Showing posts with label Muscadine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muscadine. Show all posts

Monday, April 9, 2018

Louisiana Wine

As the list of American wines I've sampled has grown larger, those remaining to be tried have proven to be hard to corral.  Louisiana is one of the states that has been quite elusive due to a dearth of wineries and shipping restrictions.  However, I managed to find Louisiana wine on a recent trip to New Orleans.  But, just barely.

With only a small handful of wineries in the state, some using California grapes or other types of fruit from Florida, it's a bit difficult to find true Louisiana wines.  I had hoped to try a Blanc du Bois wine, made from a grape that does well in Louisiana's hot, humid climate, but it stayed out of reach.  The state is included in the Mississippi Delta AVA, but most of the grapes grown in that region are Muscadine.

My chance to sample didn't come from Brennan’s restaurant, where they make a sauce from a Landry Vineyards blueberry wine.  They wouldn't pour that wine and couldn't tell me that it was made from Louisiana-grown berries, so it's likely that it wasn't.  Landry does make an array of wines using Louisiana-grown Blanc du Bois grapes.

My break came at NOLA Tropical Winery, a tasting room in the mall at the end of the New Orleans Riverwalk.  I was told their extensive line of fruit wines are made with out-of-state berries and such, but they do carry some genuine Louisiana-grown grape wines, as well as Louisiana wines made from Muscadine grapes and a Port-style fig wine.  They offer free tastings, by the way.

That's actually a really nice Port-style wine from Pontchartrain Vineyards.  It's made from figs that I was told are grown in-state.  It smells good and Port-ly and tastes, well, figgy.   A nice finish lasts a good while. Tasty and fun.

The two wines made from Louisiana Muscadine grapes are better than that type that I’ve had before. They come from Amato's Winery in the town of Independence, a bit north of NOLA.  Still earthy quaffs, they have a little less of that foxiness found in some North American grapes.  I don't care for the flavor on Muscadine, but the wines are well made.  Muscadine vines are resistant to the diseases of humidity, which makes them useful in the south.  They are wines I would recommend only to the adventurous, or those who are familiar with the style.

I was told that even their fruit wines are made with berries sourced out-of-state.  They do, however, have some wines made by Pontchartrain Vineyards.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wine Country: South Carolina - Irvin-House Muscadine

South Carolina's wine industry is a faint one, with only a dozen or so winemaking outlets.   The wine industry in South Carolina is still struggling to its feet.  The state's yearly production of wine is listed among U.S. states as "other," a grouping of the bottom dozen or so states.  Even as a group, the wine production of the "other" category is minuscule.

Interest in winemaking in the carolinas first appeared in the 1680s.  There is an interesting report on tasting notes of early South Carolina wines written by Aaron Nix-Gomez that you can find here.

Wine grapes - at least vinifera - do not do well in the heat and humidity of the Palmetto State.  For this reason, the state's winemakers rely on hybrids and North American grapes like Blanc du Bois, Catawba, Cayuga, Chambourcin, De Chaunac, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles.  They also manage a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay - whatever they are - in the higher elevations.  South Carolina wineries also do some Muscadine, a grape both loved and reviled by wine lovers, depending on where the interview is conducted.  The farther south you go, the more love Muscadine gets.

You will find Irvin-House Vineyard and Winery on Wadmalaw Island, not too far from Charleston, in what is known as the lowcountry.  Irvin-House specializes in wines made from the Muscadine grape, a grape well-suited to the humidity near the coast.  According to the video on the Irvin-House website, Muscadine was discovered in America in the 1500s - before there was an America.  It is native to the southeastern U.S.

Magnolia White Muscadine Wine is a semi-sweet wine that only hits 12% on the alcohol scale and comes bottled under synthetic cork.  It's one of five styles of Muscadine wine made by Ann and Jim Irvin.  They also produce a semi-dry white, a blush, a dry red and a sweet wine.  It flies the flag of the Charleston County appellation.

The Irvins decided that retirement was not for them, so they purchased a 50-acre farm and then planted vines in 2001.  The winery website cites a National Institute of Health figure which says Muscadine wine contains seven times the amount of resveratrol than other wines.  With all the talk of resveratrol's health benefits, it would seem you really can drink to your health with Muscadine.

This South Carolina wine looks absolutely gorgeous in the glass - a rich golden color bordering on copper.  The nose is just as impressive.  Fruity aromas are wrapped in a sweet earthiness that reminds me of picking mayhaw berries by the east Texas train tracks as a kid.  The wine tastes sweet and fruity with a heapin' helpin' of that earthy essence to balance things.  The acidity is not as high as you might find in a grape that grows in a cooler climate, but the wine's flavor lends itself well to food pairing.  It also hits the spot as a sipper.  Chill it well for those sweltering afternoons that summer will bring.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wine Country Texas - Piney Woods Country Winery And Vineyard

A recent visit to my family in Texas gave me the opportunity to try some wine made in my home state.  Had I visited the Hill Country in Central Texas or the High Plains in the north, the pickings would have been more luxurious, but I was in Southeast Texas, where humidity is made and exported to the rest of the world.   That's not a good climate for vinifera wine grapes, but it's perfect for Muscadine grapes.  Muscadine and fruit wines are what they do at the Piney Woods Country Winery and Vineyard.

Alfred Flies (pronounced like "fleece") has been making his wines in Orange, Texas for 27 years.  He retired and got into the wine business, which may not have seemed like much of a retirement to him.  He recently had a stroke, but he is said to be recovering well at 90 years old.  Our pourer, Jennifer Wood, told me Flies doesn’t make it into the tasting room often, and his son-in-law handles much of the heavy lifting for him now.
Red and white Muscadine grapes grow in his vineyard in back of the tasting room, and for the fruit wines he uses only Texas fruit sourced from various parts of the Lone Star State.

Flies, according to the winery's website, "has been honored four times for his contributions to the Texas wine industry, by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and has received over 70 wine competition medals. Most recently one gold, two silver and two bronze medals from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Competition. Including 6 belt buckles, representing 3 International Best of Class awards and 3 Texas Best of Class awards."

Jennifer Wood
Wood, observing from several trips to Texas wine events, says that Muscadine wines are catching on with millennials, at least in the South.  Millennials are thought to be more adventurous wine consumers, more apt to try new things than their older counterparts.  Judging by what I've heard from wine drinkers in California, an adventurous spirit is necessary for fruit wine and, especially, Muscadine.

Muscadine and fruit wines are nearly always relegated to the back seat of the wine car, if not the trunk.  They are not exactly my cup of, well... wine, so it was nice to taste a few that were worthy of consideration.
Here is what the tasting lineup looked like on the day I sampled them.

Heart of Texas Noble - One of two dry wines the Piney Woods Country Winery produces - the rest are on the sweet side.  This red Noble Muscadine wine has a savory, sour nose and a savory taste with a bitter note.  Oak aged, it has been selected as a wine of the month by the Houston Post.

Texas Moon Magnolia - A semi-dry, white Magnolia Muscadine, this one has a nutty flavor which I am told goes well with turkey.  They say it's a favorite at Thanksgiving.  Flies won the award of Top Texas Wine in 2009 at the Houston International Wine Competition.  In true Lone Star style, the prize was a hand-tooled, silver-trimmed saddle.  Has has also won an armload of belt buckles and a boxful of more traditional medals.

Noble Muscadine Rosé - Semi sweet and refreshing.  I didn't have it with food, but I have found in the past that well-made Muscadine wines are greatly improved in a food pairing.

Pecan Mocca - Made from white Muscadine grown in Flies' vineyard, this is a pretty incredible effort.  With a nose of ground coffee that jumps from the glass, this intense wine tastes like coffee and caramel, with a bit of tiramisu on the finish.  Flavored, and one of their three best sellers.

Peach - This fruit wine is sweet and made with northeast Texas peaches, but it smells like Muscadine.  the palate is tart and very peachy.

Baked Peach - Another peach of a fruit wine, this one is actually baked at 90 degrees for 90 days - Flies' effort at simulating Madeira.  Spicy cobbler on the nose and palate.

Blackberry - The most straightforward of the bunch, it's tart and fruity.  Not too complex, but very tasty.

Sweetheart Magnolia - White Muscadine again, with a sweet and fruity pear-like palate.

Ports of Texas - A Port-style wine made from red Muscadine and fortified with brandy.   Oak aged with a hint of chocolate.  Only 14% abv.

Texas Sweet-Tooth Cherry Chocolate - If you like your sweet wine completely unbridled, this is for you. It's so sweet it will make your teeth hurt.  Chocolate is infused in this dessert wine which tastes like a cherry tootsie roll pop.  The nose is straight out of Russell Stover.  Billed by the winery as a "compete dessert," hat's how it strikes me.

Light Ruby Port - Not as sweet as Port usually is, but it does hit 16% abv.  The savory note works in its favor.  Aged in oak and brandy-fortified, it gives a hint of whiskey.

Amber Port - Vermouth-like and getting closer to Port-style alcohol at 18% abv, I like the citrus streak.
Texas Tawny Port - This is a fairly amazing Muscadine effort at 19% abv, blended with brandy.  Spending six to eight months in oak, the wine actually looks older.  A ring of brown shows at the edge of the glass.  The oak and higher alcohol really masks the Muscadine flavor. Caramel and brown sugar flavors are a real treat.  (Texas has tightened the restrictions on the use of "Port," I'm told, so the labeling will have to be changed this year.)

Orange Wine - A natch for a winery in a town named Orange, it's actually made from Texas Satsumas.  A tart edge and finish and nectar-like.  Surprisingly, there is not a great citrus play here.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Now And Zin's bid to sample the wines of all 50 states continues in the Deep South.  Morgan Creek Winery is located just south of Birmingham in in the sleepy little town of Harpersville, Alabama, population 1,620.

Harpersville was the birthplace of the man who founded the second Ku Klux Klan back in 1915, and nowadays they boast the first African-American mayor in Shelby County, Theoangelo Perkins.  Actor Henry B. Wathall hailed from Harpersville.  He is said to have a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.  I've walked those sidewalks in Los Angeles many times, but I don't recall ever seeing Mr. Wathall's star.  I'll keep an eye open for it, though.  ABA star George McGinnis and former NBA player Warren Kidd are also from Harpersville.

Besides all the cotton fields - which is king in the Deep South - the vineyards of Morgan Creek Winery are the main attraction.

Morgan Creek's winemaking focuses on a regional grape popular in the southern and southeastern United States, Muscadine.  They also produce wine from other fruit, notably peaches and blueberries.   The winery is run by Charles Brammer and his son, Charles, Jr.  Winemaking was supposed to be the elder Brammer’s retirement hobby.  Things apparently went in a different direction, and he ended up working again.  At least it’s a labor of love.

More widely known grape varieties, like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, don't grow so well in the hot, humid climate of central Alabama.  Fortunately, that's the kind of weather in which Muscadine thrives.  I was unfamiliar with Muscadine wine, armed only with the word that it was a lot sweeter than the wines I was probably accustomed to drinking.  The folks at Morgan Creek were kind enough to supply two samples of their Muscadine, a red and a white.  Both Muscadine wines are actually more off-dry than sweet, with a very good acidity and earthy, mineral-laden notes which I did not expect.

I think both the red and the white are well made, but the funky flavor of the fruit was simply not getting any traction on my palate.  The acidity was fine, color beautiful, mouthfeel nice - I just didn’t care for the fruit.  I have the same issue with asparagus, sauerkraut and grapefruit.  That doesn't mean they are bad foods - I hear that plenty of people love asparagus, sauerkraut and grapefruit.

Tasting the wines over several days gave me the opportunity to become more accustomed to the flavor profiles, and pairing them with food helped put me in a Muscadine mentality.  In the case of the white Muscadine, I did not try it fully refrigerated until the third day. The recommended serving temperature is ice cold.

Morgan Creek Winery Cahaba WhiteMorgan Creek Cahaba White, Alabama Muscadine, Dry Table Wine

The white wine is made from the Carlos variety of Muscadine and sells for $11 per bottle.  There is no residual sugar and it is vinified without the use of oak.  It has a beautiful, golden yellow color.  At room temperature there's an extremely vegetal nose with a bell pepper aroma so strong there seems at first to be no other aroma available.  Chilled, the nose is more like wet straw, tasting very tart and vegetal still.  It becomes less astringent after a few sips and is quite nice paired with macadamia nuts and spicy pecans.  When served ice cold, it still smells a bit of wet straw, but with a hint of oaky chardonnay in it.  The taste is much less tart, with grapefruit and minerals on the palate.  It pairs nicely with peanuts and almonds, and with a blueberry Welsh cake.

Morgan Creek Winery Vulcan RedVulcan Red This wine is medium weight, brick-red in color and made from 100% Muscadine grapes.  It sells for $13.  The nose carries a sweet and earthy quality.  Denise - on whose great sense of smell I often rely - says it reminds her of grapes fallen from vines and crushed underfoot, which she experienced as a child.  The palate shows a trace of the same funkiness that presents itself in the Cahaba White, only smoothed out with a ripe sweetness that resembles sour raspberry candy.  There's a sparkling acidity which actually feels almost - but not quite - fizzy in the mouth.  It pairs well with butter cookies and blueberry Welsh cake, too.  It’s not so great a match with peanuts, but food with a bit of a sweet edge seems to be a good mate for it.  Vulcan Red can also benefit from a good chill.

Although Muscadine's flavor profiles were not meant for me, I can certainly see why the grape has its fans.  Tremendous thanks go out to Morgan Creek Winery for showing us the wine side of Alabama.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter