Saturday, 7 January 2012

Martini Asti DOCG (NV)

Asti (or Asti Spumante as it was formerly known) is a sparkling wine grown within North West Italy, within the region of Piedmont. Classified as a DOCG area of production since 1993 (the highest quality certification that can be awarded to Italian wine) the Asti zone of production occupies a large area in South East Piedmont. A large area indeed, it is actually estimated that ten times as much Asti is produced as Piedmont’s other well known DOCG graded wine – Barolo.

Despite having garnered the prestigious DOCG quality status in 1993, Asti has not always been known as a wine of good quality. Believed to have been first produced in 1870, Asti was first produced using the Champagne method for sparkling wine production (used to produce the wine of the same name in Northern France) where a secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle of wine in order to create bubbles and complex flavours. However, this time consuming and expensive method of production for Asti was ditched after World War II, when US soldiers took some of the wine that they had discovered in Northern Italy home with them, thereby fuelling an explosion in demand for Asti. Instead of using the Champagne method to produce Asti, now a tank fermentation technique was used to trap the carbon dioxide generated as part of the initial fermentation process that turns grape juice to wine. This change in production technique saw a decrease in the quality and complexity of Asti and led to it being widely perceived as “a noxiously sweet poor man's Champagne.”

Part of this reputation for poor quality has stuck to Asti for much of the twentieth century and has been cited as part of the reason why the wine is now known simply as Asti (rather than Asti Spumante) even though it is still produced in a fully sparkling Spumante style.

Produced from the Moscato grape, Asti retains a natural sweetness after vinification which makes it somewhat unusual in a marketplace dominated by “dry” sparkling wines.

Founded during the middle of the nineteenth century, Martini (or Martini & Rossi to give the company that produces this Martini Asti its full name) was initially a Vermouth bottling company, based in the province of Turin, inside Piedmont. Producing fortified wine (Vermouth) initially, the move into the production of sparkling wine came only in the twentieth century and now Martini (initially a family-run company, now part of the Bacardi group) produces both this Asti Spumante and a Prosecco.

Looking at the bottle of this Martini Asti (NV), the Martini company logo is proudly displayed across the front label of the wine in red, against a silver front label. The foil that encases the wire cage and cork is also silver, with “Martini” picked out in gold. The bottle shape of this wine is low-shouldered like nearly all sparkling wine produced, however it is also unique to Northern Italy in that there is a pronounced rim to the base of the bottle. This bottle shape is shared with some Prosecco too and is only seen in Northern Italy.

In the glass, this Martini Asti NV is a clear lemon colour of pale to moderate intensity. Showing the richness of sunlight glinting off hay, this is a particularly aesthetically pleasing glass of wine. Bubbles rise in uniform streams from the base of the glass and form a slight mousse at the edge of the glass if they fail to break the surface of the wine. Slightly larger than the bubbles seen in wine that has seen a secondary fermentation in bottle, these larger bubbles dissipate slightly quicker too. The legs of this wine are particularly limited and hardly stick to the side of the glass at all when the wine is swirled. This is a product of the particularly low alcoholic content of just 7.5% abv seen in this wine.

On the nose, this Martini Asti NV is clean and exhibits stone fruits, white flower and lychee notes in abundance. Moderately intense, the bouquet of this wine is significantly more pronounced than you see in most Prosecco and sees the sweetness of white peaches, nectarines and even a little tropical melon showing through. Notably there are no autolytic (yeasty/biscuit notes) seen on the nose of this Martini Asti NV – something that should be expected given that these aromas only arise when a sparkling wine has seen its bubbles generated by a secondary fermentation in bottle – a process which has not been undertaken in the making of this wine.

Once in the mouth this Martini Asti NV is medium to sweet in style, with low acidity and a light body. The majority of the aromas seen on the nose reappear in the mouth with the stone fruits in the form of white peach and nectarine leading the way. Lychee influences the mid-palate with a good dollop of melon coming through towards the finish. Medium in length, this Martini Asti NV is a wine of high quality, although is also a wine that lacks some of the nuance that marks out the very best Asti and indeed sparkling wines.

In conclusion, this Martini Asti NV is wonderfully easy drinking and offers a pleasant contrast to the many dry styles of sparkling wine on the market today. Many of today’s wine experts admit to their first love in wine being Moscato and with its soft, fruity style and enjoyable sparkle it is easy to see why this could be the case. Perfect for those who have never really enjoyed sparkling wine before due to the acidity or lack of sweetness in the majority of sparkling offerings, this Martini Asti NV also offers interest and enjoyment to regular drinkers of Asti and indeed sparkling wine.
Martini Asti DOCG (NV)

Score: 82/100 – An enjoyable and well made Asti Spumante

Value for Money: 9/10 – Sparkling wine at £7 a bottle is rare and accomplished sparkling wine at this price is even rarer