It’s easy to snicker or even roll your eyes at Moscato these days. Particularly here in the U.S., Moscato is a term that has become somewhat divisive. For sure, it is the safe word to use when you don’t know precisely what you want, but you know that you want something sweet. For others, it is a term that, at worst, signals the demise of wine culture, or at best, identifies someone as a person who probably does not feel too comfortable at your dinner table.
As someone who has spent the previous four years immersed in all sorts of different wines through professional and personal activities, I’ve been privileged to experience wines that many might not come across. I don’t state this to be pompous or to communicate a sense of superiority, but simply to illustrate my positioning with respect to this topic. I taste a fair number of special and expensive wines. You might think that I maintain a disdain for Moscato, similar to others with similar experiences. If you think this, you are wrong. I adore Moscato. It’s my dirty wine secret.
I routinely ask others in the “wine know” about their wine secrets. I am interested in getting to know some of the tastes and tendencies that are maintained despite degrees of assimilation into elitist wine culture. I know some sommeliers who will forever maintain an admiration of Bud Light, or some similar mass-market beer. Although these persons may never believe Bud Light to be on par with some of their favorite wines when it comes to issues of quality, they will never give up on the stuff based on the crisp and refreshing characteristics that makes drinking them an exercise in relaxation. I heard somewhere that Master Sommelier Fred Dame adores a medium-priced California Sauvignon Blanc with lunch. Considering the bottles to which Dame has regular access, this comes as a somewhat startling fact.
But this is also a refreshing fact (pun regretfully intended). Learning that such renowned and credentialed professionals maintain such habits has helped me to identify how I want to be as a wine professional. More than anything, I desire to be informed, yet always humble. The ability and willingness to laugh at myself and to not take myself too seriously is one of my primary obsessions.
And so, I confess an affinity for Moscato, albeit with some notable caveats. First, I like it semi-sparkling. I am now more than tolerant of residual sugar in the wines I drink, but usually only when there is sufficient acidity to achieve the all-important “balance” criterion. For this reason, I tend to prefer Moscato from Italy, which generally offers the “fizz” to make the wine delightfully refreshing. In the absence of such a texture, the wine’s sugar content might make it cloying, which I have never found to be an attractive characteristic. Moscato d’Asti is the obvious choice, though many from the nearby province of Pavia offer similar, if not indistinguishable, characteristics. Second (and I don’t consider this to be flippant), the bottles need to be of reasonably good quality. Of course, we should desire to mostly drink wines that are well made, but there are some categories of wine in which some of the really bad examples are really that bad. Moscato is one such category. Unfortunately, the preponderance of poor Moscato, particularly in the U.S. market, appears to have labeled the category with an overgeneralized negative connotation. Frankly, I find this unfair.
Even though I might not reach for a bottle of Moscato routinely over other wines, there are certain contexts in which it is hard to beat. Those of you who like to take in a wine “shooter” to start your hangover vacation days might find a glass of fizzy Moscato to be just the sort of refreshing beverage that can lead you into that first cup of coffee. In more conventional senses, a fine Moscato is very satisfying when paired with fresh fruits, or a non-chocolate dessert. I recently paired a Moscato d’Asti with homemade trifle, which proved to be a delectable end to the “official” dinner and a worthy precursor to the scotch that followed.
Admitting an appreciation for Moscato does not imply that I seek it out routinely as an alternative to other wines. No iteration of Moscato stands the chance to be one of my “desert island” wines, nor will it be featured at every tasting I lead or dinner I attend. But it does have its place. If anything, I encourage you to find a place for Moscato in your wine consumption routine. Storing away a couple bottles in your cellar certainly won’t make you the envy of the block (or the bar), but it might just give you an option for a refreshing drink or impressive pairing when the right occasion comes along.