Colorful ChambourcinChambourcin is a very versatile red grape that can be made into big Rhône or Northern Italian-style reds, Anjou-type rosés, Nouveau or fall wines, and soft enjoyable table reds. While Chambourcin has been commercially available since 1963 – having originally been bred in France by Joannes Seyve in the 1950s – it is now one of the most highly propagated French-American hybrids in France, and is just now becoming popular here in the Hudson Valley.
CHAMBOURCIN IS POPULAR in France’s
Loire Valley, perhaps because like the other famous grape grown there – Cabernet Franc – it can make both quality, big, rich reds and light, fruity rosé wines. On this side of the Atlantic, Chambourcins are also commonly grown in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia. In the Hudson Valley, it can make big reds of great aging potential and steely rosé wines. In fact, many Chambourcins here are also reminiscent of Cabernet Franc wines. The Hudson Valley is about Chambourcin’s northern-most growing range, not due to cold sensitivity, but because it needs a long growing season to ripen properly. At my farm in Cedar Cliff, Athens, New York, Chambourcin grows well and ripens by the middle of October.
The superior wines of Chambourcin can be big and aromatic, with a solid tannin structure and a rich complex flavor that has a great berry/jammy flavor profile. The wine blends well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc because it softens these wines, but it can be blended with hybrids like Baco Noir or Marechal Foch to help beef up their tannin structure and increase complexity. When fermented on the skins for extended periods of time, it extracts big vinifera-type flavors with great aging potential.
The color of Chambourcin wines is a deep crimson red and it continues to retain deep crimson red hues for seven to ten years before changing. In fact, it can take fairly long to reach its peak – I have had 20-year-old Chambourcins that still need time to reach their peak, yet they still have those young bright crimson colors. To expedite the aging of Chambourcin, if it is not used in blends, extended wood aging is often required.
Wine evaluators have described Chambourcin as similar to a full-bodied Bordeaux, Burgundy or a Rhône wine. I believe that Chambourcins, even with their high acid front and middle, have more the elements of a soft, light Rhône, Cabernet Franc, or northern Italian red because of its soft tannin structure, flavor profile, and subtle nuances. Chambourcins tend to be more like Rhônes or Cab Francs because of its prominent black pepper and spice in the aroma and flavor that overlays the grape’s basic berry front, most noticeably black berries and chocolate.
In my experience, Chambourcins have a wide range of prominent fruit flavors including cherry, black raspberry, black currents, blueberries, cooked mulberries, and prunes. The earthy and resinous body has elements of black olives, anise, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, burnt toast, soy sauce, and flint. The wines can be aromatic with a bouquet of eucalyptus, spice, smoke, cigar box, tobacco, leather, mahogany, teak wood, and chocolate. They can also be herbaceous with flavors of dill and green peppers. For all of its flavor and body, Chambourcins tend to have muted or closed noses, unless aged for seven to fifteen years. So, in making Chambourcins, adding big-nosed varieties such as Baco, Chelois or Foch into blends is recommended..
Chambourcin can make great rosés, not unlike a Rosé d’Anjou, which is partially made from Chambourcin. These rosés are steely and have a presence, yet can easily be consumed during the summer months. In France’s Loire Valley, much Chambourcin is made into locallyconsumed rosés. These high-acid raspberry red to peach-colored rosés are bright, with elements of cranberries, lemons, watermelons, and even Hawaiian Punch with a slate finish..
With the spring and summer seasons upon us, try a big, fleshy Chambourcin red. It can stand up very well to, and complement, meats cooked on the grill from beef to chicken to lamb. Actually, with more locally-produced lamb becoming available in the Valley, I heartily recommend lamb – Chambourcins truly mesh well with grilled and other types of prepared lamb. And, Chambourcin rosés are a good bet for summertime enjoyment and entertaining. With such versatility, and just gaining recognition here, Chambourcin should have a prominent place in the future of the Hudson Valley wine industry.
Articles are adapted from the forthcoming book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley” by J. Stephen Casscles. In future issues of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine, we’ll continue to feature additional excerpts from this definitive work on regional varietals culled from decades of the author’s tasting notes and personal experience.