"Freeeed-zahn-tay" ... there's something about the musical sound of this fine Italian word that even feels cool.
Let's celebrate the end of the work week and the coming first full weekend of summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) with a taste of a perfect quaff for the season: A spritzy Moscato from Piemonte, the foothills region of Northwestern Italy.
It is made by an unusual process in which fermenting white Muscat (Moscato) is chilled to the freezing point, then filtered, before fermentation has converted all the natural fruit sugar to alcohol. This yields a wine that's light in alcoholic content, intensely fruity, very sweet and barely fizzy ("frizzante") ... just the right recipe for casual summer enjoyment.
It is so low in alcohol, in fact - its 5.5 percent alcohol content is less than half that of most table wines - that U.S. law does not categorize it as a wine, with the quirky regulatory result that it does not qualify for wine's exemption from nutritional labeling and must carry a back label disclosing the details (137 calories, 18.3 grams of sugar and 21.5 grams of carbohydrates in a puny five-ounce serving).
So much Moscato is made around Asti that the village's name is almost inseparable from the grape in such bottlings as Moscato d'Asti and Asti Spumante. But today's tasting - a pleasant tipple indeed - is made from grapes sourced in other parts of the region and is simply labeled "Piemonte."
Cantine Aurora Tortona 2001 Piemonte Frizzante ($13.99)
Clear, bright straw color with a slight fizz. Delicious peach aroma and flavor with hints of lemon peel on the palate, juicy and sweet, with just an edge of subtle earthiness (possibly a gift from the cork) to add complexity. There's sufficient acidity for balance, but barely so; even by the sweet standard of Moscato, this one's on the sugary side. Fresh and quenching, it's "a soft drink for adults." U.S. importer: Verdoni Imports Inc., Hawthorne, N.J. (June 26, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: It's made for hot-weather quaffing, but served well enough with seafood, making a pleasant partner with sweet pan-seared diver scallops over pasta. Sweetness certainly doesn't disqualify a beverage from table service, as demonstrated by Coca-Cola and sweet iced tea.
VALUE: Although I enjoy Moscato, it seems consistently overpriced in the U.S., where its standard price point appears in the low to middle teens. Is it worth it? I'll buy it on occasion but find this price a disincentive for regular consumption.
WHEN TO DRINK: The sooner, the better for wines this light and fresh. This two-year-old release is still drinking well, but I would have happily grabbed an '02 if it had been available.Administrivia
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Friday, June 27, 2003