Typically, sparkling wines are special occasion drinks. People serve them to toast an anniversary, a wedding, or a successfully closed deal. But have you ever drunk sparkling wine for dinner? If you haven’t but are open to new wine experiences, you might want to read about Asti.
What Is Asti?
Asti (formerly known as Asti Spumante) is a white sparkling wine from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. It’s sweet in taste with fruity aromas and has a rather low alcohol content. It undergoes a specific production process called the “Asti Method” and is subject to strict laws.
What Is Asti Made From?
Asti is made from Moscato Bianco. According to Italian wine laws, winemakers may not use may other varietals for the production.
Moscato Bianco is one of the oldest varietals from Italy. But vintners grow it in many other places around the world too. Depending on the country, it might have an alternative name:
- France: Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains
- Germany and Austria: Gelber Muskateller
- Spain: Moscatel de Grano Menudo / Moscatel Castellano
- Serbia: Tamjanika
Besides, winemakers in Greece, Portugal, the United States, and South Africa use Moscato Bianco grapes to produce still wines, dessert wines, and sparkling wines.
Asti vs. Moscato d’Asti: Are They the Same?
No, Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are not the same. They share the same production methods and have similar taste profiles though.
Moscato d’Asti is a semi-sparkling wine. So the bubbly experience it provides is less significant than the fizzyness of the full-sparkling version. The reason for this difference is the fermentation process: Asti undergoes a longer fermentation that results in a higher level of CO2. As during this process more sugar turns into alcohol, it’s also slightly stronger than Moscato d’Asti. Typically, it has an alcohol content between 6 and 9% while its semi-sparkling cousin has only 5.5%.
More Details on Moscato d’Asti: MOSCATO WINE – THE SWEET ITALIAN ALL-ROUNDER
How Asti Is Made
The Moscato Bianco grapes grow on the hills of Piedmont. They are hard to cultivate and ripen late in the year. During their long growing season, they are very vulnerable to mildew, grey rot, berry moths, and other diseases and pests. Thus, winemakers must invest much time and work into keeping the grapes healthy. But even if they succeed, Moscato Bianco produces low yields in comparison to other varietals.
The harvest typically takes place in the middle of September when the grapes contain the optimal amount of sugar. To ensure that they do no harm to the grapes, workers don’t use machines and harvest by hand. The crushing and pressing of the grapes happen without modern technology as well. Instead, vintners use manual presses to squeeze the juice out of the grapes gently.
Until now, the production method doesn’t differ from the methods to make other still or sparkling wines. But the fermentation process of the wine must for Asti is extraordinary. Primarily because winemakers prevent the fermentation for most of the wine must. They do so by cooling down the must containers to temperatures close to the freezing point. The reason is simple: They produce Asti throughout the whole year, and they need fresh wine must to do so.
Every two months or so, vintners start to process a new batch. First, they transfer the must to stainless steel tanks and seal them. Then they heat them to about 60°F (15°C) to start the fermentation process. While the sugar in the must slowly turns into alcohol, CO2 forms inside. But as the tanks are sealed, this CO2 can’t escape. Instead, it stays in the wine and gives it the typical sparkling characteristic.
When the wine reaches its desired level of alcohol (typically about 7.5%), the winemakers cool down the tanks to stop the fermentation. They use a centrifuge to remove the remaining yeast and bottle the wine. Unlike many other sparkling wines, Asti doesn’t undergo a second bottle fermentation process, so it’s ready for consumption at this point.
What Does Asti Taste Like?
Asti comes with a great balance of sweetness and acidity. Like many other Moscato wines, it has fruity aromas of citrus, orange, and apricots. It’s similarly fizzy like other sparkling wines such as Champagne or Prosecco. But due to its low level of alcohol, it’s significantly lighter: While Prosecco has around 11% and Champagne about 12%, Asti comes with only 6 to 9%.
Where Does Asti Come From?
Asti comes from the region of Piedmont in Northern Italy. The Asti DOCG is a protected nomination. Only sparkling wine that comes from one of 52 communes in the provinces Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo can carry this name.
City of Calosso in the Asti Region
Carlo Gancia produced Asti for the first time in the 1870s. He studied winemaking in Champagne and aimed to create a beverage similar to the famous French sparkling wine. He copied the traditional Champagne method by fermenting his wine twice: first in tanks, and afterward in bottles. As he used the Italian varietal Moscato Bianco for this purpose, he named his first wines “Moscato Champagne”.
In the early 20th century, the production methods changed. Since then, the wine undergoes only one phase of fermentation. Bottle fermentation is no longer part of the process.
Until the 1940s, Asti hadn’t gained much popularity outside of Italy. But during World War II, many allied soldiers developed a preference for the sweet sparkling wine. When they returned home to the United States and the United Kingdom, they brought this preference with them. To fulfill the increasing demand in these new markets, many Italian winemakers scaled up their efforts. Mass-production started, and the wine got a new name: Asti Spumante. Its reputation wasn’t outstanding, though. It simply couldn’t beat the quality of Champagne. Thus, winemakers decided to relabel their sparkling wine when the region gained DOCG status in 1993. Since then, you won’t find the term Spumante on most bottle labels anymore.
Today, Asti has a better reputation. However, it still isn’t a serious competitor to Champagne in terms of quality. Nevertheless, it’s popular all around the world and one of the most-exported sparkling wines of Italy.
How to Serve Asti
Asti is delicious as an aperitif as well as a digestif. Due to its low alcohol level, it’s perfect for stand-up receptions and garden parties, especially on hot summer days. But you can also serve it with brunch or for dinner.
What Is the Right Glass for Asti?
The right glass for Asti is a flute. Just like for Champagne or Prosecco, the tall glasses with the narrow openings help to preserve the bubbles better than regular wine glasses.
What Is the Right Serving Temperature for Asti?
Always serve Asti chilled. A temperature around 43°F (6°C) is perfect for providing a fresh and bubbly experience.
More Details on Wine Serving Temperature: WHAT IS THE RIGHT SERVING TEMPERATURE FOR WINE?
Should You Decant Asti?
No, don’t decant Asti. Exposing sparling wine to oxygen will cause the bubbles to disappear and thus harms the fizzy experience. After opening the bottle, immediately pour it into glasses and serve it.
How to Store Asti
Always store Asti in a cool and dark place where heat, temperature changes, and sunlight can’t harm it. By doing so, you will preserve its characteristic freshness. A cellar with a room temperature of around 55°F (13°C) is perfect. Make sure to store bottles lying on their side. This position assures that the wine stays in contact with the cork and prevents it from drying out.
Can Asti Be Aged?
No. Asti is produced to be consumed soon after bottling. Storing it in your cellar for years will not improve the drinking experience.
Can Asti Go Bad?
Yes, Asti can go off if you expose it to sunlight or heat for a significant period of time. Both can damage the typical flavors as well as the bubbly experience.
How Long Does Asti Last When Open?
When open, the Italian sparkling wine lasts only for a short time. If you put it in a fridge, you can enjoy it for about one week before its bubbles and flavors disappear. So better consume it quickly after opening the bottle.
Which Food Goes With Asti?
Asti is a great wine to pair with a wide variety of dishes. Its sweetness matches sweet desserts, but also salty and spicy main courses.
For instance, you can try it with cured meat. Italian specialties like Salami and Prosciutto or Spanish delicacies like Chorizo and Jamón Ibérico are great matches. That’s also true for snacks like almonds or nuts, and you can even try chips or crackers.
It doesn’t need meat or rather unhealthy snacks, though. If you prefer a plate of raw vegetables like carrots, radishes, or celery with dips and sauces, go for it. The sparkling sweetness of the wine works with these kinds of snacks perfectly. The same goes for starters like salads and light main courses like chicken or seafood.
Finding a main course that makes a good pairing isn’t hard either. Spicy food from the Chinese, Vietnamese, or Indonesian kitchen works perfectly. And so do the Cajun cuisine, southern barbeque, or Latin-American dishes. Basically, any meal with notes of garlic, chili, ginger, fennel, or similar spices are great pairings for the sweet sparkler.
Last but not least, you can enjoy it with your dessert. Pick a sweet, fruity dish like fruit salad or a berry tart. But make sure it’s not sweeter than the wine. Alternatively, serve a cheese plate. Soft kinds of cheese like Brie or Camembert and blue cheese types like Roquefort or Gorgonzola combine fantastically with the Italian sparkler.
More Details on Pairing Wine & Cheese: WINE AND CHEESE – 20 GREAT PAIRINGS FOR YOUR PARTY
If you want to enjoy the original Italian taste, make sure to look out for bottles that carry the name “Asti” (with or without “Spumante”) on their labels. As the name is protected by law, producers from other regions than Piedmont may not use it. Be aware that the sole term “Spumante” isn’t protected, so vintners from all over the world can use it.
Make sure not to confuse Asti with Moscato d’Asti. Both are enjoyable, and I encourage you to try and compare them to understand their differences. But if you want the full sparkling experience, search for the Italian original.
Entry-level wines cost around 15 USD per bottle of 750ml, while better styles cost 20 to 25 USD.
For sparkling wine lovers, Asti is a must-know, although it isn’t a high-end beverage. But because it’s sweet, light, and low in alcohol, it’s a great sparkling wine for many different occasions. Having a bottle ready for a spontaneous toast never is a bad idea. Make sure to try its semi-sparkling cousin as well to get the full round trip of Piedmont’s sparkling wines.