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The Majesty of the Much Maligned Muscadine


I get it; I finally understand that there are many wine drinkers that don't care much for wine and products made from muscadine grapes. There are even some that can't even tolerate a sip, let alone a glass. My wife of over 35 years is one of these people and I can assure you she will present a strong case for her dislike of this particular varietal.


For many people like my wife, the first turn off is the very distinctive aroma or "bouquet" that exudes from virtually every member of the Muscadine family of grapes (more on that later). It is strong and definitive perhaps some would even call it "pungent". It hits you in the face like a Mike Tyson jab (as in Mike from the old days).


But for me, the aroma reminds me of the path to the front door at my Granny Polly's house - the path was lined on both sides with white muscadine grapes and at certain times of the year it was like walking through an aroma tunnel.


And as for the distinctive taste, for many of us here in the South, where this varietal flourishes, it was your very first taste of wine which you likely sneaked when parental supervision was lacking.


Yes, taste and aroma are likely the reasons that many don't care much for it as a grape although many cultures (especially Asian) love these grapes not for wine but as table grapes, especially the coveted and much sought after Supreme.

Reprinted with permission from Our State Magazine (www.ourstate.com) Photograph by (Beth Kirby)

But rest assured this humble native grape that can withstand North Carolina heat and humidity is loved and revered by many. It has even graced the cover of our beloved Our State Magazine (www.ourstate.com), an honor not afforded to many. History will tell you that when the first explorers from Europe came to this area the noble muscadine was not only firmly entrenched here but growing in abundance.


There are numerous other reasons to revere the legacy and majesty of the muscadine grape. For example, it is well documented that this humble grape possesses incredible amounts of antioxidants. The health benefits alone put this varietal in a class by itself and that is why twice a day I consume two capsules containing ground muscadine grape seeds, stems and hulls.


In addition, many consider the humble muscadine grape to be the "grape of the future". It's ability to adapt to harsh weather and environmental conditions that prevent other grapes from surviving could very well make it a prime candidate for creating future hybrids with other grapes - even the coveted vitis vinefera. With global warming and environmental change rewriting what grapes can be grown where it will take this kind of "outside the box" thinking to support viticulture in many areas.




Just as unpopular as muscadine wines are wine dinners where muscadine wines are paired with food. Truth be told, I have been to a grand total of two - and the second one was just a few weeks ago hosted by Hinnant Family Vineyards (www. https://hinnantvineyards.com/ in Pine Level, NC.


For many reasons, I had to be in attendance after all I am Merlot to Muscadine right? In addition, there were many other wine bloggers and influencers who were able to attend.







So, let's dive into this fantastic meal that dared to pair foods with muscadine wines.



Hors d 'Oeuvres -

Blackberry Goat Cheese & Prosciutto Crostini prepared by Hinnant Charcuterie

paired with Hinnant Carolina Wildflower


Surely I am not the only person who remembers from their childhood adventurous and well intentioned trips off to pick wild blackberries in order for my granny to "make a pie"; only to return after several hours of mostly eating them straight off the vine with a scant amount barely enough to make a cupcake.



Aesthetically it made perfect sense to start with such an eye appealing dish and presentation. As my old friend, Daniel Schurr, the executive chef at the renowned Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern https://www.second-empire.com/ in downtown Raleigh (where I was maître d for nearly a decade) often says "taste with your eyes".


The saltiness of the prosciutto, the sweetness of the wine, and the tart blackberry combined to dazzle the palate right out of the gate. With the slight crunch of the crostini as a platform for the other ingredients the meal was off to a rousing start. The portion size was perfect.



On to the next course.


Salad -

1905 Salad with Homemade Vinaigrette prepared by Cattail Q Catering

paired with Hinnant Carlos

Our next course featured a simple salad with olives and a homemade vinaigrette. This version of Hinnant Carlos is a bit drier than many I have sampled in the state and was an excellent accompaniment for the salad.




Appetizer -

Pork Belly Popsicle prepared by Cattail Q Catering

paired with Hinnant Electric Pelican


By all accounts this food/wine pairing was the star of the evening and with good reason. First of all, let's start off with the name - Pork Belly Popsicle. For many of us who were raised in the South, the term pork belly conjures up succulent juicy pieces of pork (which I grew up calling fatback).


The slightly sweet barbecue sauce reminded me of what many people consider to be the best muscadine wine/food pairing of all - barbecue. No wonder since "what grows together, goes together." The Electric Pelican is a light, semi-sweet blend of Carlos and Pink Catawba grapes that starts out slightly sweet and finishes with a crisp, racy acidity. At a mere 12.00% ABV it can be enjoyed easily.



I am convinced that there is no better food combination with muscadine than the sweet, tangy taste of barbecue. In addition, whether you prefer the tomato taste of western style of the mustard an vinegar base of eastern style you are sure to walk away satisfied.


Over the Fourth of July holiday, my dear friend Bryant (who also attended this dinner with his wife Michele) was so enamored with this dish that he skillfully recreated it for the Independence holiday.


The night of the dinner I saw multiple bottles of Electric Pelican being purchased and I am convinced it could be attributed to this one course. Bravo!


Main Course -

Tri Tip Slices, Garlic Butter Mashed Potatoes, Southern Collards prepared by Cattail Q Catering

paired with Hinnant Noble


When the main course arrived at the table, the sheer size of the portions was hard to ignore. Up to this point, each course was well within what I would term a manageable range. But this time, the flood gates of food were unleashed and we were presented with a mammoth sized portion of tri tip beef slices , mashed potatoes and the Southern Boy Kryptonite - collard greens. The Hinnant Noble wine was served with this course.


I can assure you that first and foremost, no one I knew finished this course in it's entirety. The smoky meat, garlicky potatoes and the savory collards are the stars of many a meal here in the South and for good reason. The wine stood up to the task of complementing the strong components of the dish lending a bit of acidity to cut the rich tannins of the meat and carbs of the potato accompaniment.


I am forever in debt to whomever asked the question "are their doggy boxes available", because the remnants of what remained allowed me to have a sumptuous lunch the following afternoon.



Dessert -

Mile High Pound Cake prepared by Joy By The Pound

Mile High Ice Cream prepared by Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Selma

paired with Hinnant Mile High Chocolate Raspberry Fortified Wine


As someone who has participated in multiple wine themed dinners, I know full well the pressure to end a meal on a high note. You can never go wrong with cake and ice cream to cap off a good meal, at least as far as I am concerned.


The dessert we were served to conclude the meal was a simple combination what has been enjoyed million of times by countless individuals - cake & ice cream. But the over the top version we were presented combined a cake with a heavenly density and angelic flavor with an ice cream whose consistency I have not seen since the days when the kids got to provide the labor to crank out homemade ice cream via a old ice cream maker.


I have fond memories of myself and cousins cranking the old wooden bucket ice cream maker until we thought our arms would fall off from fatigue; only to be rewarded with an ice cream you rarely get to enjoy today, The consistency and texture were far from Ice cream of today, a akin to something between custard and gelato. It was smooth, creamy and flavorful.


No doubt it's flavor could be attributed to the addition of the Hinnant Mile High Chocolate Raspberry fortified wine. Made in the classic "port style" method it packed a punch and was used by many at my table in a most unique way; many of us at my table led by my friend Natalie Hampton aka Tarheel Taps & Corks https://tarheeltapsandcorks.wordpress.com/

poured the libation over the ice cream and cake a la syrup.


Although many at the table were astounded and amazed by the combination, once again i had a flashback to a pleasant memory dating back to the time when I was one of the headwaiters at Tavern On the Glenn, located in Greensboro. While on the staff there we had a waiter named "Easy" who would nightly boast the highest check average. Upon close examination by the remaining staff we noticed that he would regularly convince patrons in his section to order a slice of chocolate cake - with a shot of Chambord raspberry liqueur to pour over the top. The beauty of the dessert was that not only was the chocolate raspberry duo front and center - but "Easy" had now created a $7 dessert. Suffice it to say, it didn't take long for the rest of the staff to emulate this shrewd marketing ploy.





As a sommelier, I can assure you that there is no great mystery or revelations when it comes to pairing wine and food. Needless to say there are many classic pairings that quickly come to mind (sake and sushi, steak and cabernet sauvignon, mushroom risotto and Pinot Noir from Willamette).


But when it comes to pairing muscadine wine with food this is indeed uncharted territory. Yet, the same rules that apply when pairing vitis vinefera with foods still apply when the wine is from the vitis rotundofolia family.


By the way, as I alluded to earlier muscadine is both a grape and a family of grapes. As I learned many years ago, "all muscadines are not scuppernongs; but all scuppernongs are muscadine." Simply put muscadine is a family of grapes which include Carlos, Noble, Magnolia and many other varieties. So the next time you say you hate muscadines just be aware you are stating your dislike for many varietals (some of which you have likely never sampled).




Kudos to all who had a part in the conception and execution of the meal especially Ashley Nicholas, the Tasting Room manager at Hinnant Family Vineyards and Owner Bob Hinnant and his staff. Their service was gracious, hospitable and genuine; an integral and welcome part of the evening. Based on the success of the event, I anticipate it will be repeated as well as better attended. From the live music to the meal it was a night to applaud a seldom celebrated varietal.



Finally, I would like to end this account of what is only my second wine pairing meal featuring muscadine wines from whence I began this article - with my muscadine hating spouse. On the way home from the event, she disclosed to me something I thought I would never hear.


By her own admission her stance on this humble varietal has softened and she confessed to me that there were indeed wines and food combination that she enjoyed especially the red varieties of muscadine. Her admission brought joy to my heart and reminded me that many things in life can be satisfying if only given a chance.


Believe it or not, I have yet another another wine dinner on my calendar featuring muscadine wines, stay tuned - more details soon.







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Natalie Hampton
Natalie Hampton
4 days ago

It was a fabulous meal, and I thought all the food paired so well with the wines! Gave me a whole new appreciation for muscadines, our native grape!

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barhama
3 days ago
Replying to

Thanks for reading my blog, attending the dinner, your kind words and your friendship

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David Nershi
David Nershi
4 days ago

Arthur, what a great article and salute to muscadine. I especially enjoyed your reminiscing about Southern food. You're a great ambassador for these grapes.

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barhama
4 days ago
Replying to

Dave, thanks for your kind words, I strive to be half the writer you are, thanks for your support

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