A Guide to Muscadine Wine

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EducationFruitsGrapesGrowing Magazine

To start things of, it should be said that Muscadine wines do not have the best of reputations. Why is this the case? They are one of America’s true native wine grapes. Alongside Scuppernongs, Muscadine grapes are great in an unique way, and desired for the incredible super fruit properties. Wines on the other hand, are a bit misunderstood. An expert on them, Greg Ison from Ison’s Nursery and Vineyards, said this about the weine: “It has that hill-billy-red-neck-cheap-wine-get-drunk persona.”

Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is a species of grape that is native to the Southeastern United States. There are several different cultivars of these grapes. They range in color from green to black and usually have large berries, some even reaching the size of golf balls.  About 3200 acres of these grapes are planted across the Southeastern parts of the USA, mainly in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi.

Health Properties

Muscadine grapes might as well be the most super of the super fruits. They contain super high polyphenols (antioxidants) levels, ellagic acid and resveratrol. A recent study by Neil Shay at the Oregon State University showed that ellagic acid in Muscadine wine targets conditions close to obesity, like reducing fatty liver. It is worth mentioning that ellagic acid is not present in any other wine grape.

Tasting Notes

Normally, Muscadine wines are of a sweet style, although nearly dry styles around 10 g/L RS can be found as well. If you have never tasted Muscadine, you should know that they are unlike any wine you have ever had. It is an acquired taste, and the more sensitive wine tasters may end up overwhelmed by the aromatics. The primary flavors include Ripe Banana, Bruised Apple, Lime Peel, Cranberry, and Rubber Cement.

The wines have strong aromas of ripe/brown bananas, with some subtle notes of lime, honeydew melon or cranberry, depending of course if the wine is white or red. Some even give off a rubber cement smell, while others offer more pine resin notes.

They have a medium body, a medium-plus acidity and intense flavors of banana or rubber cement, as well as subtle notes of peony, lime, peony, honeysuckle (whites) or strawberry and cranberry (reds). The astringency is present at the middle to back of the taste and feels subtly around the sides of your mouth. The finish is medium long, with saline and pinecone, or rubber cement and sweetish dried fruit notes.

When it comes to aging, the wines oxidize easily and should be drunk young. They are served and stored chilled, both whites and reds, while the quality is not that high, due to the limited production in the South.

Facts about Muscadine:

The vine can grow upwards of 35 feet a year with up to 90 lbs. of grapes.

One of the oldest vines in the world is a Scuppernong, planted around 1584, in Manteo on Roanoke Island.

They grow well in Zones 7–10, places without much frost.

The grapes ripen independently and have to be hand harvested between August and October.

Sweetness in ripe grapes is much lower than Vitis vinifera, between 10–15 Brix versus 20+, while the wines are usually chaptalized to grow to 10% ABV.

Muscadine varieties that are known in the winemaking business and tradition include Scuppernong, Ison, Carlos, Higgins and Noble.

Conclusion

Muscadines are a rather fascinating native species of grapes to the continent of North America. They have only just begun to be understood and considered as a potential wine grape. The grapes are not a high value crop. A ton sells for only $300–$400, while a ton of Pinot Noir costs more than $2000. It is then of course hard to justify the development and research to craft a new identity of Muscadine. However, the people are trying.

For example, one way to go is, instead of adding sugar to the fermentation process to create a sweet wine, the crafters may adopt lower sugar levels through the experimentation with kombucha. The grapes have a lot of potential, and wine lovers and tasters worldwide are looking forward to a potential breakthrough in the production and nurturing of these interesting and amazing wine grapes.  

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