Chapter 2

Wine Grape Varieties

French-American Hybrids

French-American hybrids are crosses between the wild American grape (primarily V. rupestris, V. lincecumii, and V. riparia) and the European species (V. vinifera). They were called French-American hybrids because most of the breeding work was done in France. As a result of these crosses, many of the French hybrids combine the excellent wine quality of the V. vinifera with the hardiness and insect and disease resistance of the wild American species, making them a versatile choice in many geographical areas. In regions where cold winter temperatures are common, French hybrids exhibit an important advantage over V. vinifera varieties since they can be grown in areas not adapted to V. vinifera production. They have the ability to produce a commercial crop from secondary and even tertiary buds if the primary bud, or its developing shoot, is destroyed by cold weather. However, the high degree of fruitfulness of primary shoots along with the growth of fruitful adventitious (unplanned) shoots typically poses a problem of overbearing. The flavors of the French-American group are quite variable but much more subtle than the flavors of the native, American varieties, i.e., V. labrusca. The most widely planted hybrids have a wine flavor close to European varieties.

Red Wine Varieties

Baco Noir

Baco noir produces wines that have been variously described as “Rhone-style” or “Beaujolais-style.” It is characterized by high titratable acidity at fruit maturity and produces wines of good quality that are normally deeply pigmented but low in tannin content. It develops a fruity aroma associated with aspects of herbs.

Chambourcin

Chambourcin, considered one of the best of French-American hybrids, is a highly rated wine used often used for blending with other wines. 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. Wines from this grape are higher in tannins than other French-American hybrids. Varietal descriptors include raspberry, cloves, cherry, plum, and tobacco.

Chancellor

Chancellor’s wine quality is among the better of the French-American hybrids, and it does well alone or in blends. It produces a medium-bodied red wine which is capable of aging well. It tends to be very colored and care should be taken not to extract too much color from the skins.

Frontenac

Frontenac produces deep-colored wines with cherry, blackberry, black currant, and plum notes. It can also be used in production of port-style-wines. Frontenac is a vigorous, semi-trailing variety that is usually trained to high cordons.

Maréchal Foch

Maréchal Foch possess Burgundian characteristics, having a vibrant, deep purple color, with a light-medium structure and dark berry fruit characteristics. Some tasters find the similarities to Burgundy Pinot Noir become more pronounced with age.

Norton (Cynthiana)

Norton produces a rich, full-bodied dry red wine with berry flavors and spicy overtones. It can be used in varietal wines, including ports but may also be blended with other reds. These wines have an intense color.

White Wine Varieties

Cayuga White

Cayuga as a grape produces a European style white table wine, which has medium body and good balance. This versatile grape can be made into a semisweet wine, which brings out the fruit aromas, or if oak aging, into a dry, less fruity wine.

Chardonel

Chardonel is a cross of Seyval blanc and Chardonnay that produces an excellent wine, with aromas characteristic of both parents. Chardonel has the potential for fine-quality, dry still wines produced with barrel fermentation and/or barrel aging.

Seyval Blanc

Seyval blanc produces a fresh, crisp wine that is often described as good with attractive aroma, but the body is somewhat thin. Malolactic fermentation or barrel fermentation followed by oak aging will enhance the quality.

Traminette

Traminette is a late mid-season white wine grape which produces wine with distinctive floral aroma and spicy flavors, characteristic of its Gewürztraminer parent. Traminette’s relatively high acid and low pH help complement its fresh-fruit aromas and flavors. The wine can be made dry or sweet but is usually finished with some residual sweetness.

Vidal Blanc

Vidal blanc is considered one of the best of the white French-American hybrids. The wine produced from Vidal blanc is fruity, with grapefruit and pineapple notes. The wines produced can be quite versatile, ranging from off-dry German style wines to dry, barrel-fermented table wines. Due to its high acidity and fruitiness it is particularly suited to sweeter, dessert wines.

Vignoles

Vignoles produces excellent wines of many different styles, depending on the region where the grapes are grown. Most commonly, however, Vignoles is produced as an off-dry wine or as a dessert wine, especially when picked late in the season. The fruit can have a high, sugar content while retaining high acidity.

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