But there is nowhere in the world that Moscato Bianco achieves the same greatness as Asti province in Piedmont.
Most ampelographers call it the “family of Moscato grapes” because there are myriad Moscato clones. Some are historic and come with pedigree. Others are seemingly accidental but genetically linked across continents.
From south and north Africa to Greece, through Mediterranean and continental Europe, Great Britain, the Americas, and even as far north as Washington State in the northwest United States, Moscato is grown with vinous passion and enologic ambition.
But among the sea of Moscato varieties there is none that rivals Moscato Bianco, otherwise known as Moscato di Canelli or Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (in France).
This is the small-berry Moscato or Muscat prized for its aromatic character and for its remarkable ability to delivery “primary” grape flavors.
By the late 16th century in Italy, it was already well established as a grape used for fine wine production. And ample documentation from the early 17th century onward reveal that the wines it produced were coveted by nobles and fine wine merchants and connoisseurs alike.
But there is nowhere in the world that Moscato Bianco achieves the same greatness as Asti province in Piedmont (northwestern Italy).
“Moscato Bianco does best on marly-clay soils” writes leading English-language ampelographer Dr. Ian D’Agata in Native Wine Grapes of Italy, “specifically those formed in the Middle and Late Miocene eras (especially the former)… Not by chance, the areas of Canelli, Santo Stefano, and Loazzolo are the true grand crus for Moscato Bianco and all boast soils formed during the Middle Micene, very lightly chalky and limestone-rich. Similar soils are also found in the provinces of Alessandria and Cuneo, though not the same extent, due to a higher presence of clay.”
It should come as no surprise that Moscato Bianco is also commonly known as Moscato di Canelli. The geographic association is owed to the grand legacy and history of the grape’s cultivation there. And that fame has only increased in the modern era as Moscato d’Asti, made from Moscato di Canelli (Moscato Bianco), became one of the most popular and highly visible wines of the 20th century.
In my next posts, we’ll be looking at why Moscato Bianco has such a unique flavor and aroma profile within the panorama of fine wine grapes today. And we’ll also look at why this grape remains so popular despite how challenging it can be to grow it.
In the meantime, for those of you who really want to geek out on Moscato Bianco, its origins, and its genetic relations with other Moscato clones, check out: Dr. D’Agata’s (very long) entry on Moscato in Native Wine Grapes; Walter Speller’s excellent write-up in the Oxford Companion to Wine (my favorite and the most informative imho); and lastly, for those who really want to delve into the genetic connections between Moscato Bianco and other clones, see Dr José Vouillamoz’ entry for Muscat in Wine Grapes (eds. Robinson, Harding, and Vouillmoz).