Moscato d’Asti, better known simply as ‘Moscato’, is a wine from the Italian province of Asti, and is derived from the Muscat grape. It was served primarily with deserts to a relatively small audience until hip-hop and R&B artists became enamored with it.
Singer Trey Songz name checks it in one of his songs, “I Invented Sex”: “It’s a celebration. Clap, clap, bravo. Lobster and shrimp and a glass of Moscato …finish the whole bottle.”
Meanwhile, rappers like Waka Flocka Flame, Roscoe Dash, and Drake all have hits in which they’ve dropped the name of the wine, in a trend that appears to coincide with its rising sales.
Nobu Otsu opened Harlem’s The Winery in 2008, just as the recession was taking hold. He concedes that his store, frequented by many young black men and women, has benefited from the popularity of Moscato.
“It is amazing how powerful media is,” in helping to stimulate sales of Moscato, said Otsu. “Customers come in and ask for it constantly,” he said. Lots of small retailers failed during the recession, but the Winery survived, and is even thriving, thanks in part to the help of hip-hop’s favorite dessert wine.
Sales of the sweet wine increased in the U.S. by 73 percent in 2011, according to a Nielsen survey; they doubled a year before that. Market research company SymphonyIRI also reported Moscato sales at U.S. food retailers at $105.5 million in 2010, up more than 30 percent from two years earlier.
Taking advantage of the trend, reality star NeNe Leakes has even launched her own wine brand called “Miss Moscato.” When rapper Drake celebrated his 25th birthday at TAO nightclub, in Las Vegas, the party was sponsored the MARTINI brand of Moscato d’Asti.
Not everyone is thrilled with hip hop’s foray into wine culture, however. Atlanta Journal Constitution wine columnist Gil Kulers wrote, “Where in the name of André Tchelistcheff did kids in their 20s get the idea to raise the roof with a bottle of Moscato d’Asti!?” The connoisseur explained in his column that wines like Moscato are to be enjoyed with desserts, “not in the back of a limo or as refreshment on the dance floor.”
“Most of America doesn’t know much about wine,” said The Winery’s manager Eric White, “It’s been our culture since prohibition, and up until the ‘70s really. People bootlegged liquor, since most of the country was grain. We became beer and liquor drinkers.” Outside of the West Cost, in places like Napa Valley, White makes the point that wine is an afterthought in the United States.
Nobu Otsu, himself a sommelier, disagreed with Kulers’ critique. He enjoys the business brought by Moscato and sees any interest in wine as a positive step towards understanding the culture. He said his job isn’t just to push the latest fad; he also wants to use the rising foot traffic in his store to educate his patrons about other options.
“I want to gradually shift their concept of wine and open new doors,” he said. A part of opening those new doors at The Winery is the shop’s weekly wine tastings, where patrons can sample a variety of new wines, shop, and talk to Otsu and his staff.
This is far from first time wine sales have been influenced by popular culture; there was an increase in sales of Pinot Noir in 2005, related to the film Sideways. Other years have been marked by the prominence of brands like Cristal, Nuvo and Patrón. Moscato is hip-hop’s current drink of choice, but the odds are it won’t be the last.
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey on Twitter at @idxr