Why Moscato d’Asti is a Serious Wine: Insights from the United States - Coppo

Something Interesting is Happening to Our Moscato in the United States.

It’s not just the “Moscatomania” that often describes the commercial success we’ve been witnessing for some years now. Certainly, these people who appreciate Moscato, especially Moscato d’Asti, can teach us Piemontese producers something about one of the most typical and unique, yet often overlooked, excellences of our wine heritage.

In the guides dedicated to sparkling wines, alongside Champagne, Prosecco, California Sparkling, Spanish Cava, and French Cremant, there’s Moscato d’Asti. In tastings and wine shops in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, restaurateurs are passionate about Moscato d’Asti, comparing it, seeking differences.

1. Pop Culture and Rappers

We know how much popular culture and American rappers have influenced this story, with rappers singing about “the sweet, fizzy, low-alcohol, and affordable Piedmontese wine as one of the symbols of the hip-hop community” since 2010. Before, there was Champagne and other luxury symbols. Now there’s everyday life, joy, relaxation, quality of life, and Moscato. “When things get hard to swallow, we need a bottle of Moscato.” It’s a nice message.

In just a couple of years, the effect was impressive in the USA, with a 70% sales growth in 2012, the rush of major players, and the grape’s affirmation as the third most popular ahead of Sauvignon Blanc.

In our industry, we always talk about product positioning. Kanye West & Co. have told a vast audience of young people that instead of the unapproachable Champagne or other more common but less distinctive wines, there’s a “pleasant, affordable (at the right price) Italian ‘Champagne’ that stands out.” And it sets you apart.

As observed by The Guardian and The Telegraph, “The key word to look for on the bottle isn’t muscat at all but its Italian synonym, moscato. Moscato isn’t just another way of saying muscat, either. It has become a shorthand term used for a wine made in a style similar to that of a moscato d’Asti or Asti from Piemonte.”

2. Sweetness Tops the Lists

This is not a given for us: Moscato is a sparkling wine. Our Moscato is no longer relegated to the bottom of menus and shelves, it’s not a dessert wine. It’s a wine that sits at the top of lists.

The international shift towards sweetness plays a part. Richard Halstead, COO of Wine Intelligence, recalls that when he entered the industry 20 years ago, he was told the secret known to many veterans, that sweet sells, but only if you don’t call it by its real name. Today, he comments that finally “sweetness will come out of hiding, and wines of this type, both still and sparkling, will show this characteristic without shame, and the post-80s generation will buy them without hesitation.”

3. Low Alcohol Content

In the States, Moscato d’Asti is beginning to be understood as a higher-quality Moscato compared to the local one. There’s good acidity to balance the sweetness, no added sugars, natural effervescence, and lower alcohol content (maximum 5.5%). These characteristics differentiate Moscato d’Asti from the Californian version, which might be still and come with added sugars at 8% alcohol.

Not to forget that in Italy there are other wonderful Moscatos with different excellent characteristics, from Pantelleria to Scanzo, from Pavia to the Colli Euganei to Trento.

4. Quality Matters

“Asti is declining and Moscato d’Asti is rising.” In the unbridgeable difference in perspectives, horizons, and ways of telling themselves that exists between the two worlds, there seems to be a decisive issue for looking at the different moments of health in the markets: quality. Perceived quality. While Asti has long suffered from a reputation of not being top-notch, Moscato is perceived as a product of greater finesse.

Vivino, with its 22 million users who review and post bottles, is more than a real market observatory. When reviewing wines and Moscato grapes worldwide, it doesn’t speak of different types but of different qualities. “On the light end is Piedmont’s famous sparkler Asti Spumante and the higher quality, though less bubbly, Moscato d’Asti.”

Thus, Moscato d’Asti gains reputation, even ending up on the table of Obama and Ban Ki-moon at the lunch that opens the United Nations General Assembly.

5. A Serious Wine

Moscato has established itself as a simple wine, a first wine. But Moscato d’Asti is now also a “serious” wine. Enthusiasts are discovering it. It’s a wine with a spectrum of proposals, it has differences from the original vineyard and from the cellars. It remains a pleasant and easy-drinking wine but has unique interpretations. There are subzones like that of Canelli and there are the styles of the producers. There’s a unique territory behind Moscato d’Asti – and Canelli – with multiple and to be known expressions.

6. For Every Meal and Every Hour

The expression is a bit strong for us Italians, accustomed to uncorking Moscato only if there’s a hazelnut cake or a bowl of strawberries. Yet Moscatos with good acidity, we know, can pair with prosciutto crudo, blue cheese, and oysters. Certain experiments on our tables abroad are becoming customs even for those most attentive to pairings. Moscato with every meal but also between meals. “Moscato is drunk at the aperitif hour, at brunch, or in the afternoon.” “Any occasion can be worthy of a toast of our Moscato D’Asti” writes Cupcake Vineyards on its Californian Moscato, the most popular Moscato d’Asti in the USA.

7. By the Glass and No Waste

There are Proseccos, Champagnes, Chardonnays, and a Pinot Noir, maybe a Gavi, a Barbaresco or a Nebbiolo, a Barbera. Surely in the list of wines “by the glass,” you’ll find a Moscato. With not crazy prices. A glass goes for $10 to $15. Also, for this use, the screw cap is much appreciated. A couple of years ago, we switched from the classic cork to the screw cap. I see that others like Ceretto and Chiarlo have taken this path too.

“The screw cap makes importers, distributors, and customers happy.” For two reasons. For practicality, especially when Moscato is served by the glass, the screw helps the waiters who are in a hurry or less skillful (I’ve seen bottles of Moscato broken). For less product waste: food cost and beverage cost are topics that Americans are very sensitive to.

8. The New Moscato Lovers

We know about the black community evangelized to Moscato by rappers. Then there are women and young people. That young people drink Moscato is a reassuring fact. Not only women but also men. There’s a great brunch trend among young people here. After a boozy night, the guys eat something and drink a wine that tastes like grapes, fragrant, light, fresh, slightly fizzy. They drink Moscato. And that’s good. Let’s help them over time to distinguish, to understand what’s better than what and why.
“And us, how much and how do we drink Moscato?” How many times do we drink Moscato? In how many of our restaurants, wine shops, and bars do we find and ask for a glass of Moscato? How do we tell its story? Or more simply, how many times have we thought that instead of a Coca-Cola with its added sugars, we could drink a glass of Moscato?

Who knows if Piedmontese people will become the best ambassadors of Moscato d’Asti for our guests, rediscovering the values of one of the most important expressions of our hills.