Moscadello DOC, the “forgotten" sweet wine that made Montalcino famous
A medieval village nestled in the spectacular hills of the Val d'Orcia that seems straight out of a storybook, with the walls embracing it and a mighty fortress to protect it. We are talking about Montalcino, a jewel not far from Pienza, famous for the architectural and artistic treasures that it holds in its historic center, but also for the production of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, one of the "king" of red wines in Italy, now appreciated all over the world. However, it is good to know that the history of viticulture in this area of Tuscany has not always been linked to Brunello. Indeed, well before this village became famous for the most common red grape variety in Italy, there was another excellence that enjoyed a wide reputation and conquered fans. This is the Moscadello di Montalcino, whose history we will retrace today together with Emanuele Nardi, wine maker of the Tenute del Cerro, to discover what binds it to the territory and its unmistakable characteristics.
History and origins of Moscadello
Until the end of the nineteenth century, the medieval village of Montalcino was known for its white grapes. "Moscadello is the first wine that made this place famous", begins the wine maker Emanuele Nardi. "There are historical evidences of the seventeenth century that mention the cultivation of white muscat grape in Montalcino and others even earlier. “About ten companies produce this wine today" he continues “but once what is also defined as“ the sweet nectar" of Montalcino could boast of a more consistent production and was praised by writers, artists and scholars.
In 1540, in fact, in a letter sent from Venice to a friend, the writer Pietro Aretino thanked for the gift of "a cask of precious, delicate Moscadello". Over the centuries, this wine conquered more and more admirers, even outside the Italian borders, even reaching London. In 1685 the doctor-poet Francesco Redi praised "the divine Moscadello…" in his work Bacchus in Tuscany in honor of the best wines of his land, in the joyful footsteps of the old Hellenic dithyrambs. Finally, the famous Ugo Foscolo, in one of the social lounges he frequented during his stay in Florence, met the Sienese noblewoman Quirina Mocenni Magiotti, with whom he had a love affair. He wrote of her, in a letter addressed to a friend, dated June 1813: “He gives me partridge and woodcock from Siena, and panforte, and several flasks of Montalcino".
Thanks to its unmistakable sweetness, Moscadello was a much loved wine, but its rise was "interrupted" due to some diseases (powdery mildew, downy mildew, phylloxera) that affected the vines in the mid-nineteenth century until the early twentieth century, leading at the end of the centuries-old cycle of the old “moscadellaie". The winemakers decided to abandon the cultivation of this variety of grapes to make way for those of Sangiovese, with produces the precious Brunello, today king of the wines of the territory, ending up relegating Moscadello to a small production.
The link between Moscadello and Montalcino
There is a unique link between Moscadello and its production area. "This wine is based on white muscat, and has become so famous in the past because Montalcino is a particular place" explains the winemaker. “What makes the difference are the specific growing conditions found here. It is a hot, dry area with good ventilation, so some types of grapes, such as those with late harvest, find optimal conditions".
These are grapes, as Emanuele Nardi explains, which are harvested later than normally. “Here in Montalcino a grape variety like Muscat reaches ripeness during the first days of September, then we wait a month and we go to harvest the grapes in early October. In the meantime, the grapes dehydrate and there is a concentration of sugars, acids and aromas, which make this wine unique and unmistakable
Moscadello di Montalcino DOC: the characteristics of a "sublime" wine
"Moscadello is produced in three versions: Sparkling, Still (a classic still white) and a Late harvest", and it is the latter that shows the most interesting organoleptic characteristics. The colour is pale straw yellow in the sparkling type, it tends to become darker in the still type and takes on a characteristic golden yellow in the last variant. "As with the wine that is obtained from drying, it is an explosion of taste and flavors" explains the winemaker. The result is a product with an intense golden color, which “has an unmistakable muscat nose, with persistent floral and fruity notes and a soft, sweet, concentrated taste, supported at the same time by a good acidity. A simply sublime wine ".
Today Moscadello di Montalcino DOC is produced in 50,000 bottles by a few passionate winemakers. Its grapes are processed according to strict regulations, which protect all stages of production, from harvest to aging. In fact, on November 13, 1984 this wine obtained the DOC, so it can be bottled only in the production area of Montalcino and is valued by the Brunello Consortium.
How to pair Moscadello di Montalcino DOC
Moscadello di Montalcino finds its natural place at the end of a meal: Sparkling and Still are drinkable young, while the Late Harvest expresses the best over the years. Whatever the type, it is however a sweet wine, “definitely for dessert, therefore perfect to end the meal. It's a good pairing with complex and cream-based desserts, but I recommend to serve it with dry pastries, then biscuits, pies or with traditional sweets from the province of Siena, such as a good cantuccio or even panforte". Being a wine with character, it's also perfect to pair with blue cheeses, foie gras and Tuscan liver crostini.
The production reality of La Poderina
Today there are very few wine producer that preserve the ancient tradition linked to Moscadello, because, as the winemaker explains, these grapes have an extremely low yield per hectare. Among these excellences, there is Poderina, located in Montalcino, in Castelnuovo dell'Abate, well known for the particular elegance and balance of its grapes, including those of white muscat. Thanks to a company philosophy that believes in innovation at the service of tradition, in addition to the fine Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, the "Poggio Abate" Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG and the Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Moscadello di Montalcino DOCG is produced here exclusively as a Late Harvest.
Those who visit the Estate can deepen their knowledge by booking an off-road visit to the vineyards with our agronomist or try the unique experience of a tasting directly in the cellar, to discover the flavors of the territory and let themselves be enveloped by the sweet elegance of Moscadello and the other excellences that Montalcino has to offer.