Short and sweet
Here's a convenient truth: Global warming, global schwarming, whatever the cause of it is, it's still too darn hot.
With the temperatures hereabouts rising well into the 90s lately (that's the 30s to the rest of the world), and little relief in sight, it's no coincidence that I've been tasting a disproportionate amount of cool, refreshing summer wines, from sparkly Prosecco to crisp, cold rosé.
Today let's take a virtual trip to Piemonte, the Alpine foothills of Northwestern Italy, where in a strange but delicious vinous contradiction the local folks produce and enjoy both some of the world's darkest and most ageworthy wines (Barolo and Barbaresco) and some of its lightest, fizziest and most frivolously fun.
This is no time for roast beef and Barolo, so we turn instead to the refreshers, two cooling draughts that I call <b>short</b> (for their very low alcohol content) and <b>sweet</b> for their fresh-fruit sugars that, happily, come across as crisp and refreshing as fresh fruit juice.
The white wine, <b>Moscato d'Asti</b> ("Mos-CAH-toe DAHS-tee"), is a cousin of the familiar Asti Spumante (nowadays usually seen as just-plain Asti). It's made from the Moscato (Muscat) grape, an ancient and widespread variety that's exceptionally aromatic - usually showing distinct and characteristic scents of peaches, apricots and grapefruit - and almost invariably made sweet and fizzy, although it can range from the light prickly carbonation that the Italians call "<i>frizzante</i>" to a more bubbly carbonation ("<i>spumante</i>"). Moscato rarely comes with a Champagne-style cork and wire cage, but is generally produced in a heavyweight bottle with a tight-fitting cork that expands into a cone shape when it comes out of the bottle.
Today's red is a rare bird, produced and exported in relatively limited quantities, but if you have an adventurous spirit, it's well worth seeking out. <B>Brachetto d'Acqui</B> ("Bra-KET-toe Dah-KEE") is made from the Brachetto grape in the Monferrato region, just down the road from Barolo and Barbaresco. Like Moscato, it's usually <i>frizzante</i> or <i>spumante</i>, but it's not usually as sweet, qualifying as "<I>semi-secco</i>" or "half-dry," a light sweetness that barely shows against crisp acidity and sparkling bubbles. Its signature aroma is strawberries, juicy and fresh, although I admire it as much for an unusual complexity that adds in pleasant medicinal and herbal notes and a light bitterness that remind me of Campari and similar aperitifs. (Candor compels me to confess that my long-suffering bride does not share my affection for Brachetto. She likens it to a warm, flat Coke. You have been warned.)
As noted, both Brachetto and Moscato are very low-alcohol wines, usually produced at 5.5 percent alcohol, well below half the strength of typical table wines, which makes it easy to quaff them as a cooling summer aperitif. They do still contain alcohol, though, so if you're driving, take care.
They're most often drunk cold, without meals, as summer cocktails, but in pursuit of my theory that slightly sweet, fizzy wines go exceptionally well with fiery fare, I poured both with a hot-and-spicy Western Chinese cool salad, "hacked" chicken with cucumbers, and thought both served reasonably well.
<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/mare0728.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Marenco 2004 "Pineto" Brachetto d'Acqui ($19.99)
Clear, fairly light cherry red; a quick froth drops back, leaving a few bubbles around the rim. Subtle but pleasant cranberry aromas carry over to a tart-sweet red-berry flavor with prickly carbonation and a distinct, pleasant herbal-bitter character in the finish. It reminds me more than a little of a Campari and soda, and I like that. Lightweight 5.5% alcohol makes it a winner for summer sipping, and subtle complexity elevates it well above mere "pop" summer wines. U.S. importer: VIAS Imports, NYC (July 28, 2006)
Here's the importer's fact sheet
on Marenco Brachetto.
The Marenco Website
is available in Italian, English and German.
Find the wine online on Wine-Searcher.com
<table border="0" align="left" width="140"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/bata0728.jpg" border="1" align="left"></td></tr></table>Batasiolo 2004 "Bosc d'la Rei" Moscato d'Asti ($13)
This clear, pale-gold wine pours with a frothy mousse that soon falls back, leaving no visible bubble stream but a sense of prickly carbonation on the tongue. Fresh grapefruit and peach aromas lead into a sweet peach flavor that evokes peach nectar, but it's light-bodied, and crisp acidity keeps it refreshing. A soft drink for grown-ups, relatively low (5.5%) alcohol invites quaffing. U.S. importer: Boisset America, Bardstown, Ky. (July 28, 2006)
The Flash-heavy Batasiolo Website
is available in your choice of Italian, English, German, Portuguese or Spanish.
The winery Website provides a world-wide list of distributors
Find Batasiolo Moscato online on Wine-Searcher.com