady days of the Roaring '20s in pre-war Europe, society's most fashionable ladies would often be seen with a glass of Moscato d'Asti in hand. This was especially true in the spring when dining al fresco was most popular.
In 1993, the Moscato d'Asti wine region was granted DOCG status and by the turn of the millennium the wines were gaining recognition outside of Europe. Today, along with Prosecco, they have become the most popular style of Italian sparkling wines with a rapidly growing number of devotees in China.
Moscato d'Asti wines are only slightly fizzy, or frizzante as the Italian's refer to them, and by law must have a modest 4.5 to 6 percent alcohol content. Because the wines only have 1 to 2.5 atmospheres of pressure they are most commonly sealed with normal corks. Some producers are also experimenting with screw caps.
I love to say that in the world of wines, nothing quite so perfectly expresses unpretentious casual elegance as a glass of Moscato d'Asti. These sweet and gently effervescent wines are eminently affordable and almost universally high quality. Typically, they offer the abundant and lively aromas of fresh tropical fruits, peaches, nectarines, white blossoms and honey.
Importantly the alluring sweetness of these wines is never cloying and is always balanced by lively acidity. The word finesse is overused in the wine world but it perfectly applies to Moscato d'Asti wines. The multi senses pleasing combination of aromatics, sweetness and lively acidity helps make the wines exceedingly food-friendly.
In a testament to the versatility of this wine, I recently had a bottle of L'Armangia Canelli Moscato d'Asti DOCG with assorted dishes at my favorite Szechuan restaurant. The wine worked perfectly well with all the dishes including the spicy and numbing ones featuring liberal amounts of chilies and peppercorns. The star pairing of the evening was my Moscato d'Asti with deep-fried duck tongue with chili pepper and garlic.
Some top Moscato d'Asti producers who have wines available in Shanghai are L'Armangia, Michel Chiarlo, Sansilvestro, Ceretto, La Spinetta, Prunotto and Bera. Moscato d'Asti wines aren't especially age-worthy, so I suggest sticking to recent vintages. Avoid any wines more than 5 years old.
Appropriately for an optimal Winter Olympics experience, these sparklers should be served well-chilled, or about 6-8 degrees Celsius, in an ample-sized flute or, even better, a Sauvignon Blanc white wine glass.
Where to buy in Shanghai
Aishun Imports, 16E-168 Zhenning Rd, 6247-0305
L'armangia Canelli Moscato d'Asti DOCG
Michele Chiarlo Nicole Moscato d'Asti DOCG
www.ruby red.com.cn (website)
Ceretto Moscato d'Asti DOCG
Sanilvestro Moscato d'Asti DOCG