The advent of Moscato d’Asti in the 1880s forever changed the way the world consumed and perceived sparkling wine
In many ways, you could say that Moscato d’Asti was born “overnight.”
Moscato Bianco was widely planted in Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo provinces by the time Italy became a unified country in the 1860s. It was in the same decade that an ambitious Piedmontese entrepreneur returned from years studying sparkling wine production in France and began experimenting with sparkling wine methods in his native land. Two decades later, Moscato d’Asti had become a worldwide phenomenon.
A number of factors played a role in the rise of Moscato d’Asti.
Italy’s unification in the 1860s made shipping (by train) much more feasible and reliable. And it also opened up new Italian wine markets that had been previously off-limits.
The period following unification marked an era of relative peace in Italy and Europe. And mind you, that’s “relative” in quotes but a more peaceful time when consumers in Italy had more confidence to spend on wine.
Phylloxera was decimating the vineyards of France but hadn’t yet reached Italy. By the end of the 19th century, Moscato growers and bottlers were shipping their wines to France and America. Compare that with the fact that the first bottle of Brunello didn’t ship to America until after World War II.
And the period of relative peace had also opened up the lucrative Austro-Hungarian market, a major breakthrough for Moscato producers. Like France, it bordered Italy and was easily accessible.
The wine had become such an economic powerhouse that by 1895, 109,000 hectoliters were being produced annually in Piedmont. We know this because two of those producers published a book devoted to Moscato d’Asti and sparkling wine production that was more than 150 pages in length. Until that time, there had been no wine so iconic in Italy. Only France with its Champagne could rival the international popularity of a wine.
With this remarkable success, Moscato d’Asti re-defined what sparkling wine was and what it should taste like. It was a seminal moment not just for Piedmont but for Italian wine and sparkling wine in general.