Muscadine Wines Crash Party At Wine Dinner
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
I have attended so many wine themed dinners in my life it is impossible to even remotely guess the number. From my early years as the headwaiter of multiple fine dining restaurants to my decade of service as the maître d at the incomparable Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern located in downtown Raleigh and now as a wine blogger, the number of times I have personally experienced the magical combination of food expertly paired with wine is a big number.
But NEVER have I been to a wine dinner that featured Muscadine wines...until last evening!
The event was hosted by the NC Muscadine Grape Association and staged at Triangle Wine Company located in Cary, NC. The food was prepared by The Blind Pig Supper Club which originated in Asheville but now has branched out into nearby Durham, NC. The meal was orchestrated by Chef Mike Moore along with his staff. The wines were provided by well known North Carolina vineyards and wineries including Duplin Winery https://www.duplinwinery.com/, Cypress Bend Vineyards https://www.cypressbendvineyards.com/ and Hinnant Family Vineyards https://hinnantvineyards.com/ ; all very adept at making wine from these indigenous grapes to this area of the country.
Now before I share details with you about this incredible experience let us address the elephant in the room. Surely you are wondering what foods pair well with Muscadine wines? I can assure you that as someone who prides himself on his ability to pair wine with food I also pondered this question and it motivated me to attend the event. When asked about other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Merlot I would have no problem suggesting multiple options. But what about Muscadine?
Last night I learned the answer.
Just as many foods that pair with other wines may also be paired with Muscadine wines that readily embrace the collaboration. Surely you have heard "red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat and rose in between".. Well guess what? The same applies with Muscadine wines. Acid in wines cuts the fat and richness of foods and sweet wines pair well with sweet dishes also follows suit. Even the adage I learned from Jay Raffaldini is also applicable - "what grows together goes together". In summary, the rules that apply when pairing food and wine are universal.
Let me share with you the exquisite meal we had last night and you will hopefully see what I ,mean and maybe even agree. The evening began with a refreshing Pink Magnolia Lemonade Spritzer made using Duplin Winery Pink Magnolia, lemonade and fresh fruit. It was an excellent way to awaken the palate and prepare us for the flavors to come.
COURSE ONE -
Hickory Nut Gap Ham and cantaloupe salad with Spinning Spider chevre goat cheese, pickled onion, summer figs & fresh basil flowers
served with Cypress Bend Vineyards "Livy Estate" and Hinnant Family Vineyards Carlos
Right out of the gate Chef Moore shows us his adeptness at plating and visual aesthetics on the very first dish pairing diverse flavors and textures. The tart creamy goat cheese paired well with the salty ham, the cantaloupe was refreshing and the figs added a subtle sweetness. As for the wines, both were crafted from the Carlos grape. I was particularly impressed by the contrast with the dry Carlos from Cypress Bend and the sweeter version from Hinnant. Carlos is a bronze colored grape that produces a sweet fragrant juice that many compare to Riesling.
COURSE TWO -
Poached NC Red Shrimp served on butter lettuce with salsa verde, red onion and summer pepper giardiniera
served with Cypress Bend "Riverton Estate" and Hinnant Family Vineyards "Electric Pelican"
On the heels of course one, Chef Moore wows us with a second course consisting of succulent poached shrimp and the herbiness of a well executed salsa verde, the summer pepper giardiniera offered texture and mild sweetness. With this course we were treated to another Carlos based wine as well as a blend made from the Noble grape. This deep red grape known for its use in jams and jellies paired well with the dish especially the pepper giardiniera component.
COURSE THREE -
Wood grilled chicken thigh served with summer squash, Cherokee Purple tomatoes and chimichurri sauce
served with Cypress Bend Vineyards "Catherine" and Duplin Winery "Carolina Red"
Let me clue you in to something I learned a long time ago, creative and discriminating cooks and chefs prefer the thigh part of the chicken for cooking! Seriously? Yes, many cooks, myself included, consider the thigh the "sexy" part of the chicken. When other aspiring cooks gravitate to the breast, legs and even wings of the barnyard fowl it is the thigh that is fattier and fat is flavor. The wood grilling added a subtle smoky flavor that was accented by the chimichurri with ample texture change and flavor provided by the squash and Cherokee purple tomatoes whose own rich smoky flavor elevated the dish. With this course we enjoyed another wine from the Carlos grape as well as Duplin's Carolina Red, a smooth sweet wine.
COURSE FOUR -
Wine braised beef, mushrooms and potato puree
served with Hinnant Family Vineyards "Southern Red" and Cypress Bend Vineyards "Sundown"
Our next course combined the richness of wine braised beef with the earthiness of WNC mushrooms, all atop a delicate potato puree that was velvety and smooth. This course was paired with two Noble based grape wines who amazingly stood up to the beef and mushrooms. The wine displayed enough acid to cut the richness of the dish and the resulting plate was outstanding.
COURSE FIVE -
Chocolate coconut bar, summer cherry & blackberry coulis and whipped cream
served with Duplin Winery "Magnolia"
Although my wife is not a huge lover of wines from the Muscadine grape family she is a professed fan of chocolate. There was so much chocolate flavor in this rich decadent dessert that I think she may have actually welcomed the sweetness of the Magnolia, a winner of the NC Muscadine Cup for an unprecedented three years in a row. The two sweet items were complemented by the berry flavor from the coulis, a fitting end to the meal and experience.
As a special treat to make the entire evening super special I just happened to be seated at the same table as Leslie Heigh aka SobeSavvy! We have both followed each other on social media for many years and it was a distinct pleasure to meet both Leslie and her husband. I see a collaboration in the future!
First and foremost, I fully understand that many wine drinkers do not particularly care for Muscadine wines (I know because I married one) and no food pairing with any of the Muscadine wines will even remotely please their palate.
I get it.
But for those of us who do enjoy wines from the Muscadine family my big epiphany from this meal was that the same rules of pairing food with wine I learned with vinefera still apply to our indigenous grape. Personally, I consider Muscadine wine drinkers fortunate because they are much more likely to have the opportunity to actually taste the fruit from which the wine comes. Have you ever tasted a cabernet sauvignon grape or a chardonnay grape from the vine? Unless you have been fortunate to travel to other wine growing regions such as Napa and Sonoma the answer is unlikely in the negative.
My big takeaways from the evening were two fold. First, it is just as easy to pair Muscadine wine with food as well as it is with any other wine, as long as you know some basic rules and guidelines. Secondly, there are actually people out there that enjoy this type of wine paired with food just as much as others prefer the combination of vinefera based wines.
I look forward to many more future events featuring Muscadine wine.