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How Sweet it is – The Growing Sweet Wine Trend

Is the table set for a boom in varietal sweet table wines in the U.S., wines that are known to have some residual sugar (RS) instead of being a wink and a smile from the wine business?  The tea leaves say, “Yes.”

I touched on the “knowing” sweet wine topic earlier this year in a post about Jam Jar, a stated semi-sweet Shiraz that, according to importer Cape Classics, has been enjoying robust sales since domestic launch.

And, while it’s common for a domestic white wine, generally under $12 a bottle, to have a whisper of RS, what is not common is reporting that there’s residual sugar in it.

That said, I think we (the royal “we” as in the collective of all wine enthusiasts who participate symbiotically with the wine business) are on the cusp of participating or being swept up in a sweet wine trend – the kind of trend that takes sweet wines out of the back alley and onto Broadway as an accepted varietal wine while no longer being viewed as a quaff only for the uninitiated, or dessert, instead being seen as something that is occasion appropriate and can be paired on the dinner table.


I note this because much of what I find interesting in writing about wine is looking for disparate common threads that can be tied together.  Related to sweet wine, over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve seen these disparate common threads and, as they say, once is an accident, twice, a coincidence and three times is a trend ...

Simply put, Muscat, typically known as Muscato or Moscato on the wine shelf is growing … big time growing ... as a still wine, not an Italian sparkler nor as a dessert wine.

The first “hmm …” moment regarding Moscato came with an announcement from the NextGen Wine Competition this summer, based on judging from a twenty-something panel, awarding a non-vintage Barefoot Cellars Moscato a “Best in Show” award.  Was this a fluke worthy of derision?  Some thought so …

… Until a larger context started framing itself ...

The second reference I saw came in a presentation from the Wine Industry Financial Symposium last month. In that presentation, in response to a question posed to wine industry leaders, “Have your sales begun to revive? For which products at which price points?”  The anonymous, non-attributed response came:


“I would say at the low-end, Muscato is the varietal that is standing out. There is not enough Muscato right now in California to feed the beast. It is a sweet wine, similar to our Pinot Grigio at the lower end. Every producer that can ramp it up is.”

The third flag I saw is a Fresno Bee article on Moscato (also in September) that noted in reference to the Muscat grape, (quoting Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno):

“Now, we are at the point where demand may be outpacing the current supply.”

DiBuduo estimates that acreage will increase by at least 50% over the next two years, from 3,245 acres in production statewide today.

Among the reasons for the surge is a growing number of muscat wine drinkers.

Sales of Moscato—a muscat wine—rose 78% during a one-year period ending in June, said Jon Fredrikson of Woodside-based Gomberg, Fredrikson and Associates, a wine industry consulting firm.

Finally, as a capstone, I paid a visit to the wine section at Sam’s Club this past weekend – in a bin, nearly empty, next to nearly full bins of other white wines, was the Terra d’Oro Moscato, a wine that clearly was selling extremely well against other whites.

Is this all coincidence?  No.  Moscato is coming on strong.

The reason for the growth, organic as it may be, is harder to pin down.

Anecdotally, I think there are four reasons:

1) Distribution.  Large wine producers are able to get Moscato varietal wines to large retailers at competitive prices, where many people are buying their “value” wines

2) No stigmas. Gen. Y doesn’t carry legacy stigmas of what to drink, or not to drink.  And, even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care.  Plus, they are inveterate explorers drinking globally from the word “go” and Moscato d’Asti from Italy is a pleasant introduction to the varietal

3) Rising consumption and new consumers.  With the rising wine consumption in the U.S. there are some late converts, like my Mom for example – Age 60 +.  She is slowly but surely taking the path of palate development, but White Zinfandel wasn’t her gateway wine, it was semi-sweet varietal wines from Midwest wineries.  Moscato is tailor made for her as she evolves to Riesling and soft tannin reds.  Her journey is one shared by many.

4) Quality.  Even hard-bitten wine enthusiasts have to admit that Moscato is an enjoyable glass of wine, pleasingly floral, typically balanced, and able to be made with some character, with reasonably low alcohol and an inexpensive price.

In sum, keep an eye on growth of not just Moscato, but semi-sweet varietal wines in general – they will have higher price points, but still with a “value” orientation and they won’t be garishly packaged on the bottom shelf of the wine aisle, having earned a higher degree of respect in the court of wine consumer opinion.

Reference Link
USDA grape varietal acreage in California table


Posted in, It Seems to Me .... Permalink | Comments (28) |


On 10/08, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

The “royal we” does not refer to a broad group, like-minded or not.  It is/was used by monarchs/popes/etc to refer to themselves as we, implying a greater excellence to the speaker.

Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial “we”

On 10/08, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

thanks for grammar lesson.  Perhaps I should have referenced it as the “authorial we”

Always learning, we are.

On 10/08, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

The sweet dreck has been with us for some time and the majority of sweet wine drinkers didn’t know (or care) that it was dreck—as long as it was sweet and cheap, they got their buzz on.

The trend is building and the spear point of the trend is the rise of *good* moscato/muscat wines that the wine enthusiasts can appreciate.

I’ve come across a few in southern Oregon the last few months that have gotten my attention as being well made, nicely balanced and show a harmonious blend of fruit, lower levels of sugar and a bracing acidity. Foris makes a frizzante style early moscato that is well worth drinking; their wine maker, Byran Wilson, has his own side label (Cuckoo’s Nest) that also produces a frizzante style moscato that is quite tasty; and Del Rio Vineyards puts out a rose that has a touch of RS, nice fruit and balanced with a touch of tannins.

All drinkable, all affordable ($10-$15 retail) and, while supreme summer sippers, I’m also recommending them to friends for pairing with the upcoming holiday dishes.

Now we’ll see if the trend has any legs and continues on to become a sustained segment.

On 10/10, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

The surge in Moscato sales at my small store in Virginia is being fueled by The Olive Garden restaurant chain. It is being sampled by Olive Gardens and really appeals to a lot of their customers who then come looking for something similar.

On 10/10, Tim Hanni wrote:

Most people are unaware of a few bits of historical trivia about sweet wines before WWII:

-sweet wines were almost always more sought after and expensive than dry wines; in France, UK AND the US. An estate Rheingau or Mosel Spatlese was more expensive than Lafite Rothschild and often even Romanee Conti. AND they were served as table wines.

-Great vintages of Montrachet were botrytis dessert wines by today’s standards.

-Y’quem and other very sweet wines were table wines and served along side of the Lafite, Romanee and Hermitage “as the guest prefers” to quote Larousse Gastronomique.

-The AVERAGE dosage for ‘dry’ Champagne left a residual sugar about twice as sweet as white Zinfandel; 6% or so and perfect with oysters or the whole meal.

-In France Port is served as an apertif, even vintage Port. Not as a dessert wine.

-The popular Kir in France has a very similar flavor profile to white Zin.

-Wine consumption in both France and Italy has declined well over 50% in the past 50 years and this corresponds with the emergence of primarily dry wines (along with many social initiatives around alcoholism).

-Research is proving sweet wines drinkers have the greatest degree of sensory sensativity (more to follow on this front this week).

On 10/11, Tai-Ran Niew wrote:

Focusing on sweetness is completely misleading!!  The key issue is whether there is enough acidity to balance the sweetness.  d’Yquem and good German Riesling are incredibly acidic.  White Zin?  Not so much ....

The problem is that a lot of “Table Wine” producers are catching this trend, and just focusing on sugar.  When the consumer, if given a chance,  might prefer something more balanced.

On 10/11, Isaaks of Salem wrote:

Sweet wines are making a come-back because of the Olive Garden and other restaurants throwing in the desert wine as a freebie or a add-on service for very low (relative to a full WBTG service) cost.

My mom (not a wine drinker) has been turned onto muscato, and she looks for muscato everywhere because of the tastes she gets at her favorite restaurant. 

However, the ‘we’ you refer to, the so-called enthusiasts have been trained to say “Oh, I don’t like sweet wine” because they know from there education that sweet wine is inferior and cheap.  So they (the we) stay away from it at all costs.  I have experienced this many times as I have had people sample our new honey-wine.  If we didn’t have a bone-dry option enthusiasts, wouldn’t even touch the samples.

I think nationally we are absolutely seeing a trend from the bottom of the market, but I am not sure it will extend to the enthusiasts crowd.

On 10/11, Tim Hanni wrote:

“I think nationally we are absolutely seeing a trend from the bottom of the market, but I am not sure it will extend to the enthusiasts crowd.”

Agreed that this trend will not extend too deeply into the ‘enthusiasts crowd’ (but you may be surprised). I think what we are going to see is a NEW crowd of enthusiasts who like sweet wines, and not on the standards of the dry wine crowd, like ‘incredibly acidic’.

Here is a sneak peek at a story from Lissa Doumani, one of the hyper-sensitive phenotypes. Tai Ran - sounds like you Mom and given the right wines she is indeed a wine drinker:

Lissa Doumani is representative of the millions of hyper-sensitive wine
drinkers in the world and does not fit the stereotype of a “wimpy” consumer
in any way, shape or form. Lissa, daughter of iconic vintner Carl Doumani,
grew up in the heart of the Napa Valley surrounded by vines at a winery that
was famous for intense red wines. Lissa became a pastry chef by trade (not
unusual for a highly sensitive taster) and now she and her husband Hiro are
proprietors of two Michelin-starred California restaurants; Terra in St.
Helena and Ame in San Francisco.

During a dinner at a world famous high-end restaurant she turned to her
table mate Tim Hanni MW, co-author of this study and a recognized authority
on wine and food, and asked him to order a wine that she might like better
than the ones pre-selected by the restaurant. The highly rated, high-alcohol
wines that had been chosen by the wine experts to accompany the meal tasted
unpleasantly overpowering and even burned her hyper-sensitive palate.

What ensued is the bane of the vast majority of consumers who prefer light
intensity and even sweet wines. Hanni’s request for a recommendation of a
“light, delicate wine” was met with the embarrassing retort, “if you knew
anything about wine and food you would know that these are the appropriate
wine for each dish.”

Says Hanni, “This is not an indictment for well-intentioned wine
professionals. It is indicative of our lack of understanding how vastly
different our sensory physiology can be from one person to the next.”

On 10/11, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Thanks for the comments.

Tim - as always, appreciate your insights.  Prevailing wisdom is hard to overcome and I appreciate you fighting the good fight.

The observations about Olive Garden are very interesting to me.  I thought about including a mention of Olive Garden because my Mom’s gateway wine was a Moscato d’Asti that she tried at an italian joint and I think she’s in good company with that, as well.

Thanks again, all -


On 10/12, Randy wrote:

As a 100% dtc winery, we do offer two dessert wines and I can tell you, they fly out the door.  In a retail environment, “stickies” (as our Aussie counterparts say) tasting room clients respond extremely well to sweet wine.  If I said 25% of my gross rev came from desserts, that would not be over estimating…

On 03/25, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Grape is one of the major part of wine.
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On 03/23, press release writing services wrote:

I’m not really sure how some of these things happen. Everything will be right with the world and then for no reason, from out of left field, seemingly with no warning, we are face to face with a…wine trend!! Explaining the Pinot Noir craze of a few years ago is easy—the movie “Sideways.” We tried to get our guests to try Pinot Noir for years, without much luck, but Hollywood makes one anti-Merlot, pro-Pinot movie and the world pulls up their Merlot vines to plant Pinot Noir.

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On 04/12, MBA essay editing wrote:

Moscato is hardly new; it is grown in most all of the major and minor wine making countries in the world. From the Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumantes of Italy, Moscatel in Spain, Beames de Venise in France and the sweet wines of the Rutherglen region of Australia—just to name a few—this world renowned grape is deserving of much more respect than it seems to receive from the wine drinking public at large.

On 10/16, professional it resume wrote:

Its not the case that clairvoyant have to be absolutely agreed with author’s angle about article. So this is what happened with me, anyways its a acceptable effort, I acknowledge it.

On 03/27, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

I must admit that I am a wine enthusiast and it is my passion to serve a glass of fine wine in every country I get to visit. I am lucky that my work takes me to foreign countries and I was fortunate enough to go to France too. It’s there where I tasted a delicious sweet wine made by the owners of the villas in France where I stayed for a week. It was a mature and flavored wine with a distinguished flavor. I got a couple of bottle back home for my collection and I plan on opening one of them on a special occasion.

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