I love showing up to a "serious" wine tasting with a bottle of Italian moscato. Sure, a few folks may roll their eyes, but the bottle is always one of the first to be finished. However, in the hands of the right winemaker, your memories of cloyingly sweet, college-party solo cups will be replaced by one of the most aromatic and undeniably delicious wines in the world.
The world's best moscatos come from Italy's Piedmont region, especially the hills surrounding the small town of Asti. These wines are light and ethereal, with floral aromas that remind me of those rare weeks in April and May when it seems like every flower in the state is blooming all at once. They're slightly sparkling — frizzante in Italian — with delicate, downy bubbles and a frothy, almost beer-like head when poured. There is, of course, that signature sweetness, but these wines are never saccharine, and it's that delicate sweetness that makes the wine such a perfect pairing with spicier food. (Pro tip: If you're in Little Rock, try a bottle with takeout from Three Fold — or Saiwok if you're near Rogers.)
Unfortunately, there are some less-than-great bottles of moscato out there, but finding a good one is easy with a bit of insider knowledge. Much like French wines, Italian wines adhere to a strict set of laws that control everything from where grapes can be planted to alcohol levels, and it's understanding this classification system that's the key to grabbing a great bottle. The most selective tier, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or DOCG (in English: guaranteed designation of origin), signifies that a wine has not only been grown in a specific place using strict production methods but that the government has also inspected it to ensure quality. The best moscatos have the words "Asti DOCG" or "Moscato d'Asti DOCG" on their labels.
Elvio Tintero "Sori Gramella" Moscato d'Asti, $15
Grown in the Italian town of Mango (yes, really), this wine comes from one of the most well-known moscato vineyards in all of Italy: the hillside Sori Gramella vineyard. Delicious on its own, this wine is even better when poured over fresh Arkansas strawberries and blackberries.
Marco Negri Marsilio Moscato d'Asti DOCG, $16
Summer in a glass, this moscato is full of tropical notes of peach, papaya, pineapple and plumeria. I can't open a bottle of this without being transported back to a vacation I once took to Zanzibar. Pair it with Thai-inspired green curry, and prepare to be wowed.
Cocchi Asti DOCG, $18
A true sparkling wine, this is Champagne's fun and flirty best friend. Notes of honey, wildflowers and ripe pineapple give way to the surprisingly complex flavors of guava and nectar. If sunshine were ever bottled, you could imagine it tasting like this.
As always, you can see what I'm drinking by following me on Instagram at @sethebarlow, and you can send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.