Food - The rise of Moscato d'Asti in Atlanta

Insights on the hip-hop/Moscato connection

It was inevitable. The question everyone really wanted to know, but had yet to ask, loomed in the air. Walking down the crowded streets of Alba, a small city located in the famous Piedmont region of northern Italy, during a food and wine trip, Giovanni Alessandria, who works in the export sales department of Ricossa Wines, turns and asks: "Is it true that rappers have made Moscato famous?"

The easiest answer is yes. Pretty much. Probably. Of course, people were drinking the sparkly, sweet wine before Kanye started name-dropping it in verses and Drake declared it the "$10 Cristal," but the simple truth is they weren't drinking it as much. According to the global measurement company Nielsen, sales of Moscato have tripled since 2009.

"Rappers and other musical celebrities have a cultural influence on what we do, the brands we associate with, and the products we consume," syas Lou Capitao, managing partner of Touchstone Wines, importer of Ricossa Wines, adding that Georgia has consistently been one of the top selling seven states for the wine over the past four years.

The hip-hop/Moscato connection isn't exactly a new discovery; numerous articles have been written about the impact rappers have had on sales. But in southern Italy's wine country, the rural region where more than 100 million bottles of Moscato d'Asti are produced yearly, the hip-hop link is one of great interest to locals who aren't immersed in pop culture but desire to meet the rising demands of U.S. consumers.

Sales are so significant in Georgia, namely Atlanta. Ricossa has decided to focus extensively on this market and will launch a marketing strategy this holiday season to compete with the new influx of Moscato producers. Just like in hip-hop, Atlanta dictates trends for the entire southern region.

"Atlanta is indeed an important market and a good barometer for the success of our wines throughout the South," he confirms. "At retail, the chains cross a number of states and our success with Publix in Georgia has helped us to get into Publix in the other three states."

So, while rappers like Atlanta-reared Roscoe Dash were rapping about sipping Moscato (see: his verse on Waka Flocka Flame's 2010 single "No Hands" and DJ Drama's "Oh My" in 2011) sales in the city, specifically on the south side, were skyrocketing. Sales in Georgia have risen every year since Ricossa Moscato d'Asti was first introduced in 2009.

"In South Atlanta we have quite a nice following," Capitao says, and although no specific numbers are mentioned, he pinpoints the area as one of particular interest for Ricossa.

So what's the appeal? Capitao hones in on three key factors: the sweet taste appeals to non-wine drinkers, who somewhat surprisingly makes up 88 percent of the United States, according to Wine Market Council Data; the large black population in Atlanta tends to favor sweeter products and finds the wine to be a cheap luxury; and finally, older people like that Moscato — at 5.5 percent ABV — doesn't have the burning taste of hard liquor.

Roscoe Dash backs up his assessment, saying he first tried Moscato a couple of years ago while on tour. "I thought it was elegant," the 22-year-old chuckles. "It made me feel more mature and it's more relaxing than drinking beer or liquor. I got hooked for a week or two." So hooked that he couldn't resist name-dropping it in verse after verse.

"I would say that rappers have a big influence on sales, the way they do with anything else," Dash says. "People want to be like their favorite rapper. I don't know how many drink it, but they mention it."

But the young rapper says he knows for sure who does drink it — women. That's partly what kept him interested in it, in spite of the fact that it's not exactly considered a masculine wine.

"Every person who is grown up and trying to make that transition should definitely incorporate some wine in there somewhere," Dash says, admitting that although his parents always had red in the house, he still hasn't acquired a taste for anything beyond Moscato. "Women, they love wine. Guys have to get on their wine game. It may sound shallow but it's true."

Whatever the reason for the increased Moscato sales, Capitao is happy that Piedmont wines are back on the map. Ricossa is also interested in increasing awareness of its other labels: Casorzo, a sweet, sparkling red often referred to as Moscato's "sister" will be packaged with Moscato this holiday; Barbera d'Asti, which Capitao says can be found at Ray's in the City Seafood House, Six Feet Under, Amalfi, and Pricci; and Gavi, a white "discovery" wine that, so far, is popular mostly in Italian restaurants.

"The important thing is that Moscato d'Asti is raising trade awareness for Piedmont wines," he says, "and as such, reintroducing these long-established Piedmont wines to U.S. consumers."

And for winemakers all the way in Italy, why not capitalize on rappers with a penchant for the sweet stuff? Largely thanks to hip-hop, companies like Ricossa have gained access to a new and enthusiastic demographic here in the heart of the South.

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