Monday, October 12, 2015

In Defense of Red Hybrids - Vermont's Lincoln Peak Marquette

During the very first panel discussion at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference Madeline Puckette, the Content Director, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine, generated controversy by asking the Introduction to the Finger Lakes Wine Country panel "Why do hybrids suck?". Many of us east coast and cold climate drinkers were taken aback. Too bad Doug Frost wasn't available, but the panel did an excellent job responding, particular MS Christopher Bates. He focused on winemaking and mentioned that there are lousy wines made from vinifera grapes as well as lousy wines made from other grape species. However, he continued, there are plenty of examples of excellent wines made using non-vinifera species. He then suggested we sample several white hybrids such as Vidal, Seyval, Traminette, and Vignoles. But notice the absence of any mention of red hybrids. A couple days later during the post conference excursion to Cayuga Lake, Jon Crupp owner of the Thirsty Owl Wine Company mentioned that he preferred white French Hybrids over their red counterparts. So where's the love for red hybrids*? Fortunately several of us at the conference where able to taste wines from two excellent red hybrid grapes, Hudson-Chatham Winery Baco Noir (courtesy of Elizabeth Smith, the TravelWineChick) and Marquette from Shelburne Vineyard and Lincoln Peak Winery  - provided by Todd Trzaskos (author of Wines of Vermont).  The Baco requires it own post, so for now let's examine the Marquette grape.

It was released by the University of Minnesota in 2006 and "originated from a cross of MN 1094, a complex hybrid of Vitis riparia, Vitis vinifera, and other Vitis species; with Ravat 262". One of it's grandparents is Pinot Noir and a great grandparent is Carmine (an offspring of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). According to Trzaskos, Marquette came to Vermont before its official release and Chris Granstrom, owner of Lincoln Peak, was one of its first proponents. The grape is hardy at 36 degrees below zero and is resistant to "downy mildew, powdery mildew, and black rot". One shortcoming, the grape has an early bud break leaving it vulnerable to late spring frosts.

The 2013 Lincoln Peak Marquette is a big wine; particularly when noting it's cold climate source. It starts with a bit of jamminess in the aroma which blows off which leads to a full bodied, dark cherry, gummy bear flavor. It finishes strong with soft tannins, plenty of acids, and a bit of spice. At the conference I recall discussing this wine with Luiz Alberto (The Wine Hub) and we agreed that it was an excellent wine, not just as simply a Marquette wine, but for any wine. Carlo Devito, proprietor of  Hudson-Chatham, is also a fan responding "Immense achievement. Almost has a warm climate feel. Lovely". And Todd Trzaskos states, "Marquette is like Zweigelt in its lighter more bramble form, while bigger versions more like Mencia or Grenache... Any way around, a wine this big from cold climate vines is a real achievement".

Interestingly I had an email exchange with Puckette after the conference regarding her question and she mentioned Zweigelt, along with Seyval Blanc and Pinotage, as hybrids that have a poor reputation. She continued that hybrids are just a little misunderstood. Noting the irony of her first statement, I concur immensely with her second. Cheers to hybrids, both the red and white varieties.

* I'm referring to both French Hybrids and American cold climate grape varieties when using the term hybrids.
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