Moscato: The “Sparkler” of the Barbarians? - Coppo

Moscato is a wine that transcends time: from ancient Romans to the present day, its consumption has likely been influenced by the barbarian invasions.

Moscato is one of the oldest “native” grape varieties in Piedmont. Moscato grapes were already known to the Romans as Apianae, so named because they were rich in sugars that attracted bees abundantly. Even Pliny the Elder, followed by Palladius, explicitly mentions them in his agricultural writings. The etymology of the name “Moscato” seems to refer to the “highly sensitive aroma, reminiscent of musk,” which characterizes this delicate and fragrant grape [1].

It is now well established that this grape variety, so appreciated since antiquity, cannot be included in our native viticultural heritage. The wine obtained from it was originally imported into Italy from ancient Greece and, passing through the Po Valley or the southern regions of our peninsula, finally reached Rome.

The history of Moscato should lead us to reconsider the value normally attributed to the concept of autochthony in a strict sense. The value of a grape variety depends, in fact, on a set of factors: its versatility in taking root in a territory, its ability to express its full potential through that specific territory, and above all, the strength to generate lasting and flourishing traditions, as happened centuries ago in Canelli and the surrounding territories.

In general, the ancient palate favored sweet wines. Just think of Roman “mulsum” (a mixture of wine and honey, offered at the beginning of the meal) or Greek mead (a sort of precursor to wine, obtained from the combined fermentation of water and honey).

However, it is important to note the differences in consumption methods between the northern populations (Celts and Germans) and the Romans. Northern populations did not use to dilute wine in the Roman fashion and loved to preserve its natural effervescence as much as possible. The shape of the cups they used was narrow and tall, suitable for reducing evaporation and preserving the fizziness of the beverage.

Romans, on the other hand, consumed heavily diluted wine, after storing it in resin-coated amphorae, enriched with spices and herbal infusions. The shape of Roman cups was wide and low, ideal for getting drunk on the strong aromas of the beverage, often served warm.

It may sound paradoxical, but the truth is that the sophisticated modern way of drinking wine derives precisely from the progressive emergence of barbarian culture over the Roman one, which was then considered much more civilized.[2]

It is curious that, as early as the 1st century A.D., Hasta, the Latin name for Asti, stands out among the most renowned places in the production of “calices” destined for the consumption of that undiluted and slightly effervescent wine [3]. It is precisely that city that will become the capital of Moscato, destined to symbolize in the world the sweet and sparkling wine par excellence.

[1] A.Strucchi, Il Moscato di Canelli, UTET, 1895, pag. 9
[2] I. Gaddo, La vite e il vino nell’astigiano, Accademia University Press, 2013, pp 62-63
[3] Plinio, Naturalis Historia, libro 35, paragrafo 160