Ever…drank muscadine wine? Just give me a chance to change your mind. So before you go and fly away girl, Let me show you ’round a country boy’s world.
–Jason Aldean, “Country Boy’s World”.
Moving back home to Alabama means I am closer to the source of a Southern favorite tipple—muscadine wine. I used to lug bottles back to NYC with me, and now I can just drive a few miles from my new home to find a winery on the Alabama Wine Trail to stock up on this delectable treat. While Alabama boasts over a dozen wineries and even a town named Muscadine, these wild grapes flourish in many Southern states.
In its native warm and humid climate; Vitis rotundifolia—muscadine’s fancy name–boasts about 300 cultivars. You’ll hear grape types with names like Carlos, Magnolia, and Noble. These grapes thrive on summer heat, requiring fewer chilling hours than most Vitis vinifera European varietals. While Vitis vinifera grapes are considered a better base for quality table wine, muscadines are one of the grape species most resistant to phylloxera, a pesky invader known to destroy Vitis vinifera vines.
Although dry versions exist, you’ll typically find lush dessert-style versions of muscadine wine to enjoy. Southerners tend to love sugary sodas, calling everything that’s carbonated “Coke,” and tend to gulp down syrupy sweet tea like it ain’t nobody’s business. If you want to go out of business in the South, refuse to serve sweet tea in your restaurant. Once you understand this thirst for sweetness, you can better understand the fascination with muscadine wine.
The thick-skinned grapes are said to be higher in antioxidants than other grapes since resveratrol supposedly resides even more in thicker skins. The skin is so thick that I often just bite a hole in the skin and suck out the pulp inside, tossing the skins in the compost. Their toughness is not so easy to chew.
Muscadines come in a variety of colors from green, bronze, to almost black. The term “scuppernong” refers to a large bronze type of muscadine originally grown in the Carolinas. If you have ever driven the bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island, guess what? Giovanni de Verrazzano, who the bridge is named after, was the first to mention the scuppernong as a grape in his 1524 logbook. Muscadines have been used for making wines dating back that far.
The oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is the 400 year old scuppernong called “Mother Vine” growing on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. North Carolina is proud of that history, naming the scuppernong the official state fruit. Other states where it flourishes include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
While wine snobs may scoff at the thought of enjoying a glass of muscadine wine, with such a storied past, the grape is a part of our culture, like it or not. If you have a groovy Granny like mine, invite her to sit a spell in a front porch swing and sip a few while you learn a few life lessons from her stories.
Front Porch Cooler
Fill wine glass with ice and top with equal parts wine and Mexican Sprite or other lemon/lime soda made with real sugar.
A few to try:
Located in Anniston, Alabama, Southern Oak Wines produces a sparkling muscadine wine which is a not a common find since most versions are still.
Wills Creek Vineyards, located in Duck Springs, Alabama. They offer sweet red and white muscadine wines grown from their own grapes. Many wineries just buy fruit from local farmers. They even offer free classes once a month and sell kits to help folks explore home winemaking.
In Natchez, Mississippi, Old South Winery sells more White Zinfandel-like wine called Miss Scarlett than anything else, but they also make a dry white simply called Carlos after the type of muscadine and a dry red called Dry Noble. All their wines see no barrel aging so all you get is true muscadine flavor.
Located in the Red Hills bioregion of north central Florida, Monticello Vineyards & Winery is housed at Ladybird Organics, a USDA certified organic farm growing 18 varieties of muscadine. Their top white wine is made from the Magnolia cultivar.