Whether you love it, hate it or have never tried it, you’re sure to have heard of Muscadine wine. Despite the fact that vineyards up and down the country are producing world-class wines of many different grape varieties, the United States is not necessarily known for its native grapes. Instead of being the pride of the nation, Muscadine can get a bad rap for its unusual flavor, an acquired taste for sure, and as it is the black sheep of the wine world. But we think that with the right understanding and awareness, there’s a lot to love about Muscadine.
Muscadine Wine Explained
Not found anywhere else in the world, Muscadine is one of North America’s true native wine grapes. There are several characteristics of the Muscadine grape that make it unique, and its superfruit properties are certainly one of its best qualities. With super high levels of antioxidants and ellagic acid, studied of Muscadine have shown that it can be effective at targeting illnesses, particularly those related to obesity such as fatty liver. Ellagic acid is not found in any other wine grape, making this variety particularly sought after for its health benefits.
Even to the eye, the Muscadine grape appears notably different to other wine varieties. The colossal vines can grow up to 100 feet in a single year, and the supersize berries can grow to the size of golf balls, quite unlike the dainty grapes we associate with European vineyards. The reason for this is because Muscadine truly is different: it is commonly believed that only Vitis Vinifera grapes are used to produce wine but Muscadine is the exception to the rule. These Vitis Rotundifola grapes are indeed also used to produce wine, albeit wine with fairly stark contrasts to other bottles.
Muscadine wine grapes are also known for their incredibly thick skins, which on the one hand make them highly resistant to pests and diseases, but on the other hand, also make them much more difficult to ferment. The natural bitter taste from these skins is one of the reasons that sugar is often added to the production process, creating a wine that is almost always sweet, although some almost-dry varieties can occasionally be found.
Did You Know? Muscadine Facts:
- Although Muscadine grapes are not a high-value crop, one single vine can produce up to 90lbs of grapes per year, making them incredibly efficient.
- This grape variety has been extensively cultivated since the 16th century when exploring the Carolinas for the first time, colonists are said to have been taken aback by the huge swathes of these grapes, noting that the vineyards were “so full of grapes, as the very beating and surge of the Sea overflowed them… in all the world the like abundance is not to be found.”
- Due to their incredible size, these grapes can be eaten raw. This can be compared to eating a plum, however, the taste is much more acquired. The extra thick skins are often punctured, allowing you to suck out the grape’s flesh, and then tossed aside when finished.
- The large, bronze type of Muscadine grapes, which are used to make dry variants of this wine, also known as “Scuppernong”.
Muscadine Wine Taste Profile
Muscadine wine is almost always sweet, in fact, it is so sweet that it can almost be considered a dessert wine. This is due to high levels of additional sugar being added during production. It is said that the extra thick skins of most Muscadine grapes create a natural wine which is almost unpalatable to drink but is substantially improved with the addition of sugar.
With strong flavors and aromatics, Muscadine can be slightly overwhelming if you’re trying it for the first time, but it is an acquired taste with many devoted fans up and down the country, not just in the south.
Muscadine grapes can be used to produce medium-bodied both red and white wine, with relatively high acidity and low alcohol levels. Muscadine continues to break the typical wine norms and customs, as both red and white variants of this wine are best when stored and served chilled. They are also best enjoyed when the bottle is still young, as they oxidize easily, resulting in loss of flavor, color, and aroma.
The primary flavors are strong fruits, including ripe banana, bruised apple, lime, honeydew, cranberry and in certain varieties, rubber cement.
Muscadine Food Pairings
As this wine is native to, and widely consumed in the Southeast, it would almost be rude not try it served up with some of the great tastes that the south is known for. We recommend smoked pork ribs, beef brisket, and any other slow cooked BBQ favorites.
Due to the sweetness, Muscadine also pairs very well with spicy food, so consider opening a bottle to enjoy with spicy Thai dishes, fiery chicken wings or hot nachos.
You won’t be alone, however, if you choose to enjoy the strong flavors and sweetness of this wine all by itself. If you prefer wine over cheesecake then Muscadine won’t disappoint.
Muscadine Growing Environment
This unique and characterful wine is grown almost exclusively in the Southeast of the United States. Growing regions can be found in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Unlike its European cousins, this grape variety thrives in extra warm, humid climates that can be too intense for many other grapes. One of the reasons that this grape is so well suited to these conditions is thanks to its, particularly thick skin. With this layer of protection, Muscadine vines are highly resistant to rot and mildew, as well as many other pests and diseases which can be known to wipe out entire crops. One example is Phylloxera, an insect which kills the roots of grapevines but has little to no effect on Muscadine varieties.
On the ground, Muscadine prefers to grow in fertile sandy loam, a type of soil which has high levels of sand, silt, and clay. Muscadine also thrives in alluvial soil, which occurs following the deposition of sediment over many years, brought to the area from various rivers.
With its unique character and Southern charm, there are multiple reasons that preconceptions and pretense should be disregarded when it comes to Muscadine, and in the spirit of patriotism, we should embrace Muscadine as an all-American wine and enjoy everything it has to offer.