Considering the renown now enjoyed by Brunello di Montlacino, it comes as no surprise that the town’s wines have been famed for centuries. What may come as a surprise is that the wine eagerly sought out in the Renaissance wasn’t red, but rather white, and also sweet: Moscadelletto, which Francesco Redi (1626-98) simply called Divino in his epic poem, Bacco in Toscana, adding:
“…ne chieggio un nappo,
ma non incappo
a berne il terzo:
egli è un vin, ch’è tutto grazia,
ma però troppo mi sazia.
Un tal vino
per stravizzo, e per piacere
delle vergini severe,
che racchiuse in sacro loco
an di Vesta in cura il foco;
un tal vino
per le dame di Parigi,
e per quelle,
che sì belle
rallegrar fanno il Tamigi…”
Which translates as:
…I’ll beg a cup,
but not slip
to drink a third:
it’s a wine, full of grace
but too much sates me.
Such a wine
I’d put to formal banquets,
and to the pleasures of
the severe Virgins who, gathered in Vesta’s sacred place, tend her fire;
Such a wine
I intend for
And those so beautiful they gladden even the Themes…
Francesco Redi (1626-98), Bacco in Toscana, 74-80.
Tastes do change over the centuries; when Montalcino’s Moscadello vines proved particularly sensitive to the phylloxera bug in the late 1800s, few felt the need to replant them, because by then everyone was talking about Ferruccio Biondi Santi’s “new” red wine, Brunello (I say “new” because people had been making red wine right along; it was Ferruccio’s quality that attracted attention). Therefore, Moscadello production dropped dramatically, and the wine became something the farmers would make for their personal enjoyment, a sweet somewhat sparkling (or still) wine to enjoy with dessert or apart from the meal (it’s worth noting that, since they make Moscadello, few people in Montalcino make Vinsanto).
Moscadello might still be a local curiosity had Piero Talenti, the late enologist and director of Il Poggione, not dropped by a farmer shortly before the harvest was due to begin one year in the mid 60s. The cellars were laced with heavenly floral-honey aromas, and when Mr. Talenti asked, the farmer said he had already brought in the year’s Moscadello crop and what they were smelling was the fermenting must. Mr. Talenti decided he’d like some of this nectar too, and Il Poggione began to make it the following year; they chose to make it sparkling, rather than still, because they also make vinsanto and saw no reason to have two similar wines.
They didn’t make much (and still don’t), but those who visited liked it, local restaurants began to carry it, and they began to export small quantities here and there. The interest the wine garnered persuaded others who still made Moscadello to begin bottling it, and then in 1980 Banfi got into the act, producing much larger volumes, which helped establish a name for the wine beyond Montalcino’s borders; in this sense one can say that Il Poggione rediscovered it, and Banfi relaunched it.
But what is Moscadello?
As the grape’s name implies, it’s a variety of Moscato. However, Fabrizio Bindicci, of Il Poggione, notes that Montlacino’s autochthonous strains yield wines that tend to be richer and more structured than their Piemontese cousins, and have much headier bouquets. It’s produced in three different versions: sparkling, still, and vendemmia tardiva, or late-harvested. The first two are — relatively speaking — simple, direct wines; they tend to have rich bouquets with powerful floral and fruit overtones laced with honey, and be medium bodied and quite sweet on the palate. The vendemmia tardiva wines gain considerable complexity from the additional ripening and drying that the grapes undergo before they are pressed. The wines are also stronger, more in line with the strength of a vinsanto, and can be extremely long-lived.
In terms of accompaniments, sparkling Moscadello will work nicely with creamy desserts, especially things that are lightly chilled, and is also the sort of wine that will be quite nice at poolside in mid-afternoon, or in the evening with friends, say on a terrace. Still Moscadello can be either a dessert wine, a wine for soft mild to moderately sharp cheeses, or something to enjoy with friends in the evening, though when it’s cooler. I would class Moscadello tardivo as a meditation wine; though one could enjoy it with shortbreads and such, or perhaps with piquant soft cheeses along the lines of Gorgonzola, it will be at its best when sipped in the company of good friends or a good book, ideally in front of a fire.
In terms of who makes what, the still and sparkling versions are made for the most part by producers who have been at it for a while, whereas those who are just getting started tend to select the late harvested version. The reason for this is commercial; producers find it easier to sell the vendemmia tardiva, and indeed one switched from still Moscadello to Moscadello vendemmia tardiva. The winery that makes the sparkling version, on the other hand, expects to continue making it, as they have markets for their wine.
As Mr. Bindicci says, people try Moscadello when they visit Montalcino, take some home with them, and then ask for more.
The Wines, Tasted February 23 2013
Tenute Silvio Nardi Moscadello di Montalcino 2010
Pale greenish white with greenish reflections, brassy highlights, and white rim. The bouquet is rich, with ripe peaches and slightly greenish apricots mingled with honeydew melon and considerable sweetness. On the palate it’s rich and quite sweet, with candied peach fruit supported by sufficient slightly greenish acidity to keep it from being cloying, and by slight savory accents that flow into a long sweet peach finish that gradually shifts towards tarter apricot as the sweetness fades. Pleasant, and quite fresh, a wine that will work nicely now with friends and fine not too sharp cheeses.
Villa Poggio Salvi Moscadello di Montalcino
Brassy gold with brassy greenish reflections and white rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with some sweetness, supporting candied notes and patisserie, with pleasing coolness as well. On the palate it’s ample and quite sweet, with sweetness and some citric acidity but less in the way of fruit, though some dried apricot does emerge, and carries into a fairly long sweet finish, where there are also hints of hazelnut. I’d have liked a little more forwardness to the fruit.
Banfi Moscadello di Montalcino
Brassy greenish gold with brilliant brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is intense, with dried apricot supported by sweetness and a fair amount of caramel. On the palate it’s ample and sweet, with fairly rich caramel laced apricot fruit that is supported by fairly bright apricot acidity, and flows into a sweet finish that gains definition from the slight bitterness of dried apricots. Interesting, and if you like passiti it will work quite well with a cheese platter.
Camigliano Moscadello di Montalcino
Brilliant gold with golden reflections and yellow rim. The bouquet is intense, with powerful greenish honeydew melon supported by vegetal notes and considerable sweetness; it’s quite charged and gives the impression that the grapes were dried quite a bit before pressing. On the palate it’s full, with ripe sweet caramel laced apricot fruit supported by greenish apricot acidity and savory notes that flow into a long warm sweet apricot finish that again has the savory greenish accents present on the nose. It’s quite charged and rather particular; you will like it or not, with no in between.
Capanna Moscadello di Montalcino 2012
Pale brassy green with greenish highlights and brassy reflections, and white rim. Moscadello can show this rather unusual greenish tinge, and it is pleasant to look at. The bouquet is refreshingly cool, with powerful well chilled honeydew melon supported by sweetness and delicate spice from the grapes. On the palate it’s rich and sweet, with bright honeydew melon fruit supported by considerable sweetness and slight savory notes, while there is sufficient honeydew melon acidity to keep it from being cloying, though it is very much on the sweet side, and as such is a wine you should only consider if you like sweet wines. If you do you will enjoy it, and perhaps want to sip it far from the table.
Capanna Moscadello di Montalcino 2010 Vendemmia Tardiva
An unlabeled bottle
Brilliant gold with golden reflections and with white rim. The bouquet is intense, with sweet dried apricot supported by caramel and some hints of acidity. Quite rich. On the palate it’s sweet, with moderately intense apricot fruit supported by savory notes and tannins that have slight flinty accents, and also by moderate acidity that flows into a warm slightly flinty sweet finish. It’s very different from the other wine, much more charged, and lacking the other’s airy freshness. If you like this charged, extracted style you will like it, but you have to like it.
Caprili Moscadello di Montalcino
Pale brassy green with greenish reflections and brilliant brassy highlights. The bouquet is fairly intense, with apricot and caramel supported by sweetness and some greenish accents. On the palate it’s bright, with lively sweet apricot fruit supported by deft acidity and tannins that have a greenish apricot burr, and flow into a fairly long bright apricot finish. Pleasant, and quite fresh, a wine that will work well with a cheese platter, or that one could sip by itself.
Col D’Orcia Pascena Moscadello di Montalcino 2009
Fairly deep gold with greenish highlights and golden reflections. The bouquet is intense, with unripe apricot greenness mingled with flinty accents and some caramel, and also underlying sweetness; it gives an impression of being quite extracted. On the palate it’s quite sweet, with caramel more than fruit supported by mineral apricot acidity, and flows into a fairly sweet finish with some apricot accents. I’s have liked a little more fruit and a little less caramel. It doesn’t have quite enough acidity to balance things such as cheeses, so I think I would likely drink it by itself.
Il Poggione Moscadello di Montalcino 2012
Brilliant brassy white with fine perlage that rises up and settles to reveal brassy reflections. The bouquet is fresh, and delicate, with sweet green apricot mingled with sugars and some honeydew melon. On the palate it’s sweet and full, with the sparkle adding peppery notes and contributing to the fullness, while the fruit is a mix of apricot and honeydew melon supported by honeydew melon acidity that flows into a warm bright finish. A perfect wine for poolside or patio, and delightfully fresh.
La Poderina Moscadello di Montalcino 2009
Brilliant greenish brassy yellow with lively greenish highlights and greenish reflections. The bouquet is is fairly rich, with caramel laced apricot fruit supported by considerable sweetness and some balsamic accents as well On the palate it’s ample and quite sweet, with apricot laced honeydew melon supported by slight flinty tannins and by moderate acidity that flow into a fairly long decidedly sweet finish. A touch more acidity would have given it greater verve and brilliance, which would have been nice; as it stands it’s quite concentrated but a touch settled.