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Moscato leading the move toward sweet wines

By Dave Buchanan

There’s long been a saying in the wine industry that customers “talk dry but drink sweet.” That’s more true now than even 10 years ago, given the recent rise in popularity of sweet wines. These range from the dessert-style wines (Port, ice wines, fruit-and-chocolate wines) to the more-subtle but still noticeably sweet red wines many winemakers now offer.

So popular are sweet wines they were the topic of a symposium sponsored recent,y by the Robert Mondavi Institute titled “Sweet, Dessert and Dried Fruit Wines: A World View” at the University of California, Davis.

Sweet wines, which may contain 3–7 percent residual sugar, what is left over after fermentation is stopped, are considered a gateway for drinkers who might not normally drink wine. Dry tables wines can be well under 1 percent.

Some people in the wine industry blame this dislike for dry wines on the theory Americans were raised on sweet drinks, ranging from sodas to sugar-sweetened juices and sweet tea, and haven’t developed a taste for dry red or white wines, as do those raised in cultures where wines are part of everyday life. Among the sweet wines currently lifting that market is moscato (Italian for the muscat grape), possessing a sweet floral aroma that’s grown around the world and ranges in color from white to near-black.

Moscato is the fastest-rising wine varietal in the United States, according to a Nielsen survey from last summer. Sales are up 73 percent over a year ago, following a 100 percent growth in the prior 12 months.

The wine’s popularity might be ascribed to current social influences, considering hip-hop singer Drake gave it a shout-out in a recent video and singer/producer Kanye West has been said to order it for his parties. These appeal to the fastest-growing moscato demographic, the “millennial” generation between 21 and 30 years of age.

That huge demand put pressure on producers, and California, in particular, is hard-pressed to meet demand; some larger producers are sourcing fruit and bulk wine from Italy. Lettie Teague, writing for the Jan. 14 Wall Street Journal, quoted Stephanie Gallo, that company’s vice president of marketing, as saying that E&J Gallo Winery has been “pretty aggressive” in procuring enough supply to meet the moscato demand.

An article in the Fresno (Calif.) Bee quoted Nat Buduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, as saying that California “is at the point where demand (for moscato) may be outpacing the current supply.”

One website (www.thedrinksbusiness.com) said moscato sales in America topped $300 million for 2011, more than triple what they were for 2009. “The last thing I can remember that shot out of the cork like that was pinot noir after the film ‘Sideways,’ ” said Danny Brager, vice president of Nielsen’s beverage and alcohol division, quoted on thedrinksbusiness website. “But the pop-culture inspired growth in pinot noir has been eclipsed by the rise of moscato.”

Don’t confuse Moscato d’Asti with its sweeter cousin, Asti Spumante, a purple-red, full-sparkling wine. Moscato d’Asti are lighter, mildly bubbly wines low on alcohol with a delicate touch of peach and apricot and with a counterpoint of crisp acidity making them good for dessert or cocktail-type sipping. They also can be made either still or sparkling.

I asked Mike Charlton at Planet Wines in downtown Grand Junction about moscato and he said he finds most bulk-made moscatos too sweet for his palate. “Most moscatos are usually simple and sweet, not something I normally drink,” he said. “But I enjoy drinking a complex, well-made moscato.”

Charlton showed two of his favorites, the 2010 Cascinetta Vieti Moscato d’Asti and 2010 La Serra Moscato d’Asti, both from Italy’s Piedmont and $15.99 each.

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