Monday, March 06, 2017

Has The Glass Ceiling For Quality Hybrid Red Wines Been Broken?

glass ceil·ing  * noun * an unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.

I remember once being in a fine wine making establishment in North America where they made very very good Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. I I asked the man pouring our tasting if they made any Baco Noir, as I knew that it was grown in the region.

He looked at me a askance and rolling his eyes said, "Baco Noir is a gorilla in a tuxedo! We will never make Baco Noir!"  It was clear to me at least that is prejudices showed him to be a fool.

Such is the plight of hybrids especially in the dry red wine world. I have seen so called wine expert's and wine writers wrinkle their noses at the very mention of the word "hybrid". As if good to very good red wine could only be made from a dozen or so officially approved vinifera grapes.

However, take heart hybrid makers and lovers. Recently there have been some break troughs.  The March 2017 issue of Wine Enthusiast gave Hudson-Chatham Baco Noir Middlehope a score of 91 Points! 

And they gave Huber Dornfelder from Santa Rita Hills 91 Points also!  Dornfelder is not technically a hybrid, because it was bred using vinifera. But make no mistake about it. It was created by scientists in 1955, and not released for wine production until 1979. It is not a name that many American wine consumer are familiar with, nor are many wine writers well versed in. IT IS NOT AN ANCIENT NOBLE GRAPE. Thus, I feel it belongs in the conversation.

Of course, there have been other highlights within the last six months! Eric Asimov featured Victory View wines Marechal Foch the New York Times just late last year!!!


And Shelburne Vineyards' and Lincoln Peak's Marquette have also drawn some very strong positive reviews after last year's tastings in Vermont sponsored by The Cork website!

And let's not forget, that despite a slew of Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons from Long Island, one of the consistant award winners for red wine in New York state have been Keuka Lake Leon Millot!

The question is has this in the glass ceiling been broken for hybrid red?

To be sure, there are wonderful Baco Noirs being made elsewhere, such as in Oregon (especially Giradet, Anthony Dell, Bradley Vineyards, and Chateau Lorane) as well as Canada (Henry of Pelham, Reif, Sue-Ann Staff, Peller Estates, 20 Bees, Lakeview and Ridge Road) to name a few.

First off, one has to congratulate the forward thinkers like Wine Enthusiast and the New York Times, and even The Cork Report for promoting these wines.

Hybrids have always been controversial, it seems. They are the outcasts of the wine world, where tradition seems to matter more than innovation. Since Dr. Konstantin Frank and a cadre of French farmers first insisted that the wine resulting from the grapes killed chickens,there seems to have been a prejudice against hybrids, especially red hybrids. This was a patently false statement. Hybrids don't kill anything any faster than any other grape.

Baby boomers seem to lift their nose high in the air and bristle, if the varietal red wines seem to come from anywhere but the great grape growing regions. However, Gen X'ers seem much more open and interested, and seem to be giving these grapes and wines new life.

Of course hybrids fell into their own kind of cycle of abuse. They were thought to be inferior grapes. Thus winemakers made inferior wines with them. Red hybrids eventually found their way into many sweet or inexpensive blends. This only reinforced the feeling in the wine community of their place in the grape and winemaking pecking order.

But as new wineries stretched out into colder territory, and as mid-west and west coast winemakers look for new varieties to help separate themselves out, hybrids have found a new partner. Winemakers who were willing to treat them like vinifera both in the field and in the cellar. With crop thinning and leaf pulling, and with care on the crush pad and bedded down for the winter in fine French and American oak, some beautiful things were happening. The results in the last 10 years with the improvement of wine making techniques in the east has led to a slew of great drinkable and indeed collectible dry red table wines made from hybrid red grapes.

I think it is important to note too that younger generations (Gen Xers sand Millennials) have been more interested in local craft beverages and more open to trying these wines, than their more died-in-the-wool parents and grandparents known as Baby Boomers.

I also have noticed that there are more and more collectors who have made a habit of collecting East Coast red wines, who include dry red table wine's made from hybrid grapes in their collections. They are very enthusiastic about these wines.

Will Baco Noir, Marquette, Dornfelder, Chambourcin, Marachel Foche, Chelois, and Leon Millot ever replace Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Syrah, Pinot Noir and the like? I doubt it.

Has the glass ceiling been shattered? Maybe not. But we are at a tipping point for sure. It is especially nice to see the glass ceiling starting to crack a little and seeing real appreciation among wine experts and enthusiasts for the fruits of those winemakers labors who do put the effort into these fine products.

So, pull out your best Riedel wine glasses and pour yourself a Baco Noir, a Dornfelder, or whatever it is you like. And savor some if the new wines coming out of both coasts.

And watch out for that ceiling about to fall down!