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The Grapes of Rap

Hip-hop’s new love for Moscato is a boon for one kosher winemaker. And the grape itself couldn’t be more Jewish.

Liel Leibovitz
May 23, 2012

Waka Flocka Flame knows the way to a woman’s heart.

“Girl,” he rapped in “No Hands,” his hit single, “the way you movin’ got me in a trance/ DJ turn me up ladies this yo jam/ Imma sip Moscato and you gonna lose them pants.”

As those following the tremors of hip-hop’s acquisitive passions have recently noted, Moscato, a sweet white wine, has replaced Cristal champagne as the conspicuous consumption beverage du jour. Drake has both rapped about the wine and was photographed at his birthday party last year posing with a bottle of the stuff. Lil’ Kim and Kanye West are fans. With such celebrated advocates, sales have skyrocketed: According to Nielsen data, Moscato sales rose more than 70 percent in 2011, stopping at the $300 million mark, and Wine Market Council, an industry research group, estimated that even if sales in 2012 decrease by half, Moscato would still replace Sauvignon Blanc and White Zinfandel to become America’s sixth most popular varietal.

Sales, however, are showing no sign of slowing down. With summer fast approaching, said David Levy, marketing manager of Royal Wine—a New York-based manufacturer, importer, and distributor of kosher wines—Moscato is likely to be even more in demand. “It’s got a lot of fruit to it,” said Levy, “it’s got a lot of sweetness to it, it’s a great wine for barbecues. We’re excited.”

As well they should be: Royal Wine imports Moscato made by Italian kosher winemaker Bartenura, the market’s leading premium imported brand. Bartenura now has thousands of followers on Twitter, and sales, Levy said, are “outperforming” expectations. According to some reports, it’s expected to sell more than 400,000 cases this year, a record number for a kosher wine. The number is even more significant as most of those newcomers who seek out Bartenura’s easily recognizable blue bottle have no idea the winery is named after a 15th-century Italian scholar of the Mishnah.

But the connection between Moscato and Jews is far less tenuous than it may at first seem. Moscato, most wine historians agree, is among the world’s most ancient surviving varietals, if not the oldest one. It is believed to be native to Greece, although it is also feasible that the wine originated from the Persian Gulf—modern-day Oman, for example, was previously known as the Sultanate of Muscat.

Whatever its origin, the grape traveled to Europe with the returning Roman armies and took to Italian soil extremely well. From there, it migrated to Spain and to France’s Alsace. By the 1100s, it popped up in Germany, and the 19th century introduced it to Australia. It thrived everywhere it landed, mainly due to its remarkable diversity: There are more than 200 different varieties of the Moscato grape, some white and others dark brown, some dry and others sickly sweet.

Differences aside, the variations are still sufficiently similar as to be susceptible to the same diseases, and Moscatos repeatedly suffer from coulure, a disease that prevents the grapevine flowers from pollinating, as well as from other afflictions. And yet, all ills aside, the grape perseveres.

Highly adaptable, present all over the world thanks to an exile orchestrated by the Romans, comes in many colors and flavors, sensitive to special genetic conditions, and increasingly visible in American hip-hop culture: Could Moscato be any more thoroughly Jewish?

To celebrate the season, and its unlikely appetite for a wine that previously decorated mostly Shabbat and Seder tables, above, courtesy of Bartenura, is a recipe for the Bartini, a simple cocktail that cuts down the sweetness of the traditional wine with some crisp and strong liquor, not a bad metaphor, that is, for the rapidly assimilating Jew.


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Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

The Bartini Cocktail

The Bartini

2 parts Bartenura Moscato
1 part citrus vodka

Combine ingredients, over ice, in a shaker. Shake well. Strain
into martini glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon zest.

The Recipe

The Bartini Cocktail

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.