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Yo! Moscato!


I’ve been hearing buzz that Moscato is the new “it” grape from several sources so I did a little research, and since hip-hop plays into this, I think I have some relative authority here: I live in downtown Oakland. Five years ago Kanye West decided he liked it and said so on MTV. Then Lil’ Kim sang, “Still over in Brazil/Sipping moscato/You must have forgot though/So I’ma take it back to the block, yo.”

Back to the block, indeed. Moscato achieved a kind of underground popularity with the hip-hop crowd. I have young hip-hop friends who think it’s cool strictly because their rock heroes are singing about it. Kendrick Lamar, a rapper from Compton, has a new disc (Feb. 2011) called “Moscato”, and on this website a reviewer writes: While I may blame Aubrey Graham for introducing Moscato to the national conscious and nobody really looking into it as a wine and nothing more, I still don’t blame anyone for actually partaking of the stuff. It’s rather smooth and if placed in the right setting and right mood, it’s a real jump starter.

Aubrey Graham is a Grammy-nominated Canadian recording artist and actor who goes by the name Drake. When he sang this line last year: “It’s a celebration/ clap clap bravo/ lobster & shrimp & a glass of moscato…finish the whole bottle”, the social media sphere lit up with Moscato fever. What happens in hip-hop doesn’t always stay in hip-hop. Moscato burst from the streets and into popular consciousness, not only in the States, but abroad. From the Jerusalem Post, 5/12/11: “The new popular product of the 21st century is Moscato…”. From The Republic, out of Columbus, Indiana: “Now, suddenly and surprisingly, [Muscats] are generating buzz. Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, Calif., a marketing cooperative representing more than 500 farmers in the state, reported that new plantings of muscat are surging.”

Apparently so. I had lunch the other day with a major grower who told me his company is budding vines over to Moscato. This mommy blog recommended a sweet Italian sparkling Moscato rosé for Mother’s Day, reminding us that slightly sweet bubblies often appeal to women. As a sociological phenomenon, it’s interesting to see a wine wavelet arise in the hip-hop community and spill over to the general community. It may even be unprecedented.

But is there a gigantic Moscato boom? Is it the next Pinot Grigio? I don’t think so. I’m not exactly getting a ton of Muscat, or Moscato, or Orange Muscat, or anything from that family sent to me for review. By far the majority of what I taste is late harvest sweet dessert wine; Williams Selyem’s is the best, but EOS’s Tears of Dew is always a contender. (Bill Foley bought it last November, and I hope he continues to produce it.) So I don’t think the premium wine market is seeing a burst of Muscat Fever.

Where I suspect the growth is happening is in the popularly priced market. Barefoot, Flipflop, Fetzer, Woodbridge, Redtree, Coastal Ridge, Ca’ Momi and others all have sent me Moscatos lately, with prices hovering just below ten bucks suggested retail (which means you’ll find them in big chains for even less than that). They’re all clean, off-dry and crisp, the scores are in the 85 point range, and I’ve given a lot of them Best Buys. If there’s Moscato action, that’s where it is.

  1. Sherman says:

    I was reading a summary report on Wines & Vines yesterday from the Vineyards Economics Seminar. In addressing the muscat/muscato “phenomenon” and in analyzing the market share of various wines, they stated that “Muscat is white hot, growing at more than 60% last year, with Sutter Home (Trinchero) and E&J Gallo splitting most of the market.”

    Nate DiBuduo of Allied Grape Growers went on to note that “…growers in his group have planted 400 acres of Muscat, and are planting 700 acres more this year — all under contract. Most is new planting…” “DiBuduo noted that 16 tons per acres is a reasonable yield for the grape, and one grower expects to get 23 tons.”

    I think we can see why the rise of muscat — it’s a license to print money, especially in an uncertain economy. When quality grapes are limited to 1.5 to 3 tons per acre, it translates into an expensive bottle. Low yields equal higher prices. A grape that can produce 16 to 23 (!) tons per acre and still sell well results in lower prices. Even if the quality isn’t equal to the top names in the wine business, the general American wine consumer generally wants a decent quality wine at an affordable everyday price.

    As the new generation of wine drinkers comes into its own and makes their own discoveries, the way things “used to be” fall by the wayside. White zin was all the rage; now the Millenials have discovered their own version of white zin and have some pop culture mouthpieces bringing hipster awareness to it.

    It’s a gateway drink to a wider appreciation of the world of wine, and (in time) a good many of the new generation will come to appreciate a bigger, bolder style of wine. But there’s always a place for a good quality muscat/moscato, especially as the weather warms up — bring on the patio wines!

  2. References to Moscato in hip hop lyrics is not a new thing. In 1990, Candyman’s “Knockin’ Boots” had the lines:

    Break out the bottle of Asti Spumante
    Pop off the top and rock wit my posse

    I don’t know how much recent hip hop has played into the mini “boom.” Like Sherman said, (cheap and non-descript) moscato is a gateway drink. When I worked retail a few years ago, I noticed that older women were the ones looking for moscato because they saw it in the newspaper and wanted to try something a bit different than white zin.

    BTW – I’m glad to know that anyone who lives in Oakland is an authority on hip hop! 😉 What’s the size of the Wine Enthusiasts’ hip hop audience? Increase that and you might get more moscatos to review…

  3. jon campbell says:

    it is in crazy demand, and thankfully its popularity has brought attention to other often overlooked grapes like malvasia as well

  4. Colorado, I don’t think that many Wine Enthusiast has a whole lot of hip hop readers. What I meant was that I live in downtown Oakland and am constantly exposed to hip hop. I’m certainly not an authority but I probably have more experience of it than most white people my age!

  5. Steve, I know. I was just teasing you. You’re no Sadat X…

  6. I am a huge hip hop fan….and like Drake quite a bit (often listen to his CD “Thank Me Later” as the last music of my night). That being said, I have friends who like harder edged hip-hop than I do, that think Drake is too wimpy for their tastes, but their girlfriends love him….so they listen to him too.

    Not sure how this all effects Muscat….other than I don’t know of many guys that won’t listen to certain music or drink a certain wine if they know it will make their partner happy…and increase their own odds…..

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  7. jon campbell says:

    true dat adam- of course the comments seem to also premise on the idea that muscat is inherantly bad, sweet, unappealing, etc….

    I have had some good muscats, and crushed 10 tons of it myself this year

  8. I would love to comment on hip-hop, but Steve is right. He is one of the few guys his age who knows that hip-hop is not some new form of bunny hop.

    As for cheap, sweet Muscat. It is nothing more than today’s White Zinfandel. It may have importance as an intro to other wines, but unless it does, it is not going to have much impact west of the Central Valley.

    That said, and pardon my name-dropping here, in my one lunch with Michael Broadbent, he was pushing his own book at the time, he ordered an Alsatian Muscat for the first wine and it was light, fruity, crisp and delicious.

    I would be really happy if someone could find a way to make that wine, but if we cannot make and sell Riesling here in CA, do we have a chance for any kind of volume with coastal Muscat.

    One further comment. Kuleto does make a dry Muscat. It is low in alcohol and fairly green. The winery once commented that it could not take the chance to ripen the grapes further because it would have not acidity to work with and could not add back enough to get the wine in balance. To be sure, Kuleto’s hillside location above Lake Hennessy is not exactly a cool-climate site.

  9. I think that moscato wine is one of the best wines, it is also a great dessert wine. My best moscato wines are Bartenura and Moscato d’Astri.

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