Drinking a Hybrid

By Celia Strong

It seems that the word “hybrid” can be used in reference to wines, and also applies in many other contexts. (The name “hybrid” is from the Latin “hibrida,” meaning offspring of a mixed union.) In genetics, a hybrid is the offspring of genetically dissimilar parents, such as when a female horse and a male donkey make a mule. In linguistics, a hybrid is a word that is part from one language and part from another language. Like “monolingual” has a Greek prefix and a Latin root. In cars, usually, a hybrid is part electric, part fuel powered. Even in music the term is used. There, a hybrid is a song sung by one person that was written by another. In many cases, in all these areas, the hybrid is stronger, bigger, better than the parents.

In wine, the most well-known hybrid is Cabernet Sauvignon — a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Most of us never even think of Cabernet as a hybrid. It is one of the great grape varieties of all wine grapes. And, obviously bigger, stronger and better than its parents. Beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, other hybrids, that we don’t see or drink very often at all, include ones like Seyval, Chambourcin, Catawba and many others. And, as it applies to us today, in wines, the name “hybrid” can also be used as a category of non-traditional blended wines. That means three traditional Bordeaux red grape varieties blended with some red Zinfandel can make a blend or “meritage” as we usually call them. But, this wine can also be called a hybrid. (Please note, “Meritage” with a capitalized “M” makes it an official member of the Meritage Association, and, by their rules, a blend of Bordeaux varieties only.)

So, yes, we are looking at new blended wine today. Actually, we have two blended wines this week, a red and a white from Callaway Vineyard & Winery. Callaway is located in Temecula, California. More than 200 years ago, when winemaking in California began, it was at the Mission San Juan Capistrano — just 18 miles east of Temecula. The first modern, commercial vineyard in Temecula Valley was established in 1968. The valley is located 500 miles south of San Francisco and has a slightly higher angle to the sun. It’s warmer with more intense sunlight. Morning mists often linger until mid-morning. There is low rainfall in the valley, cooling breezes from off the Pacific Ocean which make for moderate daytime temperatures. The soils for the vineyards consist of decomposing granite with sandy loam, excellent for good grapes with clean, pure varietal flavors. Since the 1960’s, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc have been grown here. Recently, Mediterranean varieties like Viognier, Syrah and Pinot Grigio have been planted. Rhône varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel also do well in Temecula. Temecula Valley was declared an AVA in 1984. It is part of the larger South Coast AVA.

Callaway Vineyard & Winery started growing grapes in 1969, and opened its winery in 1974. Ely Callaway, Jr. was the founder. Ely had graduated from Emory University, but found World War II changed the course of his life. He joined the U.S. Army Reserves and was posted to Philadelphia when they learned he had a background in textiles. He was charged with procuring clothing and fabric. After the war, he worked for clothing manufacturers for 27 years.

In the late 1960’s, Ely did some extensive research and went to Temecula. There, he found a plateau, below the foggy peaks of surrounding mountains, which he thought was perfect for planting grapes. He planted in 1969, and, in the early 1970’s, said goodbye to the textile industry. He defied the experts, who all thought that southern California was not suited to growing good wine grapes. In 1981, Ely sold his winery to Hiram Walker and moved onto the next phase of his life — golf. The success of “Big Bertha,” the club he designed, made Callaway Golf the number one golf company in the world. (I should mention that Ely’s mother’s cousin was Bobby Jones. Which means golf did not come to Ely out of the clear blue sky.) Ely Callaway died in 2001, at age 82.

In 2012, the Callaway Vineyard & Winery went through a huge renovation. Their tasting room is large, surrounded with glass windows that look out over rolling hills and vines. They offer daily tours and tastings, including automated self-serving tasting stations. Their Meritage Restaurant is one of the very best in the area, featuring a California-Mediterranean style cuisine and featuring local produce and butchers. And, of course, Callaway wines, most of which are only available on the property.

Lucky us, though, we can try two of their wines — Callaway Hybrid Red and Callaway Hybrid White. The red is a blend of 50 percent Merlot, 35 percent Zinfandel and 15 percent Syrah, it says so right on the front label, in nice large letters and numbers. And, as we know, these three grapes blended together are not a traditional blend. Hence, a hybrid. This wine is medium bodied with an appealing smooth, juicy texture. Its flavors include blueberries, chocolate, blackberries, white pepper and plums. Soft tannins keep it easy drinking, sip after sip, glass after glass. Maybe it is better than its pieces and parts? Like a hybrid should be.

The white is a blend of 40 percent Verdejo, 35 percent Viognier and 25 percent Gewurztraminer. Truly, what seems to be an off-the-wall blend. But, the layered flavors and textures of this wine make it perfect for many types of foods. Its medium body is loaded with apple and pear fruit flavors, hints of peaches and kumquats, a touch of citrus, floral notes, minerality, and good acidity.  Again, a hybrid, true to its namesake.

Together, these two wines will be perfect for many meals, but especially those meals where you’re not sure if a red or a white will be best. (Think Thanksgiving!) They may be hybrids, but it’s up to us to use them and drink them and share them. Each for $10.99 at Bill’s Liquor on Lady’s Island. Enjoy.

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