Fresh and sweet, moscato may yet have its day in the limelight

It's a celebration, clap clap bravo. Lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato," raps Drake. While Snoop Dogg was "pouring Chandon" and Jay-Z "used to drink Cristal", Drake is one of a new generation of hip-hop artists eschewing the Champagne, that was once the shizzle in their circles, in favour of this lighter-weight fizz taking the world's wine markets by storm.

Sweet, light, spritzy and cheap, on first glance moscato would appear to be more gangnam than gangsta style. However, its fresh grapey and fragrant floral character certainly makes it no surprise that it's become such a mainstream hit in countries such as the US and Australia. Its best are deliciously delicate with a beautiful balance between freshness and sweetness, while their low alcohol levels - which are often as modest as 5 per cent and rarely over 9 per cent - also reflect the current international trend towards drinking less potent products.

Made from the muscat grape (moscato in Italian), this lightly sparkling style originated in Northern Italy's Piedmont region, its asti spumante and more serious moscato d'asti. However, moscatos are now being made all over the world, with decent volumes coming out of the US and Australia, which have both seen serious growth in the style in recent years.

In the US sales were up a staggering 70 per cent on the previous year, while in Australia moscato sales are growing at a significantly faster rate than the table wine. "Moscato remains a strong growth category in the Australian market," observes Bernard Hickin, chief winemaker for Jacob's Creek, which produces one of the country's best-selling examples. "We're seeing a continued trend in the Australian market toward sweeter, light and fresh wine styles and believe these categories will continue to grow."


Here in New Zealand we've been slower to fall for moscato's fizzy charms. "New Zealand-made-moscato is not a focus for New Zealand given the cost of production here and scarcity of land," says Brancott Estate's chief winemaker, Patrick Materman. "New Zealand wines are typically 'aromatic', and can leverage this strength with classical varieties like Marlborough sauvignon blanc."

However, others in the industry are more positive about the potential of our home-grown examples, such as Villa Maria, which launched its first local moscato this month.

"We wanted to release a low alcohol and fun wine that is easy to enjoy with friends," comments Villa Maria's company brands manager, Emily Camblin, who notes that low alcohol, fresh, fruit-driven wines are currently en vogue. "New Zealand has not yet seen the popularity that moscato has had in Australia or the US, but it could be a very popular trend this summer, as people are looking for new wines to try, particularly the new, younger generation."

One New Zealand winery with a long history of moscato-making is Soljans, which has more than 40 years of experience with the style.

"It's a style that had not been taken seriously by NZ winemakers but I believed had wide appeal," explains Soljans' owner, Tony Soljan of the decision, which for him has proved prudent.

"Our Fusion sparkling muscat has won more awards than any other New Zealand sparkling wine, it's one of our most popular wines and we're noticing good growth both in New Zealand and export markets."

Sparkling sauvignon blanc - spawned from the 2008 oversupply - has been New Zealand's recent sparkling success story, which may have dampened local desire to drink other bubblies. However, with a sauvignon shortage looming following the small 2012 vintage, its bubble may have burst leaving space for another light-hearted fizz.

Ab-Soul's lyric that "when things get hard to swallow, we need a bottle of moscato" could prove apt. But as to whether we'll see the likes of Scribe and Ladi 6 "sippin' moscato" like Lil' Kim, only time will tell.

Marvellous Moscato

Well-suited to summer sipping, moscato's low alcohol makes it a perfect picnic wine and a great aperitif. It's fabulous with fresh fruits and makes an amazing match with pavlova, mince pies and Christmas pudding.

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti 2011 - $29.90

If you need convincing of the charms of moscato, try this beauty from its Italian heartland, that's akin to grape juice and peach nectar infused with lemon blossom. (From Scenic Cellars.)

Buller Beverford Moscato Victoria 2011 - $17.75

This pretty and perfumed Australian example has a gentle spritz and attractive notes of fresh lemon and turkish delight. (From Liquorland, First Glass, Fine Wine Delivery Company.)

S-Series Moscato NV - $19.99

Moscato is one of a duo of wines launched in Villa Maria's new "S-Series" range. At 10.5 per cent it's slightly higher in alcohol and drier than many, but possesses the variety's characteristic fresh floral character with notes of honeysuckle, grape and citrus. (From New World, Countdown, Pak n Save, Fresh Choice.)