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Never heard of muscadine? You’re not alone. Although this unique grape plays a solid role in American viticulture, many industry professionals and consumers alike are unfamiliar with it or have come to look down on this one-of-a-kind wine. Native to the Southeastern United States, muscadine produces wines all over the color and flavor-profile spectrum. Known for its thick skins, high levels of antioxidants, and small quantities of distinctive wines, this incomparable grape is absolutely worth a try.
Muscadine wine is a style produced in various colors and sweetness levels from muscadine grapes. Contrary to the oblong shape in which most grapes grow, muscadine berries are large and round and range from green to black in color. (Note that scuppernong is a green-skinned variety of muscadine and the most commonly found version of the grape. It takes its name from the Scuppernong River in the grape’s native North Carolina.)
Muscadine is unique in the sense that it’s considered to be a “superfruit” due to its high levels of polyphenols and ellagic acid, the latter of which no other wine grapes produce. This is a result of the grapes’ very thick skins, which also make them highly resistant to disease and rot. However, the drawback to these thick skins is the need for winemakers to frequently chaptalize (add sugar to) muscadine juice to allow them to reach desired drinkability. Muscadine is also resistant to phylloxera, a pest that attacks grapevine roots and wiped out millions of acres of vineyards in Europe and elsewhere in the 19th century.
Unlike the majority of the wine world’s well-known grapes (which are vitis vinifera), muscadine falls under the species of vitis rotundifolia. The grape finds its roots in North Carolina, and today it’s predominantly cultivated in the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.
Muscadine is vinified in a variety of styles, and its final flavor profile depends on whether it’s vinified dry or sweet. Most winemakers tend to vinify the wines in a sweeter style, and it’s often chaptalized to reach an ABV level around 10%. Dry expressions do exist, however. The wines are characterized by powerful aromatics, as well as flavors of bananas, yellow apples, citrus rind, rubber and tart red fruits in the wine’s red versions. Both the white and red expressions are best enjoyed young and with a slight chill.
It’s also easily confused with another grape that can be vinified either sweet or dry. Although the names sound similar, muscadine is a completely separate grape from moscato (muscat).
To do as Southerners do, sip your muscadine very chilled with classic comfort food, including (but not limited to) ribs, potato salad and other barbecue favorites. Sweeter expressions are perfect for serving alongside pies, cobblers, tartlets and other fruit-based desserts.
These are the six bottles to try.
Duplin Carolina Red Sweet
This sweet red muscadine from one of North Carolina’s most popular wineries is produced from late-harvested muscadine grapes and jumps with bright flavors of blackberry jam, freshly picked grapes and strawberry, which lead to a cotton-candy-tinged finish. Although muscadine wine can be hard to find, Duplin’s bottles are generally readily available. Give this one a go.