Muscadine Grape Variety & Wine Profile
Muscadine is a native American grapevine that comes from the Vitis rotundifolia species of grapevines. It is from the southeast and south-central United States ranging from Texas and Oklahoma down to Florida and up to the New Jersey coast. Muscadine grapes can be used to make jellies, juice, and a sweeter-style wine than what consumers usually expect from international varieties of Vitis vinifera. There are around 152 different cultivars of Muscadine that produce both red and white wines, but the most common ones you will see in commercial wines are Carlos, Noble, Scuppernong, Ison, and Higgins. Muscadine vines thrive in hot and humid climates, which has made this grape variety popular for making wine as far south as Florida.
At ripeness, Muscadine berries range in color from green to bronze, and dark purple to black. They are generally large berries that have thick, tough skin and grow in small clusters. Muscadine does well in hot and humid climates because it does not need as many overnight cooling hours as other grapevine species such as Vitis vinifera. Muscadine is also mostly disease and pest resistant. It is not susceptible to common diseases such as Pierce’s disease, nor is it susceptible to the common root louse, Phylloxera. It can have low or inconsistent yields with fruit that is not favorable to consumer tastes, which is why there are certain cultivars that are used in winemaking over others. Vines thrive in fertile sandy loam and well-drained alluvial soils, and they need to be fertilized regularly to stay productive. Many Muscadine cultivars require a pollinizer to produce fruit with the exception of Carlos and Noble, which are self-pollinating. Once planted, Muscadine crops can be started in three to five years.
Muscadine Tasting Notes
Wines made with Muscadine grapes can be red or white depending on which cultivar is used (Carlos is white, Noble is red), and they are usually on the sweeter side. White Muscadine wines can have aromas and flavors of banana, bruised apple, and honey, while red wines will be packed with red berry flavor like cranberries, strawberries, and cherries. It is suggested that both red and white Muscadine wines be served chilled, and they are to be consumed young. Some producers are experimenting with different styles of Muscadine wine. For example, winemaker, Jeanne Burgess of Lakeridge and San Sebastian Wineries in Florida makes a sparkling, Port-style, and Cream Sherry-style Muscadine wine. Wines made from Muscadine grapes have higher levels of polyphenols than other wines due to the high level of these compounds found in the skins and seeds of the berries.
Because Muscadine wines are usually on the sweeter side, they are perfect with spicier dishes, or even Southern-style smoked meats such as brisket. Consider pairing red Muscadine wines with dark chocolate, and white wines with blue cheese.
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Written By Jacqueline Coleman
Jacqueline Coleman is a professional wine + travel writer, wine judge, columnist, and consultant based in Miami, FL.