While most wine is made from Vitis vinifera wine grapes, Muscadine (musk-a-dyne) wine is made from a different variety of thick-skinned grapes. The grapes used in Muscadine wine are native to the United States, unlike the other wine grapes which trace their ancestry back to Europe.
Grapes Used in Muscadine
The grapes used in Muscadine come from the subgenus of Vitis called Muscadinia, also known as Vitis rotundifolia. The grapes originally grew wild but have been cultivated in the Southeastern US since the 17th Century, and they grow well in the warm, humid environment found throughout the South. Unlike other types of wine grapes, Muscadine grapes ripen separately as opposed to in clusters, so they are harvested from August to late October. There are both light-skinned (bronze) and dark-skinned (black) varieties of the grape. The first named variety was a bronze grape called Scuppernong. Varieties used for wine or juice include:
- Carlos - the bronze-skinned variety most frequently used in whites
- Doreen - a bronze-skinned variety used in whites
- Magnolia - a bronze variety used in white wine
- Welder - another bronze variety used for whites
- Scuppernong - a bronze variety used to make dry whites
- Noble - a black -skinned variety used in red wine
- Regale - a red wine grape with unique flavors
Some varieties of Muscadine aren't used for juices and wines, but rather for eating and making jams, jellies, and preserves.
Muscadine and Muscat Are Not the Same
Many people confuse Muscadine wines with Muscat or Moscato wines, two wines made from lightly sweet, aromatic, white European grape varieties. Muscadine wines are unique and not related to these wines, despite the similarity in names.
Making Muscadine Wine
Due to the thickness of grape skins, Muscadine grapes often have difficulty reaching peak ripeness. Because of this, winemakers frequently use chaptalization in the winemaking process to increase the alcohol content of the finished wines. The thickness of the skin does make Muscadine wines relatively high in polyphenols and resveratrol, which are believed to provide wine with its unique health benefits.
What Muscadine Wines Taste Like
Because sugar is added during chaptalization to increase the alcohol content of the wine, Muscadine wines tend to be sweeter (the minimum residual sugar is about 10 grams per liter and often higher), although it is possible to make a dry wine from Muscadine grapes. The wines have moderately high acidity along with low alcohol content (about 10 percent alcohol by volume).
- White Muscadine wines tend to be amber colored and medium-bodied with floral, lime, ripe banana, and tropical flavors as well as aromatics of pine resin.
- Red Muscadine wines are also medium-bodied. They tend to be a pale red color with similar aromatics to the whites, and they have flavors of red fruits such as cranberry.
- Sometimes, Muscadine wines are blended with fruit, so they produce fruity wines with flavors of the fruit the wine is blended with.
How to Drink and Store Muscadine
Think of Muscadine as being like a Beaujolais nouveau; drink it chilled and in its youth. Because the compounds in Muscadine oxidize easily, it's not a wine made for aging.
- Serve sweet white Muscadine at about 45°F.
- Serve dry whites and reds at about 50°F.
- You should store Muscadine wines in the refrigerator.
- According to Sue at North Carolina's Duplin Winery, you should drink Muscadine within a year or two of purchasing it; if it has a vinegary smell when you open it, then the wine is past its prime.
- Drink bottles within a few days of opening.
Makers of Muscadine Wines
You can find commercially made Muscadine wines in some shops or online. Consider the following winemakers.
San Sebastian Winery
The San Sebastian Winery in St. Augustine, Florida makes traditional wines and Muscadine wines. The Vintner's Red ($12), Vintner's White ($12), Rosa ($9), and St. Augustine Lighthouse ($18) are all made from Muscadine grapes.
Located in North and South Carolina, the Duplin Winery specializes in sweet Muscadine wines. Wine varieties include reds, whites, rosés, sangria blends, American ports, sparkling wine, alcohol-free wine, and alcohol-free cider. The wines are inexpensive, most costing under $20 per bottle and available online, so it's a great way to try the many expressions of the Muscadine grape.
Florida's Lakeridge Winery makes both traditional and Muscadine wines. The Southern Red, Southern White, Sunblush, and Chablis are all semi-dry to sweet Muscadine wines that cost under $12. Purchase the wines on their website.
Stonehaus Winery in Tennessee makes some traditional wines, but they also make some fun and unusual wines as well, including Muscadine. The Muscadine and Red Muscadine both cost less than $15 per bottle and you can buy them online.
Muscadine and Scuppernong Are Uniquely Southern
If you'd like to taste how the American South does wine, then Muscadine/Scuppernong is a great place to start. A different variety of grapes creates uniquely flavored wines steeped in Southern tradition that provide you with a fun and interesting take on wine.