As hip-hop culture matures, its taste in liquor continues to evolve. In the past, malt liquor, cognac and champagne were among the drinks of choice. But today, wines like Merlot, Moscato and Chardonnay are emerging as favorites of rappers like Maino, Waka Flocka Flame and, of course, Drake.

“[Wine is] differ- ent from drinking vodka and drinking Hennessy, where sometimes you drink too much of that and you’re out of control,” says veteran MC Sadat X, who hosts the You- Tube series “True Wine Connoisseurs.” “It gives you a nice buzz, but a good buzz—something you can control.”

Despite the head of Cristal, Frédéric Rouzaud, infamously dismissing urban audiences’ affinity for its brand back in 2006, others in the vino industry have welcomed hip-hop’s newfound interest. “The wine community embraces all types of people because they want to sell more wine,” says Becky Sue Epstein, connoisseur and author of Cham- pagne: A Global History. “They’re really happy to see people in their 20s and 30s getting into wine.”

That’s certainly the case with rappers these days, and the rate at which they are name-dropping their favorite wines is matched only by the rapid increase in sales. “In 2010, [Moscato] sales in- creased in the U.S. by 50 percent,” says Natalia Iglesias, senior brand manager at Martini, which saw a 73 percent increase in sales after releasing a new version of the sweet white wine last year.

Alcohol companies are not the only ones who see opportunity in the rapidly growing wine market. Lil Jon founded Little Jonathan Winery in 2008, and Nelly’s St. Lunatics crew has been pushing its Freaky Muscato since 2010.

Bottoms up. —Calvin Stovall