At E & J Gallo, they call it Moscato Madness. Sales of Moscato under their Barefoot label have jumped nearly 1000% since 2008. Other wineries that produce the variety, such as Beringer, Sutter Home and Mondavi Woodbridge, are reporting similar increases. Wineries are scrambling to import more Moscato from Europe, and we can assume that more is being planted in California.
Does this sound familiar? It should. Over the past several decades in California, various grape varieties have experienced a similar boom and then fizzled. In some cases (Sangiovese and Syrah) the “trends” have been manufactured by the wineries themselves, whereas others (Merlot and Pinot Noir) have been consumer-led. Either way, the result inevitably seems the same—a glut of low-quality wine that no one wants.
Moscato, or Muscat, is grown across Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy. While it comes in a variety of styles, the general range is between off-dry and sweet. Market research indicates that a large part of the current appeal of Moscato is among the Millenial segment of consumers, which is probably the reason wineries are getting so excited; after all, a 25 year-old who likes something is infinitely more interesting than a 65 year-old, since the former has many more consuming years ahead of them.
Here’s the problem, though: many beginning wine drinkers tend to start off with something in the sweeter range before moving on to a drier wine (if they ever do so). Rather than being The Next Big Thing, Moscato may be The Next White Zinfandel. If so, this would not be a bad trend, since Moscato has more vinosity (wine-like character) than White Zin, and the Moscato drinkers are probably more likely to make the leap to real wine sooner or later.
When they do, of course, there will be the traditional $1 sell-off, and entrances to the nation’s supermarkets and wine shops are likely to be blocked by huge displays of unwanted Moscato. By that time, the California wineries will have moved on to something else.