NAPA, Calif. — Call it moscato momentum.
An old grape is winning new fans as more people turn to the sweet, floral wine that's easy on the purse and the palate.
"It's kind of hitting that tipping point," said James Nunes, managing director of marketing at Sutter Home Family Vineyards in the Napa Valley. Sutter Home has been making a moscato since the '50s and it has always sold well, but in the past year sales have taken off, he says.
Nationally, sales of moscato were up nearly 79 percent in the past year to more than 1 million cases in food store sales, says wine industry consultant Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson and Associates in Woodside, Calif. That's still a fraction of the market; chardonnay sales amounted to almost 16 million cases for the same period, for example.
But it's a significant increase, and welcome news for an industry that hasn't had a lot to cheer about lately.
"It's exciting," Fredrikson said. "People are always on the quest to find the latest new thing and it's caught on because it's a drink that almost everyone is going to appreciate."
Sweet and light with overtones of citrus and orange blossom, moscato is known as a crowd-pleaser.
Moscato is Italian for muscat, a grape that is thought to be one of the world's oldest. There are several types of moscato; in Italy, moscato d'Asti is the base wine for the sparkling wine Asti, formerly called Asti spumante. California moscato wines are usually still, not sparkling, and pair well with fruit desserts.
"It's a secret weapon wine because it allows you to please the people who want a little bit of sweetness in their wine, but knowledgeable folks can also appreciate the beauty of moscato," says Leslie Sbrocco, wine writer and founder of Thirsty Girl (beathirstygirl.com).
Major producers in California include Sutter Home and Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, which make still versions that go for less than $10 a bottle.
Moscato also is available at the higher end. Heidi Peterson Barrett, former winemaker for the famous "cult winery" Screaming Eagle, makes a dry version, Moscato Azul, under her La Sirena label.