New trends in California: Moscato and Primitivo

White Zinfandel is dead. Long live Moscato!

It is ubiquitous, and uniformly awful. It tends to have the aroma, sweetness and complexity of a bag of penny sweets that has been sitting in the sun. So I for one am pleased to hear that White Zinfandel is finally falling out of fashion in California. “That’s what my mom used to drink when she was young” was one comment. Now, younger drinkers looking for something easy drinking with a bit of sweetness seem to be turning towards Moscato.

It is being vinified in a number of different ways: from medium sweet to dry, varietal and blended, sparkling and still. What they all have in common is the floral, grapey aroma from the Moscato or Muscat grape. I tried a couple, and both were very different.


Ravenswood Sparkling Moscato 2009
Muscat à Petit Grains grape from Sonoma, USA
£13.00 from Ravenswood

Medium sweet with just about enough acidity to keep it in balance. Grapey, with assertive turkish delight and floral aromas. A touch of fizz and the low alcohol adds to the refreshing aspect of the wine. “A party in a glass” they say. Not one you would want to stay at for that long to be honest, but fun while it lasts. 83 points.

Available ‘White Wine’ 2010 12.5%
A blend of 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 80% Muscat from California £8.50 at ACME Wines, St Helena

An off-dry version, with purity and length of flavour. An altogether more serious wine compared to the Ravenswood, with enough Sauvignon Blanc to give it interest but not to overwhelm the more delicate, perfumed Moscato aromas. 86 points.


I was told that the real reason Californian White Zinfandel came into existence was to try to save money after a disastrous crop of red Zinfandel one year. Failing to get enough colour out of this thin-skinned variety, a sweet rosé was the result. The unnamed winery must have had an ace salesman, as they still managed to find a market for this failed vintage. Others saw their success, and replicated it. And thus a monster was unleashed.

Great Muscats have been made for centuries, particularly in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and it is a versatile grape that is capable of really delicious and attractive wine. Hopefully this trend will soon be exported to the UK, and White Zin will be relegated to the spittoon of history.


Primitivo. Not Zinfandel.

It has long been accepted knowledge that Zinfandel is none other than the Italian red grape Primitivo under a different name. But it turns out things aren’t quite as simple as that. Although essentially the same variety (they are in fact different clones of the same variety) they produce wines that are quite different. Zinfandel typically produces intense, full-bodied wines that are packed with black fruits with a hint of peppery spice. When grown in California, Primitivo tends to produce wines that are spicy and not quite as intense as Zinfandels. Although Zinfandel is by far the more popular version, there are some producers growing and bottling varietal Primitivo.


Uvaggio Primitivo 2009
Primitivo grape from Lodi, California
£11.20 from The Wine Garage, Calistoga

Medium purpley-red, faintly spicy strawberry fruit on the nose. Only just medium-bodied, this has a good medium to high level of acidity making it relatively light and fresh. Low to medium tannins. Medium length and with a dry, liquoricey savoury finish, but a little jolt of sweetness during the taste. To compare with a typical Italian Primitivo, it is less full-bodied, less tannic and a little less dry. Perhaps more adapted to food than a typical Californian Zinfandel? I’ll be trying more on the strength of this example. 87 points.