What is Moscato?

Question from Richard: What is Moscato? Some friends served it to me and said it’s really popular but I thought it was awful!

Reply: Richard’s friends are right. According to Market Watch, moscato is the fastest-growing wine variety in the US right now.

Moscato is the Italian word for Muscat (but not Muscadine). With its beautiful perfume of apricot, orange blossom and tropical fruit the muscat grape lends itself to making sweet wine. But sweet wines don’t have to be bad. You can find delicious examples of Moscato or Muscat that absolutely seduce your nose and please your palate because the sweetness is balanced by refreshing acidity – and sometimes it bubbles.

The classic example, Italian Moscato d’Asti is fruity, floral and softly fizzy. It’s light as air at around five or six percent alcohol and can be lovely.

Muscat from southern France, the Beaumes de Venise, is heavier because it’s high in alcohol. The best are sweet and yummy after a nice meal.

A handful of wineries here in the Napa Valley produce delicious Muscat wines. Try the Moscato d’Oro next time you’re at Robert Mondavi winery. Or try ZD’s Muscat Canelli.

But these aren’t the ones flying off the shelf right now. New-world brands like Barefoot, Sutter Home, Woodbridge and Yellow Tail are the ones that really move. They’re sweet and evidently they don’t fizz. It sounds like you had a bad example or maybe you just don’t like Muscat.

Confession: I haven’t tried any of these popular wines, yet, so I did a quick search and the reviews of these low-end Moscatos are really scathing. The most common complaint seems to be a complete lack of floral/fruity flavors and that the wines are cloying – not well balanced – they probably need a good dose of acid.

Retailers seem to think that today’s Moscato fever echoes the White Zin craze of the 70s and 80s. Wine that’s a bit sweet helps those who grew up on soda pop transition into wine. If this trend is similar to the White Zin trend, Here’s the likely sequence of events: After awhile folks will get tired of Moscato and maybe a friend will get them to try a well-made Riesling, Chenin Blanc or even a Pinot Grigio  – and from there, who knows? All roads lead to Cabernet in my view.

So, that’s the scoop, Richard. You might try a really nice example to see if it’s the grape that offends you, or just that particular wine. Cheers!

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