With the Rhubarb and Custard pots, John recommends …….

Asti Moscato Bianco NV. Martini. (£7.75, Asda).


I can already see the raised eyebrows as you clock this week’s wine, “Asti?” I know that Asti carries a lot of baggage but don’t jump to conclusions without giving this Italian sweetie another chance. Rhubarb is a difficult customer to match but Asti does a sterling job. Go on, give Asti a go …. ‘forget those memories of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when Asti Spumante became the wine shop’s laughing stock. Things have changed. Honest.

Although controversial, in 1993 the wine was granted has Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status, Italy’s highest quality category. To mark the occasion the name ‘Spumante’ was dropped by most wine winemakers as ‘Asti’ took on a new life.

This sweet, low alcohol sparkler comes from the Moscato Bianco grape (also known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) grown in the Piemonte region of north-west Italy, around the medieval towns of Asti and Alba. The key to the Asti fizz is a single fermentation in a sealed stainless steel tank (as my anorak readers will know it’s known as the Charmat Method) – as opposed to the second fermentation in the bottle that gives Champagne its bubbles. The grapes are gently pressed and the juice transferred to large tanks where the temperature is lowered; a cunning move to prevent the fermentation kicking off. The tanks are then closed, sealed and pressurised before the temperature is allowed to slowly rise which, in turn, allows the fermentation to begin.

Getting slightly technical, the standard fermentation equation of ‘sugar (grapes) plus yeast equals alcohol (wine) plus carbon dioxide (CO2)’ then takes its course … the carbon dioxide can’t escape and so it’s trapped in the tank where it becomes married into the wine. We have the fizz! Now for the sweetness of Asti. Where does that come from?

The fermentation carries on until the wine reaches about 7.0 to 9.5 degrees of alcohol by volume before the wine is chilled … a process that stops the fermentation stone dead. Hence we still have sugar left in the wine. The yeasts are a little p….d off of course as they were looking forward to eating all the sugars to make more alcohol. Before they get too upset though, the wine is then centrifuged to remove and filter out all the yeasts from the wine thus ensuring that no more fermentation can occur. The wine is then bottled for our sweet and sparkling delight.

All sweet wines need enough acidity (the stuff that makes your mouth water) to balance the sugars; Asti achieves this admirably. This balance, linked to the peach and apricot flavours make the rhubarb and custard pots and the pistachio prauline sing. You’ll be singing too after discovering a wine that before today you would never have taken off the shelf.

It’s bonus time …… here’s the recipe.

Rhubarb and custard pots with pistachio praline

200g rhubarb, cut into 1cm lengths150g sugar5 star anise75g sugar75g pistachios Zest of 1 orange2 leaves gelatineRhubarb liquor to taste1  qty crème bavaroise a la vanille flavoured to taste with pistachio paste
·      Place the rhubarb in a metal bowl with the sugar, star anise and orange zest. Toss to coat the rhubarb. Cover with cling film.·      Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and leave for 45 minutes. Gently agitate the bowl occasionally.·      When the rhubarb has released its juices and is tender, carefully strain off the juice and discard the star anise. Place the cooked rhubarb in the bottom of four glasses.·      Soak the gelatine in cold water. Add enough water to reserved syrup to make it up to 200ml, add rhubarb liquor to taste.·      Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out the excess water. Add the gelatine to the syrup, heating to dissolve. Cool over ice. When it is at the point of setting pour over the rhubarb in the glasses and leave to set.·      Melt the sugar in a heavy based saucepan with 100ml water. Boil to a light caramel. Add the pistachios, stir once and pour out onto an oiled baking sheet. Leave to cool. When cold roughly grind the praline and place a layer on top of the set rhubarb jelly.·      Make the bavarois and flavour to taste with pistachio paste, approximately 1 tbsp. When it is on the point of setting pour over the praline and leave to set completely.



Crème bavaroise à la vanille

150ml milk1 vanilla pod1 ½  leaves gelatine2 egg yolks 30g sugar1tsp vanilla sugar150ml double cream,lightly whisked
·      Heat the milk with the vanilla pod. Leave to infuse. Soak the gelatine in cold water.·      Mix the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla sugar in a small bowl, pour on the milk and return to the saucepan which has been rinsed out. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. It must not boil.·       Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out the excess moisture. Add the gelatine to the hot custard, stir well and strain into a clean bowl.·       Leave in a cold place or over a bowl of iced water, stirring from time to time. When the custard mixture is on the point of setting, fold in the cream and use as required.