Thursday, June 9, 2011

Varietal Snapshot: Chambourcin

I've seen this variety, Chambourcin (said: "sham-boor-sin"), come a lot in the Eastern U.S. wine world, and I thought it was worth talking about on my blog!  After all, sometimes I should be educational...  I think talking about some of these less familiar varieties may be beneficial towards having my readers try new things, and as always - I encourage you to try new things and discover what you like.  Please remember that each producer is different, and if you ever need a suggestion on where to buy a variety, please post a comment in the comment box, and I will find a good recommendation.

Chambourcin Grapes
(Photo from Google Images)

Chambourcin is a French-American hybrid variety, and the parentage of this grape is somewhat unknown.  I believe it was originally developed in France and is known for its incredible cold hardiness and disease resistance.  It also has a tendency to retain its deep, velvety red color, which is often a problem with varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and especially with Pinot Noir.

As a wine, Chambourcin is known for its relatively tannic nature, in the positive way that Cabernet Sauvignon is known for the same attribute.  It also holds onto its acidity, giving it the potential for long term aging.  It holds herbaceous, spicy aromas similar to Merlot and Syrah.  In fact, its structural and flavor attributes make it a good candidate for a stainless steal, fruity red wine, semi-sweet red wine, or oak-aged red wine.  Others have tried making it as a port-style fortified wine or even a bubbly.  Sometimes, I have caught Chambourcin used in blush or rose wines.

(Photo from Google Images)

It's an excellent wine to pair with your bar-b-q's, red-based pasta dishes, red meat (including things like hamburgers and hot dogs), a nice steak dinner, beef stew, beef au jus, and game animals including venison, pheasant, and duck.  Think of it as a versatile Cabernet!

(Photo from Google Images)

Wine Business Monthly, an industry trade journal, published an article on Chambourcin when it was gaining popularity in 2000.  I have attached this article to the link above.  It's an interesting article on the wine variety, and explains what exactly hybrids are.  I have attached the section on hybridization here for your convenience, but again, you can find it at the included link:

A hybrid is the progeny of two different species. For grapes, the parents usually are European wine-grape,Vitis vinifera, and at least one species of American grape. The most important American grape species for the production of hybrid-grapes include Vitis aestivalis, V. berlandieri, V. riparia, and V. rupestris.

Hybridization should not be confused with the cross-breeding of Vitis vinifera cultivars to produce new varieties like Müller Thurgau, Portan, Symphony, or Ruby Cabernet. These are often call "crossings" in order to differentiate them from the various hybrids.  

The hybridization of Vitis vinifera with American grape species seems to have occurred in several stages.   The first were the "accidental" hybrids of which Alexander is the earliest known example.   Other "accidental" hybrids include such grape varieties as Catawba and Delaware.   Niagara is an example of the next round of grape hybrids in which the hybrids were produced by intentional crossbreeding. The so-called French hybrids (also called French-American hybrids) represent the third wave grape hybridization.  

The French hybrids were produced in an attempt to find a solution to the destruction wrecked upon the European wine-industry by the Phylloxera root-louse.   As such, the French hybrids were reasonably successful. By the mid-1950s, hybrids were planted in about a third of France's total vineyard acreage. This situation did not remain stable, however, as the use of grafted rootstock was eventually deemed a better solution to Phylloxera infestation.

The most "American" or foxy tasting hybrids were outlawed in France in 1934.   In 1955, and again in 1984, the French AOC began actively discouraging new plantings of all "inferior" grape varieties.   According to the AOC, most, if not all, of the French hybrids fall under that definition and thus can be used only in the lowest grades of French wine. There remains a short list of authorized French hybrids which merely reflects surviving plantings of the least noticeably "foxy" hybrids.   In addition to Chambourcin, French hybrids still grown in France include Baco 1 (AKA Baco Noir), Baco 22A (mainly in Armagnac), Seyval Blanc, Chancellor, and Rayon d'Or, though some others continue to survive. wbm

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