here), has the following to say about the origin of the term foxy:
"Bailey gives the following interpretation of the word "fox" and its derivatives as applied to grapes: 'The term fox-grape was evidently applied to various kinds of native grapes in the early days, although it is now restricted to the vitis labrusca of the Atlantic slope. Several explanations have been given of the origin of the name fox-grape, some supposing that it came from a belief that foxes eat the grapes, others that the odor of the grape suggests that of the fox - an opinion to which Beverly subscribed nearly two centuries ago - and still others thinking that it was suggested by some resemblance of the leaves to a fox's track. William Bartram, writing at the beginning of this century, in the Medical Repository, is pronounced in his convictions: 'The strong, rancid smell of its ripe fruit, very like the effluvia arising from the body of the fox, 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.' I am inclined to suggest, however, that the name may have originated from the lively foxing or intoxicating qualities of the poor wine which was made from the wild grapes. At the present day we speak of 'foxiness' when we wish to recall the musk-like flavor of the wild Vitis labrusca; but this use of the term is of later origin, and was suggested by the name of the grape."' Bailey, L. H . Evolution of our Native Fruits: 5 1898." Peter May (whose book on Pinotage I reviewed here) passed along this link which has a thorough and interesting discussion on "foxiness" as well.
All of which is interesting, but unless you know what the "effluvia arising from the body of a fox" smells like, probably isn't really all that helpful. Judging by the number of threads devoted to the topic of foxiness on many wine message boards, I wasn't alone in my confusion. Many try to describe it as a musky flavor, which is a little more helpful but is still maddeningly vague enough to not be satisfactory. Still others describe it as a kind of grapey flavor, like Welch's grape juice or grape jelly, which I've found a little bit more helpful, but not totally accurate. The scientific explanation is that there are two chemicals, methyl anthranilate and O-aminoacetophenone, that are responsible for the taste and flavor perceptions that we regard as foxy. Methyl anthranilate (C8H9NO2) is found in Concord grapes and many other fruits, but is also secreted by dog and fox musk glands and is responsible for the "sickly sweet" smell of rotting corpses. At full concentrations, its aroma is described as "grapey" and it is often used to flavor grape candies and drinks. O-aminoacetophenome is apparently another chemical with a particularly grapey aroma that is found in many native American grape varieties, but can also be found in the anal sac of the Japanese weasel (really).
Knowing all of the information above can get you part of the way to understanding what "foxiness" is, but the only real way to get a handle on what that term means is to try a foxy wine. Several years ago, still not knowing just what "foxy" meant, I found myself at Truro Vineyards in Truro, Massachusetts. My wife and I were going through a tasting of some of their wines, most of which are made from traditional Vitis vinifera varieties, when they poured me a wine from a blue bottle shaped like a lighthouse which they said was made from a grape called Moore's Diamond. When I stuck my nose in the glass, I knew immediately what "foxiness" was. I grew up in rural Georgia and my grandparents had a grape arbor in their back yard that was planted with Scuppernong grapes. Scuppernongs belong to the Vitis rotundifolia species which is also known as "muscadine" because they're very musky and have a very distinctive kind of taste which, it turns out, is what people mean when they talk about foxiness. It was a moment of great revelation as so many things suddenly became clear to me. I wasn't doing this blog at the time, but I recently came across another bottling of Truro's Diamond and decided to write a little bit about the grape.
Moore's Diamond was bred by Jacob Moore around 1870 by fertilizing a Concord vine with pollen from an Iona vine. Iona is itself a hybrid of Diana (or possibly Catawba) and an unknown Vitis vinifera vine, which makes Diamond a Vitis vinifera x labrusca hybrid. It was once very highly regarded and in 1908, UP Hedrick writes: "Diamond is surpassed in quality and beauty by few other grapes. When to its desirable fruit characters are added its earliness, hardiness, productiveness and vigor it is surpassed by no other green grape." He goes on to say: "We usually accord Niagara first place among green grapes but Diamond rivals it for the honor. The former attained high rank not only through merit but by much advertisement while Diamond has made its way by merit alone. If we consider the wants of the amateur and of the wine-maker as well as those of the commercial vineyardist, unquestionably Diamond must be accorded a high place
among the best all-around grapes." Hedrick was a fan of Diamond because he likes "the refreshing sprightliness of our native fox grapes," and feels that the introduction of some vinifera into the lineage gave Diamond a "touch of the exotic." The vine is also relatively cold hardy and carries many of the same resistances to disease as the other native American vines, but it is thin skinned and thus susceptible to many fungal diseases. Its popularity was never as high as Hedrick might have hoped, and today it is planted on less than 100 acres in New York state and in minuscule quantities across the northeastern and Midwestern United States.
the winery. In the glass this wine was a very pale silvery lemon color. The nose was explosively perfumed and was 100% musky grapes. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and was bone dry. There wasn't a lot of fruit to the wine, but what was there was a little musky and grapey with a little bit of vague citrus as well. It was a really weird wine with a kind of salty, tangy nuttiness to it as well. The dominant flavor was still foxy grapes, but I think that because I have such a strong association of sweetness with that foxy grape flavor, this wine just ended up coming off as weird to me. Of all the wines I've tasted for this site, this was definitely one of the most bizarre and while I'm glad that I got to try it, I don't think it's something that I'll be seeking out again anytime soon.
A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.