Remember when your mother told you “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? She’d packaged one of life’s key lessons in tangible terms even a child could grasp: Be sweet, and more people will like you.
Perdido Vineyards has taken Mom’s rule a step further — possibly noticing how some folks favor tart over sweet — by offering potable potions ranging from honey-based dry wine through a spectrum of sweet wines and fruit juices, to a family of award-winning wine vinegars. Drive north up I-65 to Perdido (exit 45), head east a very short way on County Road 47 and you can immerse yourself in a world of sweet and tart at Alabama’s oldest post-Prohibition farm winery.
It makes perfect sense to for a winery to sell vinegar, since “vinegar” comes from the French words “vin” and “aigre” — “wine” and “sour” — a nicer-sounding way of saying “soured wine.” Vinegar and its culinary applications were born in an age when you didn’t throw something out just because it went bad; you repurposed it.
But before we talk vinegar, let’s discuss Perdido’s wines, which are made from native-American Muscadine grapes (including the golden Muscadine called Scuppernong), various locally grown fruits and honey sourced from Lower Alabama. Most of these wines range from very sweet to semi-dry, with distinctive Muscadine aromas. Can I describe those aromas? Not easily, but once you’ve sniffed Muscadine juice you remember it — a pungent take on European Muscat (or Moscato) with magnolia, lilac, a bit of petrol (characteristic of Riesling grapes) and a hint of musk, sometimes described as “foxy.”
If you’re used to drinking Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Grigio or Merlot, you need to understand that wines made from Muscadines and other native-American grapes will not taste like what you’re used to, because native-American grapes are a different species of fruit. We have to pause here for some botany. (Look away now if you don’t want to see the science.)
Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and all the other classic wine grapes (including Syrah, Grenache, Riesling, Pinot Noir, etc.) are members of the Vitis vinifera species — which has long been considered the species best suited to producing premium wines. Other grapes — including Muscadine, Scuppernong, Concord and Catawba—are members of the Vitis rotundifolia and Vitis labrusca species and have long been judged incapable of creating fine wines, largely because of their strong “grapey” flavors and low acidity.
In researching this article, though, I discovered any number of American vintners who staunchly defend using native-American grapes in their quest to produce fine wines. They also tout the cultivation of new interspecies hybrid vines and the development of blending techniques mixing Vitis vinifera with native-American juices to produce quality wine. Vintners not quite ready to claim they produce world-class wines from native-American grapes still argue vigorously that they make enjoyable, fun wines from their Muscadine and Catawba grapes (while boasting of higher antioxidant levels).
So, guess what? Here’s another situation in which wine beauty is in the eye — or the palate — of the beholder. I maintain a strong preference for Vitis vinifera wines, but even I managed to find a couple of Perdido Vineyards’ wines to carry home for later. If you’re a fan of sweet wines (or Abita’s Purple Haze), Perdido should be right up your alley. They make 12 different red, white and rosé table wines, as well as six Port-style fortified wines — so it’s not like your choice is limited — and they sell juice for the teetotal or antioxidant-craving crowd.
The white I personally liked was Magnolia Springs, a drier Muscadine aiming at an un-oaked Chardonnay style. Clear as spring water with unmistakable grape-candy aromas, it mingled honeydew melon and citrus on the palate — although Muscadine dominated the finish. The semi-dry Perdido White Muscadine was a classic rendering of Muscadine grapes, which I’d recommend trying if you are new to this fruit.
Among the reds, Perdido’s Ecor Rouge was an interesting combination of Muscadine aromas with flavors reminiscent of a west-coast Pinot Noir or maybe the native-American Norton grape. My favorite fortified was Queen of Carnival, blending aged Muscadine wine with tart red cherries.
It reminded me of homemade cherry wine I’d drunk at German Christmas markets. I also got to sample Perdido’s not-yet-released Honey Wine — made entirely from fermented honey (no fruit). Unlike many meads — the honey-based beverage of antiquity — this wine was brittle dry. Prepare to be surprised.
Most of Perdido’s table wines weigh in at 12 percent ABV, while their Port-style fortified wines range from 16.5 to 24 percent ABV. The table wines all sell for $11.95 at the tasting room; the fortifieds are a few bucks more.
The good news for folks wanting to try Perdido Vineyards’ wines is that, as of March 2014, the Alabama Beverage Control Board approved the sale of Alabama-made wines in state ABC stores. (Previously, small wineries could sell to consumers only at the wineries’ tasting rooms, and many have felt hamstrung by Alabama’s three-tier distribution system.) This decision reportedly entails a one-year trial period, though, after which Alabama wines may be taken off shelves if they fail to meet sales quotas set by the ABC stores. Perdido will offer five wines via the ABC route, including its dry Ecor Rouge and cherry-laced Queen of Carnival.
Perdido’s line of Casa Perdido Gourmet Wine Vinegars is the vineyard’s second way of bringing Alabama-grown fruits and vegetables to your table — in the form of salad dressings, dips and marinades. You can whip up a vinaigrette from any of them, but recipe ideas hardly stop there. I always add some vinegar to my deviled eggs, and to my flank-steak marinade.
Flavors infused in the vinegars include apple, Satsuma and blueberry, as well as White Muscadine (Scuppernong), cucumber and tomato. There’s a fig balsamic and a malt vinegar made from red barley malt beer. The White Muscadine, cucumber, and malt vinegars each won Gold Medals at Austria’s Mostbarkeiten-Kostbarkeiten competition (2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively).
If it’s possible to catch flies with vinegar — unlike what Mom said — Perdido may have found how to do it.
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