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Moscato has been around for hundreds of years, but recently, it's become one of the fastest growing wines in America. Through hip-hop, Moscato has embedded itself in pop culture. As NPR's Sam Sanders explains, Moscato is more than just a fad. It's transforming the wine market.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Rapper Lil' Kim is believed to have first rapped about it in 2005.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHTERS UP")
SANDERS: But Drake gets most of the credit for putting Moscato on the map in this song from a 2009 mixtape.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I INVENTED SEX")
SANDERS: After that, it became a hip-hop staple, name-dropped everywhere. Moscato even found its way into the world of reality TV.
Here's "Real Housewife of Atlanta" NeNe Leakes telling Anderson Cooper all about her Moscato.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDERSON LIVE")
SANDERS: Moscato is not high end. It's a relatively cheap, white wine made from the Muscat grape, really sweet, low alcohol content. But over the last few years, hip-hop culture, pop culture have made Moscato something more - cool, celebratory and very popular. Moscato has become a thing.
DANNY BRAGER: I've been following the wine category for over 10 years, and frankly, I really haven't seen anything like it at all.
SANDERS: Danny Brager is the senior vice president of the beverage/alcohol practice at Neilsen. They don't just track TV. Brager's group follows retail wine sales. And over the last five years or so, what he's seen is incredible.
BRAGER: Moscato was selling $60 million worth annually. And if I look at the latest numbers, say, for 2012, it's 10 times that amount, 600 million.
SANDERS: The number of Moscato brands has doubled in the last three years, and it's not over yet. Brager says sales of Moscato will keep growing at about 25 percent a year. That growth is impressive, but even more interesting: Who's drinking Moscato?
BRAGER: Much more African-American, much more Hispanic, much lower income, you know, much younger, more female.
SANDERS: Like Quintasha Scorza, a recent Moscato convert.
QUINTASHA SCORZA: I used to work at the Olive Garden, and we sampled it, and it was pretty good.
SANDERS: She was hooked. She's out now at the San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles with a group of girlfriends. It's one of their birthdays. They're sampling lots of Moscato.
SCORZA: The Moscato d'Asti and the Moscato Rosa.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The Moscato d'Asti, that was pretty good.
SANDERS: All of the women here and many of the people in the winery are drinking wines like Moscato. They're young. They're Latino. They're Black. They're Asian. And a lot of them are pretty new to this. Moscato is their gateway wine, and the dealers are reaching out everywhere.
If you live in L.A., you might have seen a billboard for Bartenura Moscato. On the billboard, Bartenura is advertised as the official Moscato of the L.A. Dodgers. Eric Arnold wrote a book about wine called "First Big Crush," and he's an editor at tastingroom.com. He says that ad isn't just about bringing in new people. It's about taking them somewhere else, next.
ERIC ARNOLD: So I think what you're seeing here is a wine company realizing that they can use Moscato to turn people on to the other products that they sell.
SANDERS: The thought is if you start out with Moscato, at some point, your palate will mature, and you'll start drinking other more expensive wines from those same winemakers. Arnold predicts even Drake's taste might change over time.
ARNOLD: If we could build a time machine and go listen to a Drake song, you know, three, four years from now, I would be willing to bet you that he's long since moved on from Moscato, and he's, you know, singing to his girlfriend about, you know, Napa cabernet or burgundy or something like that.
SANDERS: Back at the San Antonio Winery, you know, where Scorza and her friends were tasting...
SCORZA: Moscato Rosa Rosa.
SANDERS: Steve Riboli, the vice president of San Antonio Winery, says if Moscato fans' taste never change, that's fine.
STEVE RIBOLI: I think we as an industry have been trying so hard to make everybody like dry wine for the last 50 years. Many of us have sweet palates. There's nothing wrong with that. You know, liking, you know, pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie, what's wrong with that?
SANDERS: Nothing at all. Moscato drinkers are very loyal to their brand. So loyal, beverage makers are flooding the market with various Moscato spinoffs. Anyone ready for beer and Moscato mixed drink recipes? Nicki Minaj endorsed coconut Moscato or Moscato-infused vodka? Yeah. That exists. There's a slice of sweet potato pie for everyone.
Sam Sanders, NPR News.
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