Allegrini 2018

Sweet wines: consumption of a typology that is a piece of Italian wine history, is still decreasing

The University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo and the Asti Consortium survey: lack of knowledge of the type is the main weakness

Once it was a very popular and almost dominant type of wine that became prestigious also because all of the noble courts in Europe highly appreciated sweet wines. Then, despite a glorious history and excellent productions in many Italian territories and for a myriad of reasons and changes related to styles of consumption, climate warming and so on, to simplify as much as possible, it has become an wine category that for years has been experiencing a slow decline. However, when it comes to drinking Italian dessert wines, par excellence, especially nearing end of the year parties, our thoughts turn immediately to Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti DOCG. Sweet wines are at the center of the Piedmont Bubbly Consortium survey, led by Lorenzo Barbero and the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo (presented at the “Banca del Vino”). The field study was conducted by twenty students, under the guidance of Professor Michele Antonio Fino, during the University course, “Food Entrepreneurship”, and it analyzed the perception and the market of sweet wines, according to a sample represented by almost 200 osterie (inns/bistrots) indicated in the Slow Food guide. Data revealed that today production of Asti DOCG is just below 50 million bottles (the peak in 2011 was almost 80 million bottles), and that of Moscato d’Asti is around 35 million bottles. Therefore, domestic consumption for both types has been in constant decline for years, while exports, which represent over 80% of the market, are growing.
Significant differences have emerged on the Italian level. In the north-west, where they were born, Asti and Moscato dAsti are consumed mainly during celebrations and parties; in the north-east they come after, in preference, other sparkling wines such as Franciacorta, Trentodoc and Prosecco, as well as the Passito wines from Traminer and sweet wines from Friuli, such as Picolit; in the Center, when we talk about sweet wines, our thoughts go primarily to Vin Santo, in Tuscany, and Passito wines, in Lazio, while in the South and the Islands, where Passito wines dominate, fortified wines such as Marsala, Moscato d’Asti and Asti are almost completely absent from the wine lists of the sampled inns. Yet, many restaurateurs are trying to educate consumers on drinking sweet wines. They believe there will be a revival, especially of Moscato d’Asti, and see a relatively low, but stable, consumption trend, for now. On the other hand, many believe that Moscato, and especially Asti Spumante, are perceived as “industrial” and mass retail products, and also as “heavy” wines, which is why it is difficult to sell them by the bottle. Going into detail, the study revealed that 94.3% of the surveyed restaurateurs have sweet wines on their list, 62% register stable consumption levels, while instead 30% register decreasing levels. Nonetheless, 73.7% of restaurants say sweet wines play an important role on the menu, even though 1 in 4 restaurateurs claims that they could do without them. One of the reasons that explains the decrease in consumption of sweet wines is that 57.4% of the sample indicated consumers’ preference for bitters or other non-alcoholic alternatives, however, 12.9% also maintain that a valid proposal for sweet wine is lacking, and this makes us reflect on the lack of knowledge of the Italian quality production. Furthermore, according to the restaurateurs, among the customers who prefer other than sweet wine, at the end of a meal, 32% prefer a bitter, 28% a liqueur, 23% dry wine and 17% other drinks. In any case, the most popular combination for sweet wines is with dessert (in 62% of cases), followed by cheeses (29%), even though the majority of the sample (74%) proposes just the combination of sweet wine and cheese.
Moreover, 33% of the sample declared they sell one bottle of sweet wine a week, 23% sells 2 and 12% sells 3 (though 13% say they sell more than 5), emphasizing that usually the offer is by the glass and not by the bottle, because sweet wine is not considered a wine to drink for the whole meal. At the level of offers, the study revealed that the majority of restaurants in the South offer sweet wines only from their own region, which does not happen in the Center an even less so in the North. Looking more closely at Piedmont, then, the study revealed that 100% of the inns/taverns sampled have at least one Moscato d’Asti on their menu, while instead Asti Spumante is present on only 19% of the lists. Another interesting aspect the survey revealed is that the decline in consumption of sweet wines is not a question of price, since no one has considered this aspect a problem. This factor suggests that above all, work must be done on the communication and consumption of a type of wine, in this case dessert wines, which still today know how to express quality, territoriality and excellence. The tasting of five Asti DOCG vintages from 2012 to 2019, guided by Pietro Stara, from wineries such as Marcalberto, Cuvage, Contratto, Cantina Sociale Alice Bel Colle and Gancia, confirmed their qualities. According to a press note, “the excellent production quality, the very fine pérlage of all the products, the aromatic uniqueness were revealed in a extremely varied palette, even though the wines were all produced with 100% Moscato grapes. The wines that were very interesting had long aging on the lees and recent disgorgement (as in the case of Gancia, 2012 but disgorged 2021) as well as the wines that were disgorged a few years ago, after a period of not as prolonged maturation on the lees (such as Alice Bel Colle’s MC, vintage 2013 and disgorged 2015)”. These are just a few examples in the chalices of a world to be re-discovered.

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