There are obscure grape varieties, there are strange grape varieties and then there is Scuppernong. Everyone should try it at least once, especially someone like me: a self-styled wine adventurer and president of the Wine Century Club.
Thanks to my friend Eric Crane, a fellow Wine Centurion from Atlanta, I was able to give it a go in the comfort of my London home. Watch out, Matt Skinner, we have some extreme wine drinking to do!
But first a little background. Scuppernong is the most famous type of Muscadine grape that's indigenous to the Southeastern United States and still grown in great quantities there. It’s named after Scuppernong, NC – an Algonquin word -- where the grape was first domesticated in the 17th Century. Muscadines (vitis rotundifolia) are much different than from grapes used to make most wines like Merlot and Chardonnay (vitis vinifera) or Condord (vitus lambrusca).
They have adapted (or were intelligently designed) to thrive in a hot, humid climate which would cause vinifera or lambrusca grape varieties to rot. Some scientists suggest that Muscadines should be a completely different genus as they have 40 chromosomes as opposed to the 38 chromosomes of other vitus grape varieties. They also have very thick skins that some people consider too tough to eat (but look nice in a bowl).
Scuppernong was also a major part in the beginnings of the mighty Constellation Brands. Long before they became huge, two North Carolina Scuppernong vineyards were acquired in 1948 to meet the rapidly growing demand for bulk wines in the US. Amazingly enough, it has endured and has developed somewhat of a following. Former president Jimmy Carter even makes wine from Scuppernong.
Currently the largest producer of varietal Scuppernong wines is Duplin Winery in Rose Hill, NC. From their website it looks like they have a good sense of humor, which may be necessary to enjoy these wines. Either that or being completely sloshed.
Duplin Scuppernong (white) Non Vintage 12% vol
Very pale straw
Wow, room filling intensity in a not pleasant way. There is also a glass of Leitz Riesling present that may be suffocating. Solvent-like grape candy and musky/floral perfume. It also smells very sweet. Deborah rushes into the kitchen and opens a window.
Cloyingly sweet with much of the same grape candy and musky/floral flavors. Ouch. Finish is painfully long.
Duplin Scuppernong Blush Non Vintage 12% vol
Pale salmon/bronze (the skins are typically bronze-colored when ripe)
More intensely solvent/varnish with less grapy muskiness like than its white sibling. Some floral and peach notes and fairly sweet.
Amazingly the acid/sugars are in balance here, however, I’m now concerned about my tougue dissolving. It doesn’t. Uncouthly peachy but drinkable in a rudimentary kind of way.
Rating: (The “OK” rating here is more of a safety rating: this wine meets minimum human standards)
For Yanks the odds are pretty much stacked against you. I was once in North Carolina trying to find a little She Crab Soup and a bottle of Scuppernong and received many semi-hostile blank stares.