Moscato d’Asti in the 20th century, a global success - Coppo

Moscato d’Asti is the most consumed sweet wine in the world. On February 1, 1994, it obtained the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG) and is part of one of the largest and most varied families of grape varieties known.

These three facts alone are enough to understand that we are talking about a true “giant” of international oenology. It’s no surprise, then, that its history is particularly rich and ancient: Moscato bianco was already cultivated by the ancient Greeks under the name Anathelicon moschaton, while the Romans renamed it uva apiana because its exquisite aroma attracted bees.

Moscato enjoyed wide success in the Middle Ages in the form of a sweet wine called musqué, from muscum, meaning musky, aromatic. However, its rise in Piedmont was due to Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, who decreed to limit all kinds of imports to favor local productions. From this moment on, Moscato quickly made its way into cellars and tables throughout Savoy, receiving – as it is said – great acclaim from critics and the public, so much so that by the end of the 18th century, the prestigious “Society of Agriculture of Turin” indicated it as one of the Piedmontese grape varieties capable of producing the most prized wines.

The capitals of Moscato

In the 19th century, Canelli and Asti became the symbolic cities of Moscato: the former distinguished itself as the historical capital of Moscato bianco cultivated in Piedmont, widely known as “Moscato bianco di Canelli”; the latter – a city with strong enological roots, host to important events, fairs, a center of trade and wine studies – naturally became the other reference point for Moscato. It is this city that even today accords its name and the image of its patron saint, San Secondo on horseback, to the protection mark. Towards the end of the 19th century, Piedmontese Moscato grape production hovered around 148,000 quintals. Canelli constituted the main cultivation area, with a production of 72,000 quintals; large quantities were also guaranteed by the municipalities of Santo Stefano Belbo, Calosso, Strevi, Castiglione Tinella, Acqui Terme, and Ricaldone.

From Epernay to Canelli

Also in the second half of the 19th century, the story of Piedmontese sparkling wine began: around the mid-1800s, the entrepreneur Carlo Gancia, after learning production techniques in the cellars of Epernay in Champagne in the preceding years, returned to Canelli and began producing the first Italian sparkling wine, called “Moscato Champagne” after the grape variety used.

The bottles used were special, called “heavy Asti” because they were resistant up to 10 atmospheres of pressure; moreover, the cellars where they were stored were traversed by men protected by leather aprons and fencing masks, to protect themselves in case of bottle explosions (due to uncontrolled refermentation in the containers). It was only in 1940, thanks to the discovery of autoclaves, that the production of Asti spumante using the Charmat and Martinotti methods on an industrial scale began, reaching a production of one million bottles.

Conquering the world

The 20th century is the century of the “legal” triumph of Moscato d’Asti: on December 17, 1932, the Consorzio di Tutela dell’Asti (Consortium for the Protection of Asti) was founded – officially recognized two years later – which worked to obtain the Denomination of Controlled Origin. The goal was achieved in 1967, four years after the issuance of regulations for the protection of designations of origin for musts and wines. Another success was achieved on February 1, 1994, when the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin came into force.

Currently, there are about 4,000 families dedicated to the cultivation of Moscato grapes, spread across 52 municipalities (the Moscato area has been delimited since 1932), covering about 10,000 hectares of land in three provinces: Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo. In the territory of Canelli, where the vine has been cultivated since Roman times, the industry of Moscato d’Asti and Asti developed at the end of the 19th century: thanks to its wine entrepreneurs, the city came into contact with the most modern international artistic currents, becoming one of the most significant centers of Piedmontese Liberty.

With the new millennium, Moscato d’Asti experienced a global boom, revealing its aromatic richness to the world. Today, it is certainly the most consumed sweet wine in the world, appreciated in the USA – where it ends up on the tables of authorities and entertainers, and to the extreme in the East, especially by the Chinese public, who prefer it to complex and structured French red wines, and have elected it as the wine of choice for celebrations.

The approximately one hundred bottlers of this type now produce almost fifteen million bottles. Moscato d’Asti is increasingly being vinified in a more personal and authentic way: many producers seek to highlight its characteristic aspects, and only now are the best Sorì – that is, the crus – where the grapes of this extraordinary sweet wine can offer new emotions, beginning to be identified and classified.