I know that climatic changes in the upper 49 are a wee bit different than what we experience on
The Rock. Situated in the heart of the tropics, we basically experience 2 seasons; hot summer
and a shorter cool summer. No winter snow – even if you reside at the Mauna Kea observatory,
it doesn’t snow every year, no changing of the leaves unless you forgot to Miracle-Gro your
potted plants and… well, I guess if spring symbolizes new growth, we sorta have that except it’s
more like continued growth from last season… and the season before… but Long Summer’s
arrival (as opposed to short summer which runs from November to February) is acutely felt.
Especially when returning home from a long day’s work. When opening the front door feels like
opening the oven door. “Is it hot enough for you”? But more importantly, put away those full
bodied red wines and reach for something a wee bit softer… and cooler. “Do I hear white wines
Wearing Wool in the Sahara
Sipping a glass of full bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Zinfandel pretty much
feels like wearing wool in the dead of summer, on the palate at least. And unless it’s an evening
barbecue (after the sun has set), even a nice Syrah or Zinfandel isn’t very appealing even with
the best smoked meats in the world… unless you’re retreating to a freezer chill to finish your
meal. Why? Red wines feel heavier on the palate usually due to full rich fruit, maximum
extraction and higher alcohol. So even if you’re enjoying it with a slice of roasted rare leg of
lamb, when the ambient temperature is over 80 degrees, it still feels like a third layer on the
palate in fashion speak. When the mercury rises, what you should be looking for in a wine is a
lighter body, good acid and lower alcohol.
That Perfect Wine for Hot Hawaiian Summers
If you’ve been following my manic rants on food and wine, you probably have heard of my
perfect summertime wine. When the mercury approaches 90 degrees in the shade. When that
spicy ethnic cuisine if perfect for the palate but any beverage short of ice water clashes like
Yankees and Red Sox fans. When you’re taste buds feel like hibernating until the next Spring.
Well, that wine has been here throughout the year and its name is Moscato d’Asti.
The Muscat grape family includes at least 200 sub-varieties of the grape though most fall
within 3 families; The Muscat a Petits Grains, the Muscat of Alexandria and the Muscat Ottonel.
The grapes themselves range from the usual light green (like Thompson seedless) all the way to
dark black skinned grapes. Most of the Muscat you find at the neighborhood wine merchant is
from the Petits Grains line of Muscat. And though the Muscat grape is grown and vinified in
many parts of the world – both Old World and New World, the version that has my attention
during those hot, Hawaiian summers comes from the Old World, namely Italy.
Born from Northern Italy in the Piedmont region, Moscato d’Asti (as opposed to Asti Spumante
which is fully carbonated), is one of only 37 wines designated as DOCG or “Denominazione di
Origine Controllata e Garantita” or the highest standard set for wines in Italy. If you thought
that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were strict in the States, the DOCG guidelines
make them look like child’s play. Produced from the Moscato Bianco grape with a nose of lit-
chi, peaches, honeysuckle, melons and candied citrus peel, with a touch of sweetness on the
palate and very low alcohol, I’ve always stated and will continue to proclaim that Moscato is the
BEST wine for spicy Asian cuisine. The fruity notes nicely balance the mango or sweet pepper or
sweet (in sweet-sour sauces) found in a host of Asian dishes. The low alcohol (Moscato usually
only carries 5 to 6.5% alcohol which is the same or less than foreign or domestic “ice” brewed
beer) so it doesn’t clash with spicy elements like Thai bird chili, Szechuan pepper or togarashi
and the inherent acidity in the wine helps cleanse the palate of any residual oil from stir fried
dishes. Another bonus; most bottles are less than $20 with a large selection under $15. Cha-
ching! Good food wine and wallet friendly!
A Mild Cautionary Note
During the production of Moscato, a bit of residual sugar is left in the wine which often
undergoes a mild secondary fermentation in the bottle exactly the way Champagne or Methode
Traditionale sparkling wine is produced. This means that there will be a little bit of pressure
behind that cork – not as much as Champagne – but more pressure than still wine. Moscato
producers are well aware of this so they often cork the bottle with slightly fatter corks. What
does this mean to you? For starters, it may take a little more “elbow grease” to remove the cork
than it does to uncork a bottle of pure still wine. Secondly, in the process of uncorking the
bottle a mild “pop” may occur so don’t be startled. It’s just the bottle welcoming you with… a
mild fruity flatus… so to speak.
To assist your personal “elbow grease” and to prevent additional frustration, I recommend using
a double ratcheted corkscrew for extra leverage. These corkscrews are also great at extracting
extra long corks (some wineries really make it seem like they don’t want you to enjoy their
Place 1st step of hinged lever on the bottle lip then raise main body of the corkscrew
The cork being leveraged out of the bottle
Place the 2nd step of the hinged lever on the bottle lip
Raise the main body of the corkscrew to remove the cork. When the cork is almost out of the
bottle, the cork can gently be wiggled free of the bottle to prevent that startling “pop”
Notice the fatter end of the cork that helps contain the additional pressure in Moscato d’Asti
Enjoy with your favorite spicy Asian cuisine!
A voitre sante!
The Wine of Summer