By Celia Strong
Well, if nothing else, it’s going to be interesting this week. As we do our lessons and tastings every week, I have to assume some of us care more about all the different tidbits of knowledge that we have in front of us, or not, and some of us may remember more than others. (Just like some of us like some of our new wines better; others like different wines better. That’s life.) All not because we care more, or less, not because we’re more or less smart than each other, but because all these little tidbits click differently for each of us. Hopefully, we all like to know these bits of information are out there. Even though they may not matter on a daily basis for any of us, it’s a nice security blanket knowing they’re there. Sort of like having a new glass of wine to try every week is a nice security blanket.
Our learning goes on. And our sipping goes on. And we stay comfy and cozy with our preferred wines, our tidbits of knowledge and our security blankets.
Our lesson this week is slightly different than usual. When I picked this week’s wine, it was clear immediately that we would need to explore a subject that never really applied before. On occasion, we have scratched at the surface of some of it, but, if our wine knowledge is going to keep growing, it’s time for us to look at hybrids. (And, no, I don’t mean cars.) Hybrid grapes are the results of cross-pollination. The crossing of two varieties to make another, new grape variety. Historically, this crossing was usually done on purpose. Sometimes, it could an accident though. During the late nineteenth century, when European “vitis vinifera” vines were failing under attack by phylloxera in all their vineyards, survival of the wine industry required finding a way to grow their grapes on rootstocks from American varieties. (American roots were resistant to phylloxera, so their grapes had to be attached to our roots.) Even before the phylloxera situation, though, growers were able to cross-pollinate different grapes to make new ones better suited to their growing conditions.
You might remember that Cabernet Sauvignon was made by crossing Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. This was a planned crossing, made from two European “vinifera” grapes and the offspring is also a “vinifera.” Besides “vitis vinifera,”’there are also “vitis aestivalis” from North America, “rupestris” also from North America, “riparia” that is native to northeastern America, “amurensis,” an Asian species from Siberia and China, “rotundifolia,” the Muscadines that are native to to the southern half of the United States, and “labrusca” grapes that are native to northeastern North America. “Labrusca” includes Concord and Niagara grapes – both hybrids, or cross-pollinated formed varieties, with high “Labrusca” content.
As you can see there are many lines in the large “vitis” family. “Vitis” being just a vine. Alexander is the earliest, named hybrid grape in America. It was discovered around 1740 near a vineyard that had been planted for William Penn. Technically, in the wine business, a distinction is made between hybrids and cross-pollinated grapes. Hybrids come from crossing two different species. “Vinifera” mixed with “Labrusca.” Crossed grapes come from mixing two grapes from the same “vitis.” Cabernet Sauvignon. Experts in the wine industry do admit the distinction is made more from snobbishness than any real science.
Besides, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage is another cross-pollinated variety. It was developed in South Africa from Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Hybrids you may have heard of or even tasted include Chambercin, Seyval Blanc, Traminette and more. The benefits of any of these new grapes are they let their growers manage their vineyards better – earlier or later ripening grapes, more or fewer tannins and acidities, different (meaning hopefully better) types of flavors that develop in the wines, easier growing grapes for certain soil or climate types. All geared for better wines.
The drawbacks of new varieties are the same list. A new grape may be developed to enhance or diminish characteristics from the two original varieties. But, sometimes, the results do the opposite of what the goal was. Trying for more acidity could lead to no acidity at all. Getting rid of undesirable flavors could end up as the worst flavors ever. You get the idea. Obviously, there have been many unsuccessful new varieties that we won’t ever hear about. Really? Would you let it be known how badly you did?
For our wine this week, we have a new grape for sure. Bukettraube. Pronounced “bu-ket-trau-be.” This is a white variety of German origin. It is a cross between Silvaner and Schiava Grossa – supposedly created in the nineteenth century, in Randersacker, Germany, by Sebastian Englerth. It is a “vinifera” grape. These grapes are bronzish or yellow-green in color. Their wines are usually said to smell a lot like Muscat and its flavors include peaches, apricots, and pears. When its wines are treated with some oak, they develop a spicy (cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper) and buttery notes.
Today, the Bukettraube is only grown in a few locations in the whole world. There are a small amounts of vines in Germany, the Alsace region of France, Spain and Zimbabwe. The biggest number grows in South Africa. And, just so there is enough confusion, Bukketraube has several synonyms – Bocksbeutel, Bouquet Blanc, Bouquet Traube, Bouquettraube, Boxer Buket, Bukettrebe, Bukettriesling, Sylvaner Musqué and Würzburger. Nice!
Cederberg, our South African winery, is located in the mountains of the same name. The Nieuwoudt family bought the land in 1835. Grapes, table grapes, were first planted in 1963, by the third generation of the family. The first wine was made in 1978. Since then, Cederberg Wines has played an integral part in the development of this region.
At the winery, they have just over one hundred ninety acres planted with Bukettraube. This may well be our only chance to taste this variety. But, lucky us, Cederberg’s is spectacular. The vines for this wine are eighteen years old, with all the developed flavors and textures that come from slightly older vines. The grapes are harvested in the cool mornings, then cold fermented to augment the flavors. This wine has an explosion of flavors – the Muscat for sure, along with apricot and floral notes. The wine is a delicate balance of slight sweetness and acidity. Which means for us that we have just found a perfect wine. The combination of a bit of sweetness and crisp acidity make it just right for spicy foods, Asian flavors, and our summer weather.
I am sitting here with homemade jalapeño fondue. My own home-grown jalapeños. Truth be told, I don’t really taste the slight sweet side of Cederberg Bukettraube. But I know it’s there because the jalapeños’ heat is tamed down a bit.
On the other hand, I don’t have to keep eating, because the wine’s acidity is crisp, inviting and worth savoring. Boy, talk about a great security blanket, this is it. Hope you like your blanket as much! For $11.99. Enjoy.