Young wine drinkers have discovered moscato
BY ADRIENNE SAMUELS GIBBS Staff Reporter January 21, 2014 4:58PM
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:07AM
When reality show diva and songstress K. Michelle breezed through Chicago at year’s end, her party at The Shrine overflowed with a moscato called Myx Fusions. Said moscato is the brainchild of Mona Scott-Young, the storied creator of VH1’s hit reality show “Love & Hip Hop” and a businesswoman in her own right.
Her $4-a-bottle vino comes in a pint-sized bluebottle, is blended with juice and heralded by Nicki Minaj, the spokeswoman. High end? No way. And that’s OK. Scott-Young is one of many cashing in on the moscato craze, a new-old trend in wines that has Millennials — i.e. the majority of those watching MTV and VH1 reality shows — unapologetically swigging sweeter libations and forcing purists to reconsider the role of so-called “entry wines.” Moscato is now the third most-sold wine in the United States, according to Nielsen. It pulled in $625 million in sales in 2013 — more than sauvignon blanc, riesling and malbec and third only to pinot noir, pinot grigio and merlot.
“It has surpassed most of the staple varieties that have been around for 10 years plus and it’s on track to surpass chardonnay and pinot grigio,” says Scott-Young, who could write the book about popularity and trends. (She once managed LL Cool J, 50 Cent and Fantasia.) She hopped on the moscato bus because, frankly, it’s profitable.
Locally, City Winery is doing the same.
“We’ve seen an upswing of people at City Winery telling me our sweet wines are not sweet enough, both the reds and whites,” says beverage director Rachel Driver Speckan. “We’ve had to adjust the list to offer wines that are actually sweet.”
Now City Winery offers a “faux moscato” that comes on tap, plus several moscatos by the glass. “I feel that clients are more comfy saying they would like a sweet wine and asking for it. Wine culture in general has made it more acceptable to talk about and drink sweet wine. And I think that the moscatos that we have available right now are also pretty refined in that they are not just sweet — they have multi-dimensions and really beautiful aromatics.”
Binny’s Beverage Depot has noticed a surge in moscato sales since 2012, says director of wine sales manager Doug Jeffirs. Binny’s has responded with more product and an easy-to-find shopping section.
“We’ve not only increased our selection and added special signage for our moscato sections, but also special order some moscatos as customers request,” says Jeffirs. “It started with moscato d’Asti, the original from Piedmont, Italy that has always had a following. But in the last few years, it’s been ‘discovered’ like White Zinfandel was in the ’70s and ’80s. White Zin then, like moscato now, represented a first step into fine wine consumption for many people.”
What’s unspoken here is that sweet wines — as opposed to dessert wines — in the United States are often seen as the lower class, estranged cousin of the wine family. And while it used to be that ordering a riesling, white zinfandel or moscato in certain restaurants elicited a snobby tsk-tsk, the truth is that next gen wine drinkers simply aren’t that snooty.
Wine Spectator last year forecasted that moscato and other sparkling wines such as prosecco are the future of wine, especially when it comes to Millennials. Those key influencers include 20-something entertainers Drake and Minaj, who have rapped (or sung) about the wonders of moscato, further cementing the grape into modern pop culture.
Chicago police officer Domonique Lebeaux, who at 36 stands amidst the Millennials and the Generation Xers, knows from experience. She prefers reds, but often will order a moscato at Cooper’s Hawk, where she says she’s noticed sweeter wines being added to the menu. But she doesn’t agree that it’s all because of Drake and Minaj. “I did notice that once it started being discussed in rap songs and other songs that the popularity [of moscato] became increased. But it’s been around for a while. Lil Kim rapped about moscato 20 years ago. People hear things and jump on the bandwagon.”
Adds Robert Warren, winemaker for Cooper’s Hawk: “Moscato was one of the very first grapes cultivated to make wine. It’s history goes back further than any other wine grape. It’s been around forever and people are just now rediscovering it.”
Mark Wenzel’s Illinois Sparkling Company moscato is made from grapes grown right here. It’s also carried by the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. It also usually sells out.
“People have sweet tooths and enjoy sweet things,” says Wenzel. “Moscato has been on the front end because it’s very grapey, very floral and very easy to drink.”