Monday, August 06, 2012

15 Great Chambourcins You Need to Try!

Chambourcin tends to be one of the dividing lines in the world between vinifera and hybrid. Chambourcin had and has been embraced as the most “vinifera like” of the hybrids. And indeed, it can make some incredible wines. In the past, however, while many states had embraced the grape, few had really perfected a good, dry red wine with it. It reminds me of the old saw Bruce Zoecklein reminded me of not too long ago: Folks were so amazed that the dog could talk, that they failed to realize that he couldn’t talk very well. Go grow is fine. To grow great wine is another thing completely…

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, here’s the description of the grape from Wikipedia: “Chambourcin is a French-American interspecific hybrid grape variety used for making wine. Its parentage is uncertain. The hybrid was produced by Joannes Seyve who often used Seibel hybrids produced in the 1860s. The grape has only been available since 1963. Chambourcin has a good resistance to fungal disease. Chambourcin is one of the parents of the new disease resistant variety, Regent, which is increasing in popularity among German and Okanagan Valley grape growers. The grape produces a deep-colored wine with a full aromatic flavor, and no unpleasant hybrid flavors. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level, giving it a pleasant but not overbearing sweetness. Chambourcin wines are often served with dark chocolate (or desserts made from the chocolate), as the flavors of the wine and chocolate intermingle exceptionally well. Chambourcin has been planted widely in the mid-Atlantic region of North America particularly in states like New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina….”

I will admit, that as technology and technique have finally caught up with east coast winemaking, hybrids have improved greatly, because when you apply some of those same “best practices” to the hybrids that you do to vinifera, guess what, the hybrids improve too! While some wineries lag behind, sweetening hybrids to “hide” the “foxy” flavor, or to make more popular sweet red wines that many consumers enjoy, others have embraced French, Italian, or California techniques to turn out phenomenal, sophisticated dry red wines. In Pennsylvania, they also make a wide variety of nouveaus for the first week of November each and every year. Chambourcin also makes dynamite port….but that’s a different article.

Also, there is the snobbery of wine folks to be overcome. I am constantly amazed by wine writers who abhor the hybrid grape, but who marvel and gush over the latest obscure grape being grown in Greece or Hungary on only a few hectares. I love how they blame the grape…and not the winemaker. Lately, however, I have been thrilled with numerous hybrids that have wowed crowds, especially like that of Keuka Lake Winery’s award-winning Leon Millott. These makers drop fruit and leaf pull to intensify flavor and improve ripeness. Aging in French and American oak round out their wines and add structure. Using malolactic fermentations to soften their wines. Proper aging to add maturity. These are all techniques enlisted to create quality vinifera, and benefit the results of hybrids as well.

I was struck by a kind of “grape racism” on a recent field trip with friends, who wrinkled their collective noses at the mere mention of Chambourcin. I was summarily dismissed/dispatched, to freely taste of the Chambourcin alone. “Let me know if it’s any good,” sniffed one. LOL!

As Greg Kinear’s character says to Jack Nicholson’s in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, the one charming thing about me is my willingness to make a complete ass out of myself with little regard to the consequences. So, that gave me an idea. Could I count on more than two hands Chambourcins good enough to pour blind for wine snobs that, if they didn’t know what it was, would otherwise be impressed?

Challenge accepted. So here are a bunch of absolutely wonderful Chambourcins, not necessarily in order. These are not the only good ones; these are some of the best on the east coast. I may have left some out…apologies.

Tomasello Chambourcin 2010 – A revelation. Almost tastes like a good Virginia Chambourcin. Big, jammy fruit up front. Low acidity, and soft tannins,. But big enough to be pushed against French and/or American oak, and carry itself well in the cellar for years. Impressive.

Hopewell Valley Chambourcin – Sergio Neri of Hopewell Valley is from Italy, and he made the biggest impact on the grape for me early on. He did to the grape what he would naturally do to any other. He carefully grew it, and handled it lightly, but with quality in the cellar, and turned out a wine many gladly buy at premium prices. It’s a very impressive wine. Elegant. This is easily one of the best Chambourcins you’ll have.

Paradocx Chambourcin 2010 – This is an award winning Chambourcin, from the Pennsylvania Brandywine Wine Trail, with nice fruit and nice acidity, but with some umph. Very nice. Manke an instant impression. Lovely.

4JG’s Chambourcin – Once you get over the name (many people ask, “What the hell does 4JG’s mean?”), you’ll find some great quality wines from this Colt’s Neck, New Jersey winery. This is a big, sophisticated red. Bold flavor up front, with nice acids an tannins, this wine is a statement for big, meat eating reds. It has shoulders big enough to carry a London broil or a NY Strip on its back. “You want grilling marks? You can’t handle grilling marks!” it seems to yell. You don’t gently set this wine down on the table, you kind of almost slam it down like you’re doing a steak sauce commercial. And then get ready for an experience. A great food wine.

Zephaniah – Easily one of the best Chambourcins I’ve recently tasted at one of the Grand Tastings at the TasteCamp 2012 in Virginia. Big fruit, soft acids, soft tannins. It’s almost Chambourcin pretending to be Malbec. But with just enough, almost Italian like flair, to remind you it is in fact a more sophisticated, European–styled wine. This will age well. Five years will be good enough.

Mount Felix Chambourcin – I had this Maryland wine when it was already five years old. It was a revelation. I wasn’t expecting much…but that was my own fault. A very nice, medium-bodied red, with solid fruit and acidity, and nice enough tannins for a very nice dry red table wine.

Silver Decoy Chambourcin – Silver Decoy is one of the gems of east coast wine, and among the shining stars of New Jersey. While New York and Virginia puff their chests, and pat themselves on the back, Silver Decoy chugs along, sure and steady. Nice, solid fruit, with good flavor, nice acidty and good balance. A great food wine. Very impressive, and usually very consistent.

Narmada Chambourcin – A new discovery for me. Narmada was an eye-opener at the Virginia TasteCamp 2012. And the Chambourcin was one of my favorites. A nice medium bodied wine, but with excellent flavor up front, and soft tannins and low acidity. Very impressive….California like. Very nice!

Pinnacle Chambourcin – Classic Chambourcin at its best – as a medium-bodied wine treated like classic vinifera. Brad Knapp has complimented Penn State University extension staffer Mark Chien (one of the best on the east coast) with improvements in growing techniques for helping him to improve his wine. Knapp knows what he’s doing out there in the Lehigh Valley…and his Chambourcin is proof.

Vynecrest's 2010 – Chambourcin is the jewel of the Lehigh Valley, the home of Vynecrst Vineyards Hints of cherry and blackberry, it has soft velvety finish. Wonderful!

Knob Hall Chambourcin – Some bloggers and wine writers consider this Clear Springs, Maryland winery’s entry in the Chambourcin varietal the best in the state. And you couldn’t go wrong with a statement like that because they won a regional competition recently between MD, PA, and NJ. They put a lot of effort into making this wine…and it shows. This is a fruity yet full-bodied red wine that is ready to drink now or can be put down for several years. This wine has great color and aromas.

Heritage Station Vineyard Chambourcin – This central New Jersey winery has done some incredible winemaking in a short period of time. This is a big, dense red/purple wine. Lots of deep plum a touch of prune, nice dark cherry flavors all come through. Nice balance of fruit and oak. Fabulous finish. A classic red, elegant and refined. One of the best Chambourcin's on the east coast!!

Fiore Chambourcin – Mike Fiore is one of the grand old men of East Coast wine. His Chambourcin is a signature wine, and is as big and robust as Mike himself. A nice garnet color, with good raspberries and plum on the nose and tongue. Nice tannins. A very good wine!

Vint Hill Chambourone - Vint Hill, you will recall, is the make-your-own winery, that also makes wine, down in Virginia. It is a state-of-the-art facility, using “green” technologies and materials wherever possible and created as an example of sustainable design. Chambourone is a Chambourcin wine using the same methods as the Italian Amarone, where they pick the grapes, and then dry them out to almost raisin status before pressing. This is a big intense wine with prune, plum, and cassis all at the forefront, with even a hint of lackvar to it. Dark cherry and a whiff of vanilla. This has big fruit up front, with low acid, and a medium tannin. A nice, delicious wine, meant for charred steak and veal osso bucco. I've had a lot of Chambourcins, buit nothing like this one. This wine is an absolute winner!

Chaddsford Rose’ – Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post insisted this was “regional wine at its best!” A fruity, dry rose’. Incredible. Eric Miller, down in the Brandywine Wine Trail of Pennsylvania, is one of the best winemakers on the east coast. Another example of his light and smart touch.

Now go try some can thank me for it later.