The delight of Moscato
Seattle Times wine columnist Paul Gregutt says that for no obvious media-related reason, the new flavor of the month is Moscato.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the weekSaracco 2010 Moscato D'Asti; $16
ONLY THE BEST Italian Moscato D'Asti achieves the ultimate in spritzy elegance at low alcohol. This popular import (from dalla Terra) is just 6 percent alcohol, meaning you can actually drink a glass with lunch without suffering regrets. And check out the hip (hop) factor: rapper Kanye West has sung its praises. Who needs Gregutt with that sort of acclaim? (Noble distributes)
THE WINDS OF fashion blow unpredictably in the wine world. The sudden emergence of a newly "discovered" varietal wine rarely, if ever, is anticipated. It happened with merlot, after a "60 Minutes" story on the French Paradox. It happened with pinot noir, after the unexpected popularity of the film "Sideways." And now, for no obvious media-related reason, the new flavor of the month is Moscato.
Why Moscato? It hits all the right bells for young consumers. It is low in alcohol, slightly sweet and pleasantly sparkling. It is both festive and affordable. And it's new, not something your parents ever drank.
The rise in Moscato sales has shown up in recent Nielsen Company statistics. Nielsen tracks supermarket wine sales and, as with any statistical survey, the numbers may be sliced and diced in many different ways. Moscato d'Asti, an Italian sparkler, is up 96 percent in dollar and case volume in the past year, albeit from a very small sales base. All types of muscat — imported and domestic, dry, off-dry, sweet and dessert styles — are now this country's fastest-growing varietal.
When big corporate brands begin pushing a seemingly obscure grape, you can bet they're sniffing an emerging sales trend. My Pick of the Week three weeks ago — the Columbia Crest 2010 Grand Estates Moscato — is one example. Joining it on your supermarket shelves are new Moscatos from yellow tail, Sutter Home (perhaps anticipating what some are calling "the next white zinfandel"), Woodbridge, Barefoot Cellars and Coastal Ridge. They are priced from $7 to $12, and are generally fairly sweet. The yellow tail is actually quite pleasant, spritzy and fresh, sealed with a screw cap, and priced at just $7.
Spokane's Latah Creek has a very popular semi-sparkling wine named Moscato d'Latah. It sells for $15, and perfectly captures the pretty orange peel and citrus scents of the grape. In the mouth it's sweet but buoyed by bright acids; the fruit clean and layered, bringing in streaks of cinnamon, honey, vanilla and tea.
Of course, nonsparkling muscat has been a tasting-room fixture here in Washington for decades. Though bottled under different names that reflect various types of muscat (orange muscat, black muscat, muscat Canelli, muscat Ottonel, etc.), by and large these still wines are off-dry and fruity, with a big burst of orange and citrus. Best drunk chilled.
The sweetest styles — best as dessert wines — are often fairly spendy but can be spectacular. Among my favorites over the years have been the Sweet Rebeccas from Thurston Wolfe. Upland Estates offers late-harvest muscat wines from the oldest bearing grapevines in the state, planted in 1917.
Some wineries are turning out dry muscats. Locati Cellars has just released a 2009 Dry Orange Muscat from Lonesome Spring Ranch. Watermill makes a dry Muscat Cannelli. Oregon produces numerous versions both still and sparkling, including Abacela Early Muscat, South Stage Cellars Early Muscat, Del Rio Vineyard Early Muscat, Foris "Cuckoo's Nest" Frizzante, Willamette Valley Vineyards Frizzante, Tualatin Estate Semi-sparkling Muscat and Silvan Ridge Early Muscat.
Many of these domestic Moscatos are quite pleasant, though none can equal the sheer effervescent elegance of the best Italian Moscato D'Asti. Think of those wines as Prosecco alternatives. Different grape, but similar styles. Pay a little bit more and you can expect a better bottle. A recent post on Cellartracker put it this way: "I cannot help but guzzle these. Tasting with bleu cheese is a good foil to slow me down, but I can think of few wines which deliver more pure pleasure and delight than Moscato d'Asti."
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.