Muscadine Wines: Understanding These Sweet Southern Vintages

By Pollinator, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18389772

Muscadine wines are misunderstood. They certainly aren’t the most popular wines, but they are uniquely amazing and worth a try.

Muscadine, not to be confused with Muscat or Moscato, is native to the Southeastern United States. The grape’s winemaking history can be traced back to the sixteenth century near St. Augustine, Florida. 

Muscadine grapes thrive in warm, humid climates where typical wine grapes would literally wither on the vine. Familiar wine grapes — such as Chardonnay, Cabernet or Merlot — need cold winters and cool nights, and are too thin-skinned to tolerate heat and humidity.

The thick skin of the Muscadine grape allows it to be virtually disease resistant. In fact, the skins are so thick, they are difficult to chew. Sometimes, in order to eat them, you need to puncture the skin to suck out the flesh inside.

Ripe Muscadine grapes can grow to be as large as golf balls. Their immense size requires them to be hand-harvested, and a single vine is capable of producing 100 pounds of grapes at a time. Compare that to regular wine grapes, which at most produce 10 pounds per vine.

The grapes range in color from green to black, and can produce both white and red wines. Although dry versions exist, you’ll typically find Muscadine wines to be on the sweeter side. If you are a wine drinker who has never tasted Muscadine, prepare yourself for a completely different experience. They are incredibly aromatic, and have an intense mixture of banana, lime peel and cranberry flavors. Muscadine wines are not meant to age and should be drunk within a year. Otherwise, they can oxidize and turn brown.

A North Carolina Scuppernog: By Southern Foodways Alliance – Flickr: mothervine, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12721464

Scuppernong, a Muscadine cultivar with a bronze hue, was selected from the wilds along the Scuppernong River in North Carolina and planted on Roanoke Island. This “mother vine” was planted several hundred years ago and is still producing. Until the latter half of the twentieth century, Scuppernong was the most popular Muscadine cultivar.

In fact, it was so popular that many people call all bronze cultivars Scuppernongs. Other Muscadine wine grapes include Magnolia, Carlos, Noble and Doreen. Aside from Scuppernong, Noble is probably the most popular variety of Muscadine wine. These small clusters of black grapes produce a fruity red wine that tastes like grape jam. Almost all white Muscadine wines are made from the Carlos grape. Carlos Muscadine wine is usually sweet and tastes like an extremely fragrant Riesling.

Muscadine grapes are widely considered to be a “super fruit.” Like most grapes, Muscadines have high levels of antioxidants, particularly resveratrol, which is known to promote heart and brain health. Some studies also show resveratrol may suppress the growth of cancer cells. Another powerful antioxidant, ellegic acid, not found in any other wine grape but Muscadine, also has many health benefits.

Our winery on Hilton Head Island offers a Carlos Muscadine that we call Harvest White. Made from local grapes, it’s sweet and highly aromatic. Stop by for a taste!

The perfect bottle of hand-crafted artisan wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Rd. Wine by the glass and cheese platters are available Monday-Saturday from 12:30-5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. (843) 842-3141 or islandwinery.com.