Muscadine Wine

by Marvel Goose on July 12, 2009

Look Mama! An actual bottle of Muscadine Port!

I attended a redneck wine-tasting with an oenophile.

That’s not as dirty as it sounds. Oenophiles suffer from guilt by association with the suffix of the word Pedophile. An Oenophile is a wine lover.  Oeno is from the Greek “oinos” for wine. Phile is from the Greek “Philos” which means love.

A Pedophile strictly means a “child lover”, so you could call your wife a Pedophile and be correct. And also be sleeping on the couch with a big angry welt slashed across your face.

Enough of sex with dictionaries, back to wine tasting with rednecks.

I did not intentionally attend a redneck wine tasting. The advertisement for the San Sebastian Winery in Saint Augustine, FL offered a free walking tour of the facility and a free wine tasting.

My brother-in-law, the oenophile, suspected that this would be a farce, but was too polite to douse my enthusiasm.  I cannot help it. I am a sucker for tourist traps in Saint Augustine.  I pictured a cultured crowd tasting small samples of wine while cleansing their palates with water and an unsalted cracker between vintages.

That illusion lasted until I saw the red fake choo-choo tourist train disgorge a sweaty crowd of thirty into the parking lot. It was a mixture of Yankees, red necks, and some red neck bikers that were festooned with tattoos and piercings.

The tour guide made his opening announcement: “We will watch a short video, take a look around, and then have a wine tasting where you get to sample six kinds of wine.”  He gave a smirk over that last part and the crowd giggled.

From the video I learned that San Sebastian wine is made from muscadine grapes. Ding dong! Bells went off in my head.  Unless you are from the south, you may have never heard of muscadine grapes.

Muscadine is a very sweet white grape that loves the semi-tropical conditions of the underbelly of the south along the Gulf coast. My grandfather had a grape arbor that was used as a source for muscadine jelly. My cousin still makes it and sends me jars. It tastes like candy.

From the video, we walked across a catwalk above the winery and took a cursory look down at some stainless steel vats.  We then entered the climate controlled barrel room that was set up with plank tables for the wine tasting. Not much foreplay in this seduction.

Before the first pouring, our guide admonished us to hold off from drinking until he had shown us the proper way to taste wine. He proceeded to pour a generous two ounces of chilled “Reserva” white wine into everyone’s glass. This was followed with a short class on looking, swirling, and smelling the wine prior to making three sips for the three stages of taste. Then he toasted us and allowed us to drink.

Behind his back the rednecks had their own method for the three stages of taste: swirl it around, stick your nose in it, and then knock it back like a shot of peppermint schnapps.

Here now is my review of the first bottle: the nose revealed the smell of Muscadine jelly in the morning. In the mouth, a slight astringency fought fruitlessly against a barrage of sugar.  It was drinkable like Hawaiian Punch spiked with 190 proof Golden Grain is drinkable. My oenophile-in-law rolled his eyes.

Now it was time for the second tasting. No water to cleanse the palate, no cracker, no new wine glass. Just hold out your glass out for your next two ounces please.  This time a hybrid of muscadine and something else that was supposed to make it mimic red wine that tasted like hell.

One sip and I switched to red neck wine tasting mode. I couldn’t just pour it out because the guide made it clear that once the glass touched your lips the wine was yours and couldn’t be spit or poured out.  You come here to drink and you are going to drink, dammit!

Our tour mates loved it. The room was filled with happy laughter.  Suddenly the door opened and another tour group entered and made a sharp turn to another tasting area that was set up behind a screen of barrels of aging port.

“Fourth of July weekend is busy around here,” noted our tour guide. I later learned that six(!) tasting rooms were rolling at once. Doing the math, that is 180 people swilling wine per hour.  There are bars in my hometown that would kill for that kind of business.

I passed on the cream sherry.  Even good cream sherry tastes bad.  I went for the port. One sip and I started looking for a place to hide my glass. I was afraid that if I knocked it down redneck style it might gurgle up and bring all its friends along.

Six two ounces glasses of wine in thirty minutes adds up to 12 ounces of wine. The cheap drunks were very, very happy and I have to admit I had the makings of a buzz myself.

We now continued the tour by walking back over the same catwalk but now we looked over at the other wall for a moment and admired the bottling machine.  Then it was down to the gift shop.

The tour guide said that the winery sold 300,000 bottles of wine a year. Now I know how they manage this – happy tourists with a buzz on hitting the gift shop. Some guy from Ohio ordered an entire case to be shipped home. Everyone had two, three, four, and more bottles in their arms.

I am glad I was not on the tourist train when the rednecks decided to crack open a bottle and give their buzz a pick me up.

In fairness, the people at the San Sebastian Winery were very nice and I am sure their wine has earned its 300 medals competing against other muscadine wines. Some people like really sweet wine – unlike most regular wine drinkers.  The winery did not spring their high end $11.95 bottles on our tour group and those might have been good.



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