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Classics

Rappers, Real Housewives, and the Rise of Moscato

To the surprise of most, the sweet wine boasts several styles and high-quality bargains

Janice Williams By February 8, 2022
photo collage of Drake, Nicki Minaj and NeNe Leakes with Moscato wine bottles
Nicki Minaj (myxfusions.com), Drake at TAO nightclub in Las Vegas (David Becker/Wire Image), NeNe Leakes-Anderson Cooper (Anderson).

Remember back in the day when Drake casually rapped about ordering “lobster and shrimp and a glass of Moscato?” The wine was for women who caught his attention in the song “Do It Now,” released in 2009. However, Drake’s lady friends weren’t the only people polishing off bottles of Moscato back then. Legions of other people also took to the light, slightly sweet white wine.

It was lyrics like this and others by artists like Lil’ Kim and Kanye West that helped Moscato reach a new demographic with younger drinkers. 

Before, Moscato was predominately found in the hills of the Asti province, within the Piedmont region of Italy. Then came the mid-2000s. Production spiked in places like Australia and the U.S. where Moscato was already growing. Plantings particularly increased within California’s Central Valley, where Moscato is relatively easy and cheap to make — though it pales in comparison of taste to that of Piedmont varieties. 

Celebrities even released their own labels. “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star NeNe Leakes was promoting the brand Miss Moscato in 2011, though it’s unclear how long that venture lasted. Nicki Minaj teamed up with MYX Fusions to create an inexpensive line of electric blue, crown-capped bottles of fruit-flavored Moscatos in 2013, which can still be found in stores today.

Boom to bust

“I remember the Moscato boom. Moscato got all this recognition by celebrities, and people really took to that,” says Vanessa Conlin MW, a chief wine officer at Wine Access in Napa. “Growers were able to respond very quickly because it’s not a difficult grape to grow, and you can have very high yields, particularly in the Central Valley. There is some here in the North Coast — not as much, though, because the land is so expensive here.”

It’s worth noting that though the cheap versions of Moscato were being produced in low-cost, low-quality areas, the affordability of the wine is likely what enhanced the appeal of drinkers, who were, as Danny Brager, the former senior vice president of beverage/alcohol practice at Nielsen, noted to NPR, “much more African American, much more Hispanic, much younger, much lower-income, much more female.” 

Average consumers couldn’t afford the fancy Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal that Jay-Z rapped about, before he boycotted the label in 2006. But bottles of Moscato were easy to find and didn’t come with a bank-breaking price tag.

Nowadays, Moscato isn’t getting the same type of attention in chart-topping songs. It’s fallen out of fashion. Yet, the wine is still considered a classic, especially examples from Italy.

However, navigating store shelves and picking out a quality bottle may require a better understanding of Moscato beyond the U.S. iterations.

Understanding Muscat

Moscato is the Italian word for Muscat, a grape that creates a somewhat sweet, low alcohol wine. There are seven different types of Moscatos, according to the “Oxford Companion to Wine.” Of those, Moscato Bianco, also known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, is the most prized.

From Piedmont, the grape was first mentioned in the 13th century in the records of the town of Canelli in the Moscato d’Asti production area, within the hills south of the town Asti. The frizzante style so popular today really dates back to the late 19th century, however.

The grapes for the wine come from vineyards that have Italy’s highest category of production status, DOCG. Moscato d’Asti is low in alcohol, with alcohol by volume of about 5% to 6%, and is highly aromatic, with notes of orange blossom, peach, and apricot. 

landscape shot of a vineyard in Piedmont, Italy

Neive village and Langhe vineyards, Unesco Site, Piedmont, Northern Italy. Photo by FedevPhoto/iStock.

“It’s the perfect breakfast wine because it’s not high in alcohol. You can drink more than one glass and still have your wits about you,” says Conlin. “And it’s super friendly, both in terms of pairing with food and also being so aromatic, flavorful, and delicious that you really don’t need food. That’s why it can be an aperitif. You can drink it during the meal. It’s great with spicy foods that are really difficult to pair other wines with, or it’s great with dessert or as dessert. It’s a versatile wine.”

In addition to Moscato d’Asti, Moscato Bianco is also the primary grape of Asti, which is a fully sparkling wine that is commonly made and consumed in the Piedmont region. Though it is similarly aromatic, it often tastes sweeter than Moscato d’Asti and has higher alcohol of about 9% ABV. 

The easiest way to decipher between the two is by noticing the sparkle strength. As a frizzante style wine, Moscato d’Asti has a light sparkle and is often sealed with a standard cork. Meanwhile, Asti comes with a cage and cork similar to Prosecco or Champagne closures. 

While Moscato d’Asti and Asti lead the Moscato category, there are others worth seeking out, particularly still versions. These wines are usually dry, but still exude the floral aromas and fruity characteristics Moscato is known for. At the other end are extremely sweet styles made as dessert wines. 

Moscato today

It’s anyone’s guess if the rap superstars and their friends are actually still drinking Moscato these days. At the height of the Moscato madness in 2012, sales of the wine were up 100% in the U.S. And although it’s the 10th most widely planted white grape variety, the boom has essentially leveled out.

The Moscato trend has paced out, and it may no longer be the rappers’ delight. However, there are still bottles of Moscato d’Asti on the market that make for a perfect reminder of why the category became so popular in the first place. 

3 Moscatos to try:

bottle of Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti DOCG 2020

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti DOCG 2020 (~$23)

The wines produced by Michele Chiarlo have been acknowledged as some of the best in Piedmont since the winery was first established in 1956. This bright straw yellow Moscato d’Asti, is one of the top examples within the category, according to Conlin. “If you were in Piedmont, this is the type of Moscato you would drink,” she notes. This wine has floral aromas and flavors of peach and apricot, with a refreshing finish.

bottle of Pio Cesare Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2019

Pio Cesare Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2020 (~$25)

Pio Cesare has produced wines in the town of Alba, within Piedmont, for more than 135 years. The grapes used for this Moscato d’Asti come from some of the winery’s oldest vines growing in vineyards within Santa Vittoria d’Alba. The wine is aromatic with notes of honey and displays rich and ripe fruit. The fizz is light and refined for a smooth, creamy finish.

bottle of La Sirena Napa Valley Moscato Azul 2020

La Sirena Napa Valley Moscato Azul 2020 (~$29)

While this wine is fragrant with ripe fruit and floral nuances, it doesn’t have the usual sweetness associated with Moscato d’Asti, and a great representation of the variety of wine styles derived from Muscat grapes, according to Conlin. “This is a dry wine. It’s not sparkling, and it’s higher in alcohol, and delicious,” she says. Produced by La Sirena in Napa Valley, the wine features aromas of honeysuckle, lychee, peach, and melon flavors that give way to a silky and lively palate.