A Moscato d’Asti Trend Bubbling Up

Trends have a habit of being cyclical. Have you seen the ’80s styles of clothing making a comeback, especially for women? The animal patterns, leg warmers and even the oversized sunglasses are back in style.

Wine does follow fashion, to a certain extent. And there are particular fashions in wine that have reappeared after many years. They may not be exactly alike, but the undercurrents are strikingly similar.

In the 1970s the rage in the wine business was White Zinfandel. This grapey, slightly sweet, rose of a wine made a huge splash. The strawberry, floral accents in the wine are undeniable. Well-chilled, it could be mistaken for a fruit punch. It took drinkers from the sweet “hard” stuff to something that was a little more “classy.” It was an easy bridge to build for wine producers for those who liked wine coolers, too. There was an abundance of Zinfandel planted in the day, making it fairly affordable for a generation aspiring to be wine drinkers.

This graduation, or perhaps better described as transition of drinkers to wine drinkers, is exactly what the wine business needed to build a larger customer base. This trend is now repeating itself through a tough economic recession, where disposable income levels have thinned and where the newest generation of wine neophytes is finding it hard to spend too much to be adventurous with their vinous choices. The newest wine to take over White Zinfandel’s role is Moscato d’Asti.

Moscato d’Asti is a low alcohol (5-7 percent ABV) wine made from Muscat grapes, made most famously and with the highest quality in Piedmont, Italy, in and around the town of Asti. It is lightly sparkling; Italians call it frizzante – think of soda water rather than Champagne. It is invariably sweet; some are sweeter than others. I think of it as a cross between Sprite and white grape juice, only better. At its best, it is wildly refreshing, zesty, light and fun. At the lower spectrum it is cloying, flat and bitter, like a cold pancake.

Its popularity has exploded within the past three years and it shows no sign of slowing. It has given rise to other rose and red iterations, too. And they are fairly inexpensive. I do hope that those introduced to wine with Moscato d’Asti will matriculate to dryer wines, those with complexity and more sense of place. And if they don’t, no worries.

Another trend that has resurfaced is the red blend. Blending grape varieties is really an ancient practice. There were practical field blends like Chateauneuf du Pape to purposeful blending (as in Bordeaux) in order to create more complex wines, as well as fortuitous partnerships to make wine darker and more appealing (Cote Rotie). But today it seems that there is the ubiquitous red blend from a winery that has no varietal name on the label, but rather has some fanciful (or not) proprietary name like Red Blend 1, or Meritage, etc.

They span all price levels, but their similar purpose is to find a niche or style of wine that they can make without having to mention the exact blend or name of any grape on the label. There is no exact style or typical character associated with this genre. It is a free flow of blends from Cabernet with Zinfandel to Pinot Noir with Syrah. In the end I hope that wine drinkers do find something they like in this category as it is one that continues to grow.

So you don’t have to bust out your angel flight pants or get the hairspray out for the big hairdo just yet. But if you pull out the bell bottoms, you should skip the Moscato d’Asti and go all the way with a bottle of White Zinfandel.

Recommendations: 2010 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier ($12) This is an unlikely but delicious blend. Viognier gives this wine a gorgeous floral, tropical scent and rounded texture, and Chenin Blanc lends its bright acidity and citrus balance. It is a beautiful foil for fresh seafood and salads. 2010 Viticoltori Alto Adige Pinot Grigio ($15) It’s rare that I recommend two whites, and I’m not even a very big fan of Pinot Grigio. This one really got my attention. It has intensity, minerality and flavor depth unlike 99 percent of the other Pinot Grigios around. Sweet citrus, wet stone and a piercing flavor really make this wine a winner.