Moscato d'Asti pops its cork – with hip-hop help

Sales soar of the sparkling wine that's the toast of rapper royalty

Paolo Saracco, a 47-year-old vintner harvesting moscato grapes in Asti, northern Italy, may have little in common on first appearance with the bling lifestyles of Kanye West, Lil' Kim and Kendrick Lamar. The only sampling he is familiar with is that of the annual wine harvest.

But Mr Saracco is the toast of the US rappers who sip his Saracco Moscato d'Asti at parties and name- check it in their lyrics. Indeed, the hip hoppers' vocal endorsement is credited as being one of the reasons why producers are popping their corks at the growing popularity of the sparkling wine. Wine experts say the Moscato d'Asti had a record-breaking year in 2010, selling 19 million bottles worldwide, an annual increase of 38 per cent. Since Kanye West's mention of the wine in the song "Make Her Feel Good", sales have been spiralling upwards.

Mr Saracco, a fourth-generation winemaker, is experiencing unprecedented demand for his vintage worldwide. It is sold at top London eateries including two-star Michelin restaurant L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Chez Bruce and Maze.

Lyrical plugs from stars such as Lil' Kim in "Lighters Up" have resulted in a similar uplift for wines made from the moscato grape, according to winemakers. Paolo Ricagno, president for the Asti Consortium, which looks after producers' interests, said: "Yields are being raised to cope with increased demand."

Such is the demand that market research company Nielsen has described the moscato grape as a "speeding bullet". In the US, sales have risen 93 per cent over the past year and the UK looks set to follow suit. With bottles from around £7, UK wine merchants say sales are up by 50 per cent in the past year.

Danny Brager, vice-president of Nielsen, said: "It's a favourite among the millennial generation, and has been described as a 'gateway' wine for first-time drinkers. It is part of a trend towards sweeter wines, is generally very affordably priced and is finding its way on to restaurant menus. Hip-hop artist associations have uncorked the wine to everyone."

Moscato d'Asti is, like champagne, from a controlled dominion of origin. Made from muscat blanc grapes grown exclusively in Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo, it proudly traces its heritage back to Roman times when it was called Moscatellum. The alcohol content remains low, typically at 5 per cent. Non-fizzy varieties of the wine come from Italy, Australia and Israel.

Tesco added three extra wines to its non-sparkling moscato range last week. "As more consumers are looking for lighter, more aromatic wines, they are turning to fresh, grapey moscato," said Laura Jewell, Tesco's senior wine product development manager.

In Asti, Phil and Ingrid Bales produce some 9,000 bottles of Moscato d'Asti each year. They have seen a 40 to 50 per cent rise in demand from their clients in the UK. Mrs Bales said: "The fact that it's a low-alcohol wine appeals to our customers. People in the UK are also beginning to understand the idea of pairing wine with food. The Italians have always drunk it by the bucket load, pairing it with amaretto biscuits and peaches."

Mr Saracco believes the rise in popularity is down to "the aromatic grapes, the limestone-rich, chalky soil and the microclimate around Asti, which are the fundamental secret of my wine". He appreciates the endorsement from Kanye West. "I am very curious to meet him," he said. "I would like to drink a glass of wine with him and listen to this song."

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