As a wine geek, if you say “moscato,” I’ll say, “d’Asti.” The Italian version, from Piemonte, is the benchmark for this style, marked by low alcohol (typically 5% to 7%), noticeable sweetnees (without being cloying) and refreshing fizz. It’s a great wine for fruit-based desserts, or even breakfast.
When I heard from distributors and retailers that moscato was selling like wildfire, it seemed curious, though I can certainly see the appeal of a fruity, fizzy and sweet wine. Then MarketWatch reported that U.S. versions were also fueling “moscato madness,” and I knew I had work to do. So I went shopping and purchased several inexpensive moscatos (moscati?) ranging from $5 to $8 and put them to the test. The official results of that and other samplings are in my wine column this week.
Before I get to some of the details about my cheapskate’s tasting, though, a note about nomenclature. Moscato is the Italian name for the muscat grape, and of course the wine can be made in different styles. In Alsace, for example, a muscat is typically fairly dry, with no carbonation, but showing attractive apple, pear and peach flavors. It makes a nice aperitif. But label a wine “moscato,” no matter where it’s from, and consumers most likely will assume it is made in the Italian style.
I sampled most of them while watching Monday Night Football. Granted, moscato is not exactly your typical manly NFL tipple, but this was work. And unfortunately, it was not fun work, because most of these wines were truly awful.
Here’s how they went down:
The worst I tried was Flip Flop Moscato, from a new bargain-priced line of wines from California. Rather than peaches, it tasted of sulfur and suggested drain cleaner (a function it fulfilled after my tasting). At $5, I guess I didn’t expect much, but the wine should at least be drinkable. Sutter Home’s moscato ($7) brought back memories of how my house smelled when my mother gave herself a perm. It was cloyingly sweet and dull, and what fruit flavors may have been lurking inside seemed stewed rather than fresh. Gallo Family Vineyards moscato ($6.50), which according to the fine print on the back label is actually from Valencia, in Spain, was simply dull. And none of these had any noticeable fizz. Crane Lake ($7) was disjointed, tasting like someone took jigsaw pieces from different puzzles and forced them together.
And how about Barefoot Cellars, ($7) the best-selling moscato in the United States, according to MarketWatch? Unlike the others, it had a hint of carbonation, suggesting the Italian style. However, its flavors were cooked, and I couldn’t help wonder how much of the blend was actually muscat grapes; it tasted more like colombard to me. The Barefoot distinguished itself primarily by reminding me of Bazooka bubblegum, rather than Juicy Fruit like the others.
There were two surprises, which I wrote about in today’s column. The Beringer California Collection moscato is a very nice dry-ish, non-fizzy Alsatian-style muscat that makes a nice aperitif, especially for parties, at its $7 price tag. And Australia’s Yellow Tail was actually rather good for $5; it was more tropical than Moscato d’Asti, but unlike most of the California versions it was cleanly made and had enough fizz to balance its sweetness.
The motto here: Sometimes you do get what you pay for. For most of these cheap moscato wines, the jump to quality and reliability to purchase a Moscato d’Asti — at $12-$22 — is worth the extra money.