Happy Endings: Moscatao d'Asti and Rustic Fruit Tarts

Italians understand the true role of dessert. After anantipasti, primi and secondi, the dolci need not be a meal in itself, but a subtle shift from savory to sweet to linger over at the end of a meal. Think biscotti, panna cotta, dried figs and rustic fruit tarts. So it is not surprising that they invented Moscato d’Asti DOCG, what may be the perfect dessert wine. Made in Piedmont from ripe Moscato Bianco grapes, the pale gold, lightly effervescent, off-dry moscato d’Asti tends to be nimble on the palate and rich with fresh aromas of apricots, orange blossoms, honeysuckle and almonds. 

Moscato d’Asti is exceeding low in alcohol (5.5%)--less than half that of Champagne--which makes it a gentle final nip after a glass or two of wine earlier in the night. It is also an affordable luxury, usually for less than twenty dollars a bottle, and crafted by the same venerable Piedmont producers that make collectable Barolo and Barbaresco. But don’t let hallowed names like Vietti and Chiarlo trick you into cellaring these bottles. A mouthful of moscato d’Asti should offer the sensation of biting into a just picked perfectly ripe pear -- the younger, the fresher, the better. Also, be careful not to confuse moscato d’Asti with plain moscato, which is often made from bulk wine and lacks moscato d’Asti’s finesse and charm. 

Recommended wines include the Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti, a delicately aromatic tribute to Michele’s father who used to filter Moscato d’Asti with Dutch sail cloth; the Tenimenti Ca’Bianca, a lovely frizzante wine with lingering notes of pine nuts and clementines; and the Vietti Moscato d’Asti Cascinetta, which is luscious and beautifully balanced.

Dalla Terra: A Guide to the Best of Italy

Brian Larky, Dalla Terra’s chairman and founder, is a pilot, deep powder skier, white water guide, and dive master. He is also a UC Davis trained winemaker who after five years at Ca’ del Bosco in Lombardy returned to the US to become a winery agent. In 1990 he started Dalla Terra (meaning from the earth) under a business model called Winery Direct, which foregoes the importer and sells directly to the distributers. None of this would matter if all eighteen producers in Larky’s portfolio of family-owned wineries weren’t superb representatives of the styles and traditions of their respective regions. But when you look at his list—Tenute Marchesi di Gresy in Barbaresco, Alois Lageder in Alto Adige, Casanova di Neri in Montalcino, Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico, La Valentina near Pescara, Masseria Li Veli in Puglia, to name a few—you realize that Dalla Terra is all about delivering the highest quality wine at the best value.

A standout in the Dalla Terra portfolio is the Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco. Founded in 1873, Vietti is one of the oldest family owned estates in Barolo. Its winery, which is built into the hillside of Castiglione Falletto, contains dusty bottles originally intended to be rations for the commanders of Napoleon’s forces. While Vietti is famous for its single vineyard Barolo bottlings, their grand cru Nebbiolo can be sampled for a relative song with the Nebbiolo Perbacco, an entry-level wine made from a blend of their grand crus. “Perbacco,” fittingly, is an old-Italian expression for “Wow!”