Animal Fur Anyone?

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Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Dan Smothergill » Fri Dec 28, 2012 7:32 am

I hesitated writing this post for fear of spreading yet another stereotype about Vitis labrusca. But might as well take it head on as it will soon be out there anyway. The back story is that I must have been a very good boy this year because Santa deposited Wine grapes by Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz under our Christmas tree for me. This 1000+ page treatise aims to describe every commercially available wine grape in the world. It misses some of course, including Vergennes by Arbor Hill, but readers are provided an address to notify the publisher about omissions.

As for animal fur, the authors say: "Wine from American species, particularly Vitis Labrusca, can have a very distinctive flavor - definitely an acquired taste - combining animal fur and candied fruits, often described as 'foxy'" (p. xiv). Foxy has been described in many ways, but this is a new one for me. It has the virtue I suppose of connecting the root term with its natural superordinate; foxes indeed have animal fur. But beyond that I don't get it. Perhaps I need taste some animal fur. Would the deer running around in my back year qualify or is actual fox needed?

The descriptions of specific labruscas are actually quite good. It is pointed out that virtually all are actually hybrids, a mix of the native grapes growing in northeastern American when the Europeans arrived and the viniferas they brought with them but were largely unsuccessful in transplanting. Along this line, it is pointed out that Delaware, a standard bearer labrusca, is actually susceptible to phylloxera probably as a result of a vinifera parent. I didn't know that and will try to think of the book as having taught it rather than animal fur (ugh!) to me.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Howie Hart » Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:29 am

You must have been a good boy. I don't know where the animal fur comes from either. I do like Delaware, as well as some other labruscas, but I always felt the reason why most wine lovers don't care much for them is that with their strong, distinct flavors they are not very food friendly, but can be enjoyed on their own.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Bill Hooper » Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:48 am

Most Vitis Labrusca vines and especially hybrids are susceptible to phylloxera –the great myth is that they aren’t. Though the roots are resistant, the leaves harbor the leaf form of the pest which are recognizable from leaf-galls. European Vitis vinifera vines in contrast, are quite resistant to the leaf generation. In Germany, it is required to uproot any hybrid or American vines that one might find as a measure of controlling phylloxera. These vines can often be found adjacent to vineyards growing on the edge of forests. In the vineyard themselves, they are uncommon (really only seen if a sucker emerges below the scion.) The biggest reason that you don’t see many organic vineyards planted with hybrids is because insecticide is required to control leaf-generation populations.

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Peter May » Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:54 am

Dan Smothergill wrote: Foxy has been described in many ways, but this is a new one for me. .


Wet or damp fur is a commonly used descriptor for 'foxy'.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 28, 2012 12:14 pm

Peter May wrote:Wet or damp fur is a commonly used descriptor for 'foxy'.

Not to be argumentative, but I grew up around Eastern wines and have never heard this description. I'd say the confusion between "fox grapes" for American wild grapes (based on the old legend that foxes love grapes) and fox fur might have lead to a misconception. In the US, in any case, "grape jelly" works nicely for Vitis labrusca, although it's circular Foxy smells like jelly made from fox grapes. :mrgreen:
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 28, 2012 12:15 pm

Bill Hooper wrote:Vitus Labrusca

Not picking on you, Bill, but as a spell-check, shouldn't it be "Vitis"?
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Bill Hooper » Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:32 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Bill Hooper wrote:Vitus Labrusca

Not picking on you, Bill, but as a spell-check, shouldn't it be "Vitis"?


Oops! Right you are. Thanks Robin. Fixed.

I was thinking more about this, and actually, I have never seen a vineyard planted to Hybrids that didn't have a Phylloxera outbreak. The root nematodes are more destructive, but the leaf version is also detrimental to the vine in the form of decreased ability for photosynthesis. While many of these hybrids are bred for resistance to frost and fungal disease (Oidium and Pero) and produce fruit that is often ripe earlier on, the phylloxera problem has yet to be solved (at least for the more popular ‘better tasting’ vines.) Luckily, the European vines/ American rootstock combo is the best defense and also produces the greatest wines.

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Dan Smothergill » Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:38 pm

“Susceptibilty to phylloxera” might have been a bad choice of words but it is the phrase the authors use. The standard story is that phylloxera was introduced to Europe courtesy of American vines, so it certainly is correct to say that American vines are susceptible to phylloxera. They are carriers. The point however, as Bill notes, is that phylloxera does not ordinarily attack the root system of Vitis labrusca but it does attack the root system of Vitis vinifera. That's how it kills. What caught my eye in Robertson et al is the suggestion that the roots of Delaware, a labrusca, are attacked by phylloxera and it should therefore by grafted. I simply raised the possibility that this characteristic of Delaware might be a legacy of vinifera parentage.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Peter May » Fri Dec 28, 2012 2:28 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Peter May wrote:Wet or damp fur is a commonly used descriptor for 'foxy'.

Not to be argumentative, but I grew up around Eastern wines and have never heard this description.


I didn't grow up around labrusca vines but I'd read the descriptor long before I ever encountered a labrusca wine

The descriptor might or might not be correct but it seems to be in common use, as is fur on its own.

Concord is also the labrusca variety oozing the musky smell of a wet, cheap fur coat, which wine writers have agreed to call "foxy" in their tasting notes on wines made from members of the Vitis Labrusca species. Jancis Robinson, Vines, Grapes & Wines 1986"

Despite being a compliment for people, "foxy" is quite the insult for a wine. It means a wine is musty or smells like wet fur, and it's an infamous characteristic in wines made from American grape varieties such as Concord. Wine Spectator http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/41008

“foxy”—a pejorative term in the wine world for strong, musky flavors that can be reminiscent of wet fur. New Jersey Monthly http://njmonthly.com/blogs/on-the-vine/ ... e-fox.html


The term "foxy" often describes indigenous American grapes because of their ... led more than one writer to find notes of wet fur — even slyness — in the wines. The Cork Jester's Guide to Wine Jennifer Rosen books.google.com/books?isbn=1578602777

What don't people like about native and hybrid grapes? Wine lovers consider the wines made from them to be "foxy." That is, the clean fruit scents and flavors get marred by scents and flavors akin to animal fur. Since it seems most people don't like sucking on the fur of a wet fox, these grapes have fallen out of favor. Hanes Review http://www.haneswinereview.com/articles/0211rant.html

Wine from Labrusca grapes tastes something like wet animal fur, an unpleasant characteristic known within the trade as “foxy” Wine Tribune http://www.wine-tribune.com/wine_news.asp?artn=100

When he finally gained his composure he likened the smell of the American import to the smell of wet fox fur. That is the origin of our present day description of native American grapes whose wines are "foxy." American Wine Society journal - Volumes 22-27 Page 58 1990
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 28, 2012 5:40 pm

Peter May wrote:I didn't grow up around labrusca vines but I'd read the descriptor long before I ever encountered a labrusca wine

The descriptor might or might not be correct but it seems to be in common use, as is fur on its own.

Very interesting, Peter! I can't fault your research, but I honestly can't help wondering if they all go back to an original misconception that gained a life of its own. I know what fur smells like, and in my opinion, V. labrusca ain't it. Honestly, this descriptor is so very far off the mark that I still have to suspect a misperception given life through tradition.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Mike Pollard » Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:42 pm

Foxy makes it into the Wine tasting descriptors in Wikipedia, so it must be real!
Foxy : The musty odor and flavor of wines made from Vitis labrusca grapes native to North America, usually something undesirable.

Actually I’m with you Robin, I have never been able to associate animal fur or the smell of fox in wine. And the smell of fox, at least in Australia (foxes were introduced from England), is pretty pungent. A wine with that smell would be instantly recognizable.

Some years ago I was told before a visit to the wineries in Ohio that I would encounter a foxy aroma in the wine from native grapes but try as I could I never did find it. Wasn't in wines of the Finger Lakes either.

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Mike Pollard » Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:08 pm

A little bit more from Wikipedia - this time on Vitis labrusca

According to University of California, Davis viticulture expert A. J. Winkler, outside of the vinifera Muscat family of grapes, Vitis labrusca varieties have the most pronounced aromas among wine grape varieties. The description of "foxy" doesn't have anything to do with actual animal, but rather serves as a catch-all term to describe the unique, earthy and sweet muskiness that is best epitomized by fresh Concord grapes though some of the "sweet muskiness" can be perceived in grape juice made from Concord and other labrusca varieties like Niagara. In the 1920s, scientists were able to isolate the aroma compound responsible for the "foxy" musk as methyl anthranilate.

Musk I can agree with for foxy but not wines from Vitis l.

Methyl anthranilate is used as a bird repellent and apparently as an artificial flavor in grape Kool-Aid! "It is also secreted by the musk glands of foxes and dogs, and lends a "sickly sweetness" to the smell of rotting flesh." OK, now its getting unpleasant! The musk gland of dogs are also called anal glands because of their location and often need to be expressed and being the spouse of a vet I know only too well that smell but its still not what I would call typical of Concord grapes.

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Joe Moryl » Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:34 pm

Yes, foxy has been used to describe labrusca based wines for a long time. And, no, I've never understood it either.
Are foxes musky? I've never been close enough to one to find out. But as proof of the usage, Hunt Country Vineyards on Keuka Lake in NYS makes a line of 'fun wines' from labrusca which are named 'Foxy Lady'.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Peter May » Sat Dec 29, 2012 9:35 am

Dan was surprised by a definition equating the definition ‘foxy’ with animal fur

I in turn was surprised by Dan’s comment because ‘wet fur’ was a descriptor for foxiness that I knew, used and considered a standard descriptor.

In turn that surprised Robin Garr who posted that “I grew up around Eastern wines and have never heard this description.”

I was thinking about it last night and have developed a theory, in three parts.

1) Why is the taste of Vitis Labrusca described as ‘foxy’.

Because that species is known as the ‘fox grape’ and it has a distinctive flavour unlike other grape species. Thus because that flavour is the flavour of fox grapes, it is foxy.

2) Why isn’t the term ‘fur’ or ‘wet fur’ used for that flavour in the US.

Because there is no need to describe the flavour further. The Labrusca variety with the most intense ‘foxy’ taste is Concord and Concord is widely available as grapes, juice, jams, and flavourings in sweets and children’s cough medicine in addition to wine.

Robin nails it when he says “in the US, in any case, "grape jelly" works nicely for Vitis labrusca, although it’s circular Foxy smells like jelly made from fox grapes.”

In other words, if you want to tell someone what foxy means, there are many examples of Concord widely available.

This is borne out by various definitions online:

Foxiness: A tasting term to describe the smell and taste of Concord grapes and wine, and the smell and taste of similar varieties of the native eastern U.S. grapes Vitis labrusca. The aroma is attributed to formation of methyl anthranilate in ripe Labrusca grapes. Glossary of Terms for Enology, Viticulture and Winemaking www.napavalley.edu/.../Winemaking_GlossaryOfTerms.pdf

Foxy: The aroma and flavors defy verbal description. The best way to imprint "foxiness" in the memory is to mentally compare the flavor of fresh Concord grapes and any fresh California table grape http://www.internetwineguide.com/structure/abwine/word.htm

Foxy : The musty odor and flavor of wines made from Vitis labrusca grapes native to North America, usually something undesirable: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine_tasting_descriptors

3) Why is the term fur or wet fur used for that flavour?

The definition that Labrusca’s taste is foxy and that foxy means the taste of Labrusca is, as Robin says, circular and the advice to experience foxy by tasting Concord works only where people know Concord.

Outside the USA, where there are no Concord wines, grapes, juice, jams, or flavourings, other descriptors must be used.

I am not in the USA and have tasted only a handful of Concord wines, but never drunk one, I put Concord grape jelly on my breakfast toast when in the USA but get only intense sweetness. I don’t hunt foxes and don’t have a pet so I am not in a position to know enough about animal fur, or Concord to say whether this descriptor is correct.

The descriptor may have come about because outsiders thought when Labrusca was called foxy it was describing the taste as being like a fox.

But tasting like a fox has long been a description

a. "The Foxe Grape . . . smelleth and tasteth like unto a Foxe": John Parkinson, Theatricum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants (London, 1640).
b. The "fox" grape of Virginia is of "a rank Taste when ripe, resembling the Smell of a Fox, from whence they are called Fox-Grapes":
Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia (1705).

c. "A strong scent, a little approaching to that of a Fox, whence the name of Fox-grape": Humphry Marshall, Arbustrum Americanum: The American Grove, or an Alphabetical Catalogue of Forest Trees and Shrubs, Natives of the United States, Arranged According to the Linnœan System (Philadelphia, 1785).

d. "There is another property of this grape which alone is sufficient to prove it to be the Vit. vulpina , that is, the strong rancid smell of its ripe fruit, very like the effluvia arising from the body of the fox, which gave rise to the specific name of this vine, and not, as many have imagined, from its being the favourite food of the animal; for the fox (at least the American species) seldom eats grapes or other fruit if he can get animal food": William Bartram, in James Mease, ed., Domestic Encyclopaedia (1803-4).

Sourced from A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition. Thomas Pinney 1989. http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpresseboo ... ft967nb63q

Pinney devotes five pages in an Appendix titled Fox Grapes and Foxiness to trying to discover “why fox? and what quality in the grape, exactly, is meant by foxiness?” and concludes “So, if we still do not know for sure why the labrusca is called the fox grape, or why its wines are called foxy, at least two languages [English and French] agree to use those terms.”

So those in places where readers do not have access to Labrusca describe foxiness as being like (wet) fur because that is what it tastes like to them – or because that is the descriptor they found when researching.






A question to those who know Labrusca - how would you describe foxiness to someone who'd never tasted it?
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:25 am

Peter, I think that is an excellent analysis. Applause for the time spent working it out. I would quibble with only one point, and that lies in the Wikipedia reference:

Peter May wrote:Foxy : The musty odor and flavor of wines made from Vitis labrusca grapes native to North America, usually something undesirable: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine_tasting_descriptors


"Musty" might be a useful descriptor for cork taint, but it is utterly out of place for V. labrusca. Just totally, completely offbase. I would say the same of "musky," which I have also seen in this thread: I am highly sensitive to musky perfumes - they give me a headache - and there's nothing of that in labrusca, so far as I can discern.

Peter, your question of how to describe the labrusca/foxy scent is a good one, but I'm trapped in the circularity of ;abrusca > grape jelly > concord > labrusca. I'll think about it today, though.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby David Creighton » Sat Dec 29, 2012 1:02 pm

also not trying to pick on anyone; but my memory is that it is vitis not Vitis. am i wrong?
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Victorwine » Sat Dec 29, 2012 1:49 pm

Someone in Colonial America most likely coined the term “foxy” used as a descriptor for wine made from Native American grapes. At this time alcoholic beverages with names like “Rattle-Skull”, “Stonewall”, “Bogus”, “Blackstrap”, “Bombo Mimbo”, “Whistle Belly”, “Syllabub”, “Sling”, “Toddy”, and “Flip” was drank and enjoyed. If one drank too much they had dozens of words to describe drunkenness such as, addled, afflicted, biggy, boozy, busky, buzzey, chrubimical, cracked, and “halfway to Concord”.

In Latin naming first word genus (always starting off with a capital letter) second word species (all lower case).

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Paul Winalski » Sat Dec 29, 2012 2:14 pm

Regarding the vine aphid Phylloxera, yes, it does attack Vitis labrusca and other native North American vine species. But whereas an infestation of Phylloxera kills the roots of V. vinifera, that doesn't happen with the American vine species, nor with many of the hybrids. Some hybrids do die when infested by some breeds of Phylloxera, as those in California who had planted on the AxR (Aramon crossed with V. rupestris) discovered a couple of decades ago.

I think it depends on what you mean by "susceptible". If you mean "Phylloxera considers it one of its food plants", then I think all plants in the genus Vitis qualify. If you mean "infestation by Phylloxera causes rapid deterioration and death of the vine", then V. labrusca and its relatives demonstrably aren't susceptible. New England, where I live, is home territory for Phylloxera, and there are at least three different grape species growing wild everywhere, including V. labrusca.

New England also has black rot, grey rot, and both forms of mildew. Not a very hospitable place for V. vinifera.

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Mike Pollard » Sat Dec 29, 2012 2:31 pm

A description in Robinson's new book of Concord is "not unlike a blend of damp fur and wild strawberries". I don't have any wines made from Concord but I do know that I can certainly tell such a wine by its smell which is very distinctive and well grapey! We do have some Concord grape juice which is certainly very similar in smell to wines made from that grape, at least to me. I don't get Robinison's fur and wild strawberries nor do I get any muskiness nor the smell of fox nor dog anal gland; the latter is not only unpleasant but persistent. It smells like Concord grapes! Not helpful I know but its so distinctive that its the best descriptor for me.

If pushed I might say a very ripe blend of apple and cherry. Somewhat like fermenting Chardonnay grapes which have a very apple juice-like smell to me. Not unpleasant but far too forward to be appealing unless diluted.

One point that may be important is that some of the descriptions of foxy above refer to "ripe" grapes. Do Concord grapes smell more "foxy" when they are "ripe"? I'd love to hear how those with more experience of native grapes describe their smell. Perhaps a thread on the smell of Concord grapes and wines might bring out some interesting conversation?

Mike

EDIT: The link to Pinney's book (e-book) above by Peter May makes for very interesting reading. A section of the Appendix is devoted to "Fox Grapes and Foxiness".
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Steve Slatcher » Sat Dec 29, 2012 2:54 pm

I don't really have much to say on the subject, but I have long been wanting to understand the "foxy" descriptor and am following this with interest. The discussion is a great credit to the group - thanks for all the great contributions.

It's a pity no one here seems to agree with Dr(?) Winkler that Concord is musky, as methyl anthranilate - found in both grapes and foxes - would otherwise seem to tie everything together quite neatly.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Mike Pollard » Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:02 pm

Steve Slatcher wrote:It's a pity no one here seems to agree with Dr(?) Winkler that Concord is musky, as methyl anthranilate - found in both grapes and foxes - would otherwise seem to tie everything together quite neatly.


According to Pinney (for link see Peter May above) the explanation may be that its not common to all labrusca. "The flavor of the Concord grape, a pure labrusca, has been analyzed, and then synthesized so that the flavor can be used in soft drinks and other products. One of the main ingredients in that flavor is an ester called methyl anthranilate. But, to complicate things, the ester is not an important constituent of other labrusca grapes (e.g., Niagara)."

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Dec 29, 2012 5:40 pm

Victorwine wrote:In Latin naming first word genus (always starting off with a capital letter) second word species (all lower case).

Beat me to it! "Vitis vinifera" (or, commonly, "V. vinifera") is correct for scholarly or scientific use.
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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Victorwine » Sat Dec 29, 2012 6:31 pm

I believe for us to fully understand the descriptor “fox” or “foxy” we have to look how those in Colonial America (and even in earlier times) perceived the fox.
Foxes today in my neck of the woods are quite rare; don’t get me wrong they still are spotted. Mostly scavenging about in landfills and garbage cans, so I’m pretty sure they don’t smell to good. But than again my Godmother’s fox coat always-smelled real nice (maybe it was just her perfume).
In colonial times foxes were seen as “pests” (and just a pain in the butt) so hunting for foxes were very common. Sometimes they got away sometimes they didn’t. The usually got away because of their, speed, cunning, sneakiness, trickiness and slipperiness. The phrase “sly as a fox” was probably well understood back than, today I don’t think my younger nieces and nephews would know what it means. (The Bible applies the term “fox” to a “false prophet”). So instead of looking at how we now perceive a fox, try looking at it through their eyes.

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Re: Animal Fur Anyone?

Postby Paul Winalski » Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:40 pm

Mike Pollard wrote:One point that may be important is that some of the descriptions of foxy above refer to "ripe" grapes. Do Concord grapes smell more "foxy" when they are "ripe"? I'd love to hear how those with more experience of native grapes describe their smell.


My experience is with the wild V. labrusca grapes rather than the domesticated variety from that species, the Concord. And yes, they do not fully develop that "foxy" aroma until they are fully ripe. When they are, that aroma can be smelled tens of yards away from the vine. It's as if this is the female vines' (in the wild V. labrusca has separate male and female plants; the domesticated varieties such as Concord are, as the domesticated V. vinifera, hermaphroditic) call to birds and animals, "COME AND GET ME! I'M RIPE!" Deer are very fond of the grapes that are growing low enough on the vines (which in the wild tend to climb trees) for them to reach, and of the fruit that has fallen to the ground; the birds get the rest. My brother had a Concord grapevine in his yard and, if he wanted to harvest any grapes, he had to put netting over the vine to keep the birds away.

I personally don't see any similarity between the labrusca taint and wet animal fur. But I'm an American who grew up with Welch's grape juice (made from Concord grapes) as my primary experience of what unfermented grapes taste like. BTW, that character is even more overpowering in the wild V. labrusca grapes, which aren't really particularly good eating. The grape skins are very astringent and mouth-puckeringly tannic, then there's a burst of sweet juice, redolent of the "foxy" character, and a tough, rather flavorless placenta surrounds the pips. The selective breeding that produced the modern Concord has toned down the astringency of the grape skins and softened the placenta. Concord isn't as foxy as the wild grapes are (hard as that may be to believe).

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