Sunday, February 05, 2012

The next big thing

They say there’s nothing you can bet on with a cast-iron guarantee of being right - apart from the inexorability of death and taxes. Well, here’s my best shot at a sure-fire winner for the wine industry. The next big thing - the thing that ’s going to make Pinot Grigio look like an unusually small Smurf, is going to be… Moscato.

Now, you may possibly have read those last few words without letting forth as much as a silent groan, but if you didn’t even wince, you’re probably in a minority. I know, because I’ve had a fair few conversations with all sorts of wine people over the last few weeks, and the ones that have have accepted my prediction with any kind of equanimity are the exceptions to the rule. By far the most bothered have probably been the winemakers, and most especially the winemakers who suspect that a likely result of any kind of Moscato boom will include their actually having to turn Muscat grapes into a sweet, grapey beverage.

Before considering why the wine world is likely to treat a global Moscato Moment as though it were the next worst thing to the emergence of a virulent breed of resistant phylloxera, perhaps it’s time for me to explain why I’m so sure I’m right. And why I’d go as far as to say that if Muscat didn’t exist, some clever people would be currently working flat out to invent it.

Just consider the way most red, white and pink wines taste, and the way Moscato tastes. Which of these most closely resembles most of the stuff most people most enjoy drinking? Fruit juice, Coca Cola, Red Bull, tonic water and every other kind of non alcoholic beverage… they’re all sweet. As is a Starbucks Grande Latte, by the way, which, at 17g of sugar, has one and three quarters as much sweetness as a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut. All of these drinks have helped lay the foundations for Moscato, but so have a fair few bottles of wine. A litre of average Pinot Grigio may easily have five or six grams of sugar; Yellow Tail Merlot and a wide range of reds have weighed in at 10g/l or more, while Extra Dry Prosecco can be up at 17g/litre. Just behind White Zinfandel at 20g.

For most modern purists, the very idea of semi-sweet and frankly sweet wine - unless it has been blessed by botrytis - is anathema. Even Germany, historically home of some of the most glorious naturally sweet Kabinetts, is now marching to the beat of the dry, dry drum. But Germany is far from the only place that has turned its back on sweet wine.

Bordeaux once produced an ocean of - pretty filthy, it must be said - sugary white wine. Until a Frenchman called Louis Oudart was invited to Piedmont by the Marchesa di Barolo, the most famous wine of her region would have often been sweet. In those days, Champagne was often also lusciously sweet, making it a far better partner for pudding than the brut that is often wasted on this stage of the meal today.

Sweet wines have crept back onto the shelves over the last few years. In some countries, this has been in the shape of frankly sugary pinks - one of the huge successes of the last few years - while in others it has been in the form of reds that have been sweetened after fermentation. In the US, the latest trend has been the arrival of smartly packaged wines such as Sweet Bliss White (90g/l) and Adler Fels’ recently launched Totally Random Sweet Red. Sales of frankly labeled sweet wines in the US are currently up to 500,000 cases. Not a huge amount when viewed in the context of the market as a whole, but still pretty significant, given the fact that this was acategory thar did not exist at all a few years ago.

If unashamedly sweet reds and whites are now becoming socially acceptable, the stage seems to be perfectly set for the entrance of a grape with a sexy-sounding Italian name and a deliciously grapey flavour. In the US, Moscato is already on a roll. According to the August 18 2011 edition of Market Watch, it was the fastest growing varietal in America with brands like Gallo’s Barefoot and Woodbridge seeing a tenfold increase in sales over the last three years.

If the US loves Moscato, there are plenty of other markets that are likely to share its enthusiasm. At DoILikeIt? we carried out some research before Christmas in the UK that involved giving Moscato to food and wine enthusiasts as part of a blind line-up. While there were plenty who dismissed it as being too sweet for their taste, over half embraced it. Less formal research with Chinese female wine drinkers revealed even greater potential for the style.

For wine purists, who rarely imagine drinking this kind of drink themselves, the trend smacks of barbarism. I choose to differ. I happen to love fresh, good examples of Moscato and would much rather be offered a well chilled glass on a hot day sitting by a swimming pool than a long list of great dry reds and whites. But that’s not my point. I can also easily understand why a large number of people whose other favourite drinks include Coke, latte, gin-and-tonic and orange juice might also prefer a frankly grapey beverage to a tannic, weedily unripe-tasting basic red or white with an authentically earthy gout de terroir.

Disclosure. I'm putting my own money where my mouth is, by speculatively shipping a few cases of le Grand Noir Languedoc Moscato to the US and launching a study into Chinese reactions to the style. Watch this space.


  1. You are right. Moscato is already big, and is going to get bigger. And it's quite delicious.

  2. A common feature of all booming wine styles over the past 2 decades has been the availability of a latent supply base to turn the taps on when the category explodes e.g Australian Chardonnay, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, California White Zinfandel and Italian Pinot Grigio, though one might argue the success of the latter has been driven by the ease with which a range of generic white varieties from Southern and Eastern Europe can be made to look like Pinot Grigio.
    For the moscato category to reach the same heights as these other styles planting's will have to increase substantially - the grapey distinction of moscato can not be replicated by members outside the muscat family. Therefore expect growth to come from new world countries.

  3. Good point Justin, and plantings i California's Central Valley have in fact doubled. But there's a bit more Muscat arround in Europe than one might imagine. Much of the Moscato on sale in US comes from,Spain at present and some is from France.

  4. I have to agree that its a wine style which surely appeals to most female wine drinkers.. In the last month I tasted Moscato with Chinese buyers, Maltese average wine drinks and Australian regular wine drinkers and all of them think that this style of wine is refreshing and easy to approach.. if its the next big thing.. only time will tell.. my only question is, what is the % of good Moscato compared to bad ones? I can only pinpoint a few good ones.

  5. Far rather Moscato than the maniuplated styles, which are proliferating, especially here in South Africa. Coffee/chocolate/vanilla pinotage/malbec/chardonnay etc are a waste of grapes and land; Moscato, especially the better ones, are refreshingly delicious and honest. Between the two main muscats - alexandrie & frontignan- south africa has close on 3000 hectares, plenty to boost the move.

  6. Thanks for the update about those 3kha. Very interesting!

  7. I've just bought a load of Trentham Moscato (Aussie) based on your predictions - sure it may not be huge this summer - but it may follow on and will take time for consumers to latch onto it. Of course we do also have an Italian one. But I wouldn't have done it if I didn't believe that consumers would take to it. They LOVE a bit of sugar in their wine. When we put an off dry Kiwi Riesling in a tasting it usually flies - if we put it a blank bottle - even more so (that Riesling flute can be off putting) Moscato doesn't have that problem. I wonder whether Asti can do anything on the back of it? I suspect not because a) Most of it is poor by Moscato standards, and b) It has the same problem as Blue Nun.
    I do wonder whether Moscato d'Asti will take off on the back of a Moscato boom or whether having the name Asti on the label might be too off putting? Production could also be too small to make it cheap enough for most consumers.
    Expect someone like Brown Brothers who make a Moscato as well as lots of Muscat wines to start pumping it out.

  8. The US saw Moscato sales increase 78% last year, much higher than any other category. We sold 5,000 cases as a 'test market' here then and are on track for 35,000 this year. All it needed here were mentions in a few rap songs and it went wild. I think it will be a global phenonenon...wear a seatbelt though!

  9. The rap songs have certainly helped - but I'm guessing Moscato could fly without them