I was talking to a friend recently about a wine tasting she went to in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She was asking me about the wine called “Chambourcin”, which I had never heard of. Maybe I’m in good company. I was astonished to discover some very interesting facts about the wine that I thought I would share with you thrillseekers.
Chambourcin is a “French-American interspecific hybrid grape variety”, though its parentage is uncertain. The grape is often vinted sweet, though some wineries have begun making it in a dry style. Now comes something fairly interesting about it: It’s grown all over the world. It’s grown in America (in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and other mid-Atlantic states), Australia (Hunter Valley), France and Portugal.
Chambourcin is also unique in being a teinturier variety, a grape whose juices run pink or red instead of clear like most grapes. Though the grape is green before Veraison (like most grapes), it is particularly high in anthocyanin pigments, which dye the skins and the juice red. Other grapes in the teinturier category that you might be familiar with are Alicante Bouchet or Saperavi.
The biochemist who first created the hybrid Chambourcin, Joannes Seyve, came from a French family rich in horticultural history. His father and brother also produced hybrid grapes including the famous Seyval Blanc (found mostly in Northern New York). He was also influential in the creation of Traminette, a hybrid of Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gewurztraminer, which has been dubbed the signature wine of the state of Indiana.
So why, if Chambourcin is such a unique grape and its creator so instrumental to the creation of other well-known varieties, do none of us know of Chambourcin? Well, there are a few good reasons. First of all, grapes that are teinturiers tend to produce poor wines, being far too tannic to be enjoyable. High anthocyanins = high tannins. The grape is often blended into other wines, boosting color without dramatically impacting flavor, but not often seen on its own. Secondly, because of the grape’s propensity to grow in a North-eastern Atlantic climate, the wines are treated with the traditional caution from wine publications and critics that many other native and hybrid-American grapes are treated with. Perhaps unfairly, but such is the case.
To find some Chambourcin for yourself to try, consider Undercliff from New South Wales in Australia, Strother Ridge from Missouri, or Clover Hill Winery’s Turtle Rock Red from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.