The Exceptional Rise of Moscato

Wine Trends 2012

While not as volatile as fashion, wine consumers like to explore new things, and they can be a little fickle when it comes to dropping one wine style and taking up with another. Moscato is the latest craze that seems to be taking the US wine market by storm.

Moscato: The Grape
Moscato is the Italian word for Muscat, an aromatic white grape variety that is widely planted in Italy. Moscato is the grape variety in both the deliciously sweet, slightly sparkling wine, Moscato d'Asti, and in the fully sparkling Asti Spumante wines.

What is particularly appealing about these styles of Moscato is that they are sweet (between 70 and 120 g/l residual sugar), and relatively low in alcohol. Moscato d'Asti comes in circa 5 to 6% abv. and Asti Spumante at 9 to 10%.

The Increasing Popularity of Moscato in the United States
Every market report I looked at, and every wine buyer I spoke with agreed that Moscato is indeed 'hot' and taking the US wine market and consumer by storm. According to both retail analysts Nielsen, and specialist wine research consultants Gomberg & Fredrikson, sales of Moscato in the United States have grown over 80% in the last 12 months. Why is this?

Views From The Retail Side
According to Jean K. Reilly, MW, consulting buyer for well-known New York wine merchant Morrell Wine, Moscato is a natural byproduct of the fashion for Prosecco, whose popularity made people realize that Italy makes fun, affordable sparkling wines. Then it is an easy leap from Prosecco to Moscato d'Asti.

John O'Neill, Local wine buyer for Whole Foods, NYC agrees, saying that Moscato's rising popularity is being fueled by the influence of popular culture and music. In a recent article for The Drinks Business (UK), Lucy Shaw wrote, "Sales of Moscato are soaring in the US, as hip-hop artists continue to name-check the low alcohol sweet wine in their songs." Hip hop songs from artists such as Kanye West, Lil' Kim and Ab-Soul have all referenced Moscato.

Christy Frank, owner of Frankly Wines, in Tribeca, NYC is of the same opinion, explaining that over the past year she has seen a huge increase in customers asking for Moscato, especially her younger customers.

Selling for an average price of $10 or less, it is easy to see why Moscato is so popular. "Moscato is a good gateway wine for people that don't typically drink wine. It's sweet and it's not intimidating," said Megan Metcalf, editor of US trade publication Wine & Spirits Daily, adding, "People who would have drunk White Zinfandel are now drinking Moscato." This is backed up by US wine consumption figures, showing a significant drop in sales of white zinfandel and huge increases in sales of Moscato.

In a recent posting on the Moscato phenomenon, Dr. Vino, (aka Tyler Coleman) wrote of the extension possibilities with the likes of Beringer's 'Red Moscato' where small amounts of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah are blended with Moscato to add some red and black cherry notes.

The Key Players and Brands on the Market
The popularity of Moscato has not only benefited Italian producers exporting to the US. According to reports, US grapevine nurseries are experiencing a huge increase in demand for Moscato cuttings, and Moscato wines from California have become widely available. All the big producer players on the US market are in on the act, especially at the 'value' end of the market with Gallo (Barefoot cellars), Trinchero (Sutter Home), Constellation (Woodbridge and Robert Mondavi), The Wine Group (Cupcake) and even Australia's Yellow Tail, all having Moscato wines on the market.

And My 10 Cents!
I do enjoy a glass of good Moscato d'Asti myself every once in a while. The refreshing acidity elegantly balances the sweetness, and it has an almost delicate, lightness of being. I hope in the race to satisfy market demand, gentle handling prevails, and Moscato's inherent elegance does not give way to astringency, imbalance or bitterness.

What is your view on this latest trend? Love it or hate it?

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.

Related: Sweet Wine Slushies: One Ingredient, Elegant, & Easy

(Image: Faith Durand)