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She’s an Asti Girl

By Debra Meiburg MW

Effervescent, sweet and charismatic, who could resist this friendly sparkler? However, since the explosion of Moscato (also from Asti, lest you’ve forgotten) mainly through the influence of hiphop culture, the question is whether this slightly higher-fizz style is loveably bubbly, or whether she’s a bit of an-Asti girl.

Formerly known as Asti Spumante, the winemakers in Asti ditched the word spumante about ten years ago to distinguish it from its many Italian imitators. The word spumante is Italian for ‘fizzy’ and any mediocre winery producing a fizzy in Italy (and there are many) can legally label their wines thus.

Asti is beloved for its vibrant fruit flavors, which are evocative of chilled peaches and apricots with a lemon squeeze, and its gentle fizz. Like many informal sparkling wines, Asti is created via a modified charmat, or tank, method featuring a single fermentation. Grapes are thrown into large stainless steel tanks which are then securely sealed. Bright fruit and freshness are so important to Asti producers that the grapes shiver in the chilly tanks until the winemaker is ready to release more Asti to the market. Only then are the tanks warmed to a temperature that stimulates the yeast appetite required to convert the grape sugars to alcohol. During fermentation, winemakers re-chill the tanks. The yeasts stop their feasting and the liquid retains a delicate sweetness

Since bubbles, or carbon dioxide, are a natural by-product of fermentation, precious gas is also trapped inside the tightly sealed tank. By chilling the wine, the carbon dioxide dissolves back into the liquid only to emerge as sprightly bubbles when exposed to warm air. Asti winemakers bottle the young wine under pressure and at a cool temperature to keep the bubbles dissolved until its time to pop the cork.

Unlike Champagne, there is no romantic cellaring of bottles for years before release; Asti is all about dazzling fruit and freshness and winemakers expect you to open the bottle as soon as it is purchased (like many girls who blossom young, they don’t weather well). Vintage years are not stated on the labels, so it is important to buy Asti from a bottle shop that sells the wine frequently to assure freshness.

Almost all wine shops in Hong Kong carry the popular and inexpensive Asti. To experience this gem in its classic form, try some iconic labels like Cinzano, Martini & Rossi, Fonanafredda, Grancia and Contratto. One of the reasons for Asti’s enduring popularity is its modest alcohol content (although Moscato’s is lower). Ranging from 7 to 9 per cent alcohol, Asti is delightful tipple for summer picnics, family yam cha or any time you feel a dance track coming on.

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