Shock! Horror! According to the California Wine Institute, Moscato now outsells Sauvignon Blanc in US retail chains and is only two percentage points behind Pinot Grigio. Moscato sales apparently rose by a third last year – not quite as quickly as sweet red blends which saw their sales grow by 43%.

This news will almost certainly be greeted by most European, Australian and New Zealand wine professionals with groans of dismay – and condescending comments about the way US producers and retailers pander to the appalling sweet tooth of US consumers.

There is no denying that Americans do tend to favour sweeter fare than their counterparts elsewhere, but when it comes to drinks, a taste for sugary stuff is undeniably global.
Coke and Pepsi and Sprite all enjoy international success, as do (naturally sweet) fruit juice and a wide range of sweet cocktails. Wherever tea and coffee are served, it is considered good manners to offer sugar. I’ve done enough consumer testing in Britain to be pretty confident that Moscato would do just as well here as in the States.

As I predicted, however, in the UK at least, the gatekeepers, in the shape of the main retail buyers and the media, are quietly doing their best to ignore the Moscato and sweet red boom in the hope that it will go away. Wine – unless it’s Sauternes or German TbA – just isn’t supposed to be sweet, or so the establishment sees to believe. Which is a little like saying that simple commercial pop music shouldn’t exist and that everybody really ought to listen to Bach or Radiohead.

In the US, the wine industry takes the view that making money out of giving consumers what they like is an entirely legitimate thing to do. It’s only fair to point out that the wider acceptance of this attitude goes along way to explaining the success of supersized burgers and some pretty dreadful movies, not to mention a fairly widespread market for firearms. On the other hand, would it really be such a bad thing if the people who are currently drinking flavourless Pinot Grigio and Merlot had the chance to buy the kinds of grapey Moscato and “velvety” red that are giving such satisfaction on the other side of the Atlantic?

  1. Hi Robert. I recently gifted a bottle of Moscato to my sister-in-law (“I don't really drink wine much, I'm not that keen…”). I love Vajra's stuff, but it was sold out so I bought a comparable looking Moscato that I'd never tried. If I may quote her; “that stuff's so easy to drink, seriously, I got rid of it in 2 days, really nice…”.

    Tyrone: @winesonlyadrink

  2. Catherine Monahan wrote on Facebook The US buyers know their consumers well, they also buy from Producers who know what their consumers want; who are flexible to the changing trends and who are consumer and forward thinking…. Would love to see an analysis of the producers truly successful in the US market…(that aren't US producers that is… they are innovative and smart and watch trends…)

  3. One of the best analyses of the new sweet wine movement in the U.S. that I have seen. The other thing worth thinking about, I think, is that UK drinkers have never really been big on sweet — at least if beer is any indication.

  4. Robert, I will be very grateful if you tell this to some Italian wine producer, who are getting to tell me that a wine like Recioto della Valpolicella – sweet, red, from dried grapes like its brother Amarone – is not selling in US and UK…
    Hope to see you again somewhere!


  5. I'm not sure that beer is an absolute indicator. Americans drink “dry” beer but sweet wine… (I'm not sure that UK lager is that different in style to US beer).

  6. I'm a little perturbed by the generalization Moscato dismay. As far as I can tell, Moscato is the oldest domesticated grape variety in the world. As such, there are some lovely examples of well done Moscato, like Moscato d'Asti from Serralunga, or Moscato di Pantelleria, Beaumes-de-Venise, etc.

    While it is true that the surge in Moscato sales is the US is from low-end and low-quality Moscato based wines, it is a bit harsh to castigate the grape without acknowledging the spectrum of possible wines.

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