Although the better-known vinifera varieties are seldom grown in Missouri, French-American hybrids (crossings between French vinifera grapevines and native American grapevines) remain the best solution for successfully growing grapes in the middle part of North America.
Once upon a time, these hybrids offered uneven character and produced less-than-favorable wines. But in the last two decades, we’ve seen a remarkable transformation, with quality wines now the rule, not the exception. Making high-quality wines from these grapes is a function of the skill and, even more important, the experience of the grape grower and winemaker. Consistently world-class wine may likely become the norm in many American wine regions, including Missouri. Presently, the best dessert wines made in the Americas are produced from hybrid grapes, and many of them are made in Missouri. Here we introduce you to our region’s more common hybrid grapes.
- Parent grapes: Traminer Rot (Gewürztraminer) and Joannes Seyve 23416
- Varietal comparison: Gewürztraminer
- Flavor characteristics: The floral notes typical of good Gewürztraminer are better balanced in Traminette by tangy, citrusy acidity. That said, Traminette can sometimes be a bit over-the-top. Regardless, this is one of the most promising hybrid grapes found in the U.S. market, and lovely Missouri versions are finding a thirsty audience.
- Notable bottles to try: Blumenhof Winery Femme Osage, Cave Vineyard Traminette, Stone Hill Winery Traminette
- Parent grapes: Although it’s only about a half-century old, the parentage of this French-American hybrid, created by the brother of the originator of the Seyval Blanc grape, is uncertain.
- Varietal comparison: Pinot Noir or, perhaps, Gamay
- Flavor characteristics: Although there are still dull versions in abundance, Chambourcin has shown extraordinary abilities in a variety of climates, and, at its best, lovely raspberry, strawberry and cherry flavors proliferate.
- Notable bottles to try: Cooper’s Oak Winery Chambourcin, Crown Valley Winery Chambourcin, Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery Chambourcin, Stonehaus Farms Winery Chambourcin
- Parent grapes: Seibel 5656 and Seibel 4986, two early-era French-American hybrids
- Varietal comparison: Sauvignon Blanc
- Flavor characteristics: Crisp, tangy pear notes with lots of white pepper are typical of the grape. Some producers use a bit of oak, but it’s at its best when fresh and citrusy.
- Notable bottles to try: Adam Puchta Winery Seyval, Augusta Winery Seyval Blanc, Crown Valley Winery Seyval Blanc, Montelle Winery Seyval, Stone Hill Winery Seyval Blanc
- Parent grapes: Missouri features in St. Vincent’s past, but no one is certain precisely how. As with many older hybrids, we’re not sure about the parent grapes and exactly when they coupled. The hybrid might be a wild crossing between Chambourcin and Pinot Noir, found in Missouri a few decades ago, or it may be a vinifera crossed with one of grape breeder T.V. Munson’s Texas hybrids, sourced out of the Research Station at Mountain Grove.
- Varietal comparison: Similar to unusual and light Italian varieties, such as Rossese
- Flavor characteristics: This cold-hardy red isn’t particularly powerful or even flavorful. But with soft red currant notes and plenty of black pepper, it serves as a useful accompanist if not a good solo player.
- Notable bottles to try: Les Bourgeois Vineyards Fleur de Vin (semi-dry), Stone Hill Winery Steinberg Red (semi-sweet), New Oak Vineyards St. Vincent (semi-sweet)
- Parent grapes: Ugni Blanc and Rayon d’Or
- Varietal comparison: Pinot Gris
- Flavor characteristics: You’ll find apples and grapefruit in the drier versions and peaches and lush tropical notes in sweeter bottlings.
- Notable bottles to try: Adam Puchta Winery Vidal Blanc, Heinrichshaus Vineyards & Winery Vidal Blanc, Mount Pleasant Winery Brut Imperial (sparkling)
- Parent grapes: No one is aware of the parentage of Concord. Along with Catawba, it was a dominant grape in the 19th-century wine industry. Since then, it has remained a familiar flavor to any American child; it’s used to make grape juice and grape jelly.
- Varietal comparison: There is nothing quite like Concord.
- Flavor characteristics: The epitome of “grapey,” Concord has intense blue-fruit flavors (mulberries and boysenberries) along with powerful foxy flavors – floral, herbal, slightly animal.
- Notable bottles to try: Baltimore Bend Vineyard Arrowhead Red, St. James Winery Velvet Red, Stone Hill Winery Concord
- Parent grapes: Schuyler and Seyval Blanc
- Varietal comparison: A white and lighter version of Catawba
- Flavor characteristics: The foxy character of its parentage is ever present, but it can be charmingly fruity and floral.
- Notable bottles to try: There are very few stand-alone Missouri examples.
- Parent grapes: Perhaps Pinot de Corton and Subereux, two French-American hybrids, but no one is sure.
- Varietal comparison: Albariňo in the dry versions and late-harvest Chenin Blanc in the sweet versions
- Flavor characteristics: When dry, it can have some seductive pear, peach, apple and pineapple notes. When sweet, the notes are even more complex, with an intermingling of citrus and floral elements and many more tropical flavors.
- Notable bottles to try: Hermannhof Winery Vignoles, Montelle Winery Dry Vignoles, Stone Hill Winery Late Harvest Vignoles
Also called Cynthiana, these are two versions of the same grape, though some experts would argue otherwise.
- Parent grapes: Its parents are unknown, though it appears to be an accidental vitis aestivalis and vinifera crossing or a vitis cinerea and vinifera crossing dating from the late 1820s and probably first isolated in Dr. Daniel Norton’s Virginia vineyard.
- Varietal comparison: Petite Sirah on steroids
- Flavor characteristics: This dense, powerful, red-black wine exhibits lashings of black fruits and dried fruits mixed with spices and red currants.
- Notable bottles to try: Augusta Winery Cynthiana, Chaumette Vineyards & Winery Norton, Noboleis Vineyards Norton Reserve, Stone Hill Winery Cross J Norton, Tower Rock Vineyard & Winery Cynthiana
- Parent grapes: Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay
- Varietal comparison: Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay
- Flavor characteristics: The quiet character of Chardonnay is rarely matched by this grape. The best versions treat it less like Chardonnay (enough with the barrel fermentation already) and let it simply be tangy and gentle. Pear notes with some soft lemony citrus are typical.
- Notable bottles to try: Les Bourgeois Vineyards Chardonel, Montelle Winery Chardonel, St. James Winery Late Harvest Chardonel
- Parent grapes: No one knows the parentage of this early-American hybrid; we just know that labrusca and some unknown vinifera vine got together some time ago and produced this grape. Thomas Jefferson was noted as saying it produced remarkable wine.
- Varietal comparison: Like Concord, only lighter in intensity and flavor
- Flavor characteristics: Though there are notes of soft red currant and strawberry, the character of labrusca grapes comes through with the typical floral, woodsy, even feral aromas that have been dubbed “foxy.” Like all hybrids, Catawba has rather intense acidity. Most Catawba bottlings include a good amount of sugar to balance that tartness.
- Notable bottles to try: St. James Winery Pink Catawba, Stone Hill Winery Pink Catawba, Ste. Genevieve Winery Lady Genevieve