An exploration of wine

Asti: Barbera, Moscato and friends

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Asti panorama over Canelli

Asti region’s steep, vine-covered hillsides, centred on the town of Canelli

Asti is the other “A” in the constellation of Piemonte wine regions, lying immediately North and East of Alba, where Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero are found.

The wines of the hills around Asti are perhaps less famous – at least today – than those of Alba but are no less distinctive. Broadly speaking, 4 sets of wines exist:

  • Moscato sparkling and mostly-sweet: a series of gently-sparkling frizzante and more fully-sparkling spumante wines made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, or Moscato Bianco. Moscato d’Asti is at the top of the quality pile, above Asti Dolce (famously Asti Spumante in the 1980s) and from 2017, much drier Asti Secco
  • Barbera d’Asti: generally considered to be the source of the finest, most serious expressions of Barbera, because the grape is planted in the good sites, whereas in Alba, Nebbiolo takes those. Also from the overlapping Monferrato, as well as recently promoted sub-zone, the high-quality Nizza DOCG
  • Brachetto d’Acqui: sweet, rose-scented, frizzante or spumante red wines from the Brachetto grape, grown around the spa town of Acqui Terme in the East of the Asti zone. Newly joined by a much paler, dry, fully-sparkling or still Acqui Rosé category
  • Other wines: like Alba, other local varieties are being made, such as Cortese, Favorita (Vermentino) , Ruchè, Freisa, Grignolino, Dolcetto – especially d’Acqui – and even Nebbiolo, which Monferrato has just announced a new DOC for. A bit of a catch-all of wines that are much less the essence of the region’s identity

In late 2018, 3 consorzi – the Consorzio Tutela d’Asti, Consorzio Tutela Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato and Consorzio Tutela Brachetto d’Acqui – combined to create a 3-day press visit to the region, to learn more about the key styles.

This profile is based heavily on that, coupled with a visit we made ourselves in 2017, to pioneer of quality Barbera d’Asti, “Braida” de Giacomo Bologna, whom I have profiled separately.

The programme included masterclasses on each of the 3 distinctive categories, as well as a range of walkaround tastings and some wines available with lunches and dinners, to taste different producers’ offerings.

Although I tended to taste producers’ full ranges at the walkaround tastings, which cut across categories, I’ve opted to split up producers’ wines, and collect them by style in roughly the order encountered – but clustering individual producers within that.

It should be noted that, for the best-presented masterclass and its partner at lunch – the wines of Barbera d’Asti – a slightly blocked nose muted my tasting capacity, so take those tasting notes and scores with appropriate caution; given a reduced capacity to appreciate the aromatic expression that is important to Barbera, my scores are likely slightly suppressed. They are marked * as such.

Having said that, there was one wine which I tasted previously without cold-influence, and scored reasonably closely afterwards with that cold effect. That gave me some comfort in at least the directional reliability of these cold-affected assessments: Il Falchetto’s Bricco Paradiso 2016 at 15.5 / 20 then 15 / 20 or 89 / 100 then 87 / 100.

One overall observation worth making is that “quality will out”. By that I mean that a producer who is very good at making one style of wine, tended to be a good producer across the board. In particular, I’m familiar with Michele Chiarlo’s fine Baroli, but that skill translated through not only to their Barbera d’Asti wines, but also to their Moscato d’Asti.

Likewise, I was guided by colleagues to taste the Barberas of Tenuta Olim Bauda, with which I was not familiar and whose Nizza is particularly fine, but the Moscato was also standout. Gallo (no, not them) made fine Brachetto d’Acqui and still Brachetto, but again their Moscato d’Asti had that extra dimension that many did not.

Taking the 4 sections in turn, here are links to in-depth profiles of each:

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