As I taste more wines made from hybrid varieties — particularly red ones — I’m starting to think that the problems I’ve had in the past with these wines is not so much a grape problem, but rather a winemaker/winemaking one.
For many years, the winemaking talent in regions reliant on hybrids (mainly because they are on the viticultural fringe) has been a bit lacking when compared to the world’s top regions. Wines like baco noir and DeChaunac weren’t very good, sure, but neither were the wines made from merlot, chardonnay and riesling.
I was talking this over with a friend the other day and I said to him “Are you telling me that Fred Merwarth (Wiemer) or Kareem Massoud (Paumanok) couldn’t make good wine from just about any grape grown well, in the right place?”
It’s true. I’m not suggesting that a seyval made at Hermann J. Wiemer would ever rival riesling or gewurztraminer, but it would probably be a delicious, well-balanced wine. I still think that a hybrid’s potential for greatness is limited, but whether it reaches its potential for ‘good-ness’ might be a function of winemaking.
One of the better makers of hybrids is Hudson-Chatham Winery in Ghent, New York. Owner Carlo DeVito and winemaker Steve Casscles have made grapes like baco noir and chelois the crux of their portfolio and they are consistent standouts in the region.
Over the weekend, they released their first wine made from Leon Millot, a grape created in 1911 at the Oberlin Institute in Colmar, Alsace, by the French viticulturist Eugène Kuhlmann (1858–1932) by crossing the hybrid grape Millardet et Grasset 101-14 O.P. (which is Vitis riparia × Vitis rupestris) with Goldriesling, which is Vitis vinifera. The variety was named after the winemaker and nursery owner Léon Millot. It ripens early, and has high resistance against fungal diseases.
The fruit for Hudson-Chatham Winery 2011 Leon Millot ($22) was grown at the winemaker’s own Casscles Vineyards in Athens, New York. The grapes were handpicked, hand pressed, with no fining or filtering. The wine fermented for seven days, and was punched down by hand twice daily to achieve maximum extraction, and was gently pressed in a 100-year old oak press. After fermentation, the wine was aged in three year-old French oak for nine months.
Bright, fresh black and blue fruit aromas — think blackberries, plum and even a little blueberry — dominate the nose with a subtle woodsy, cinnamon-y spice emerging as the wine is exposed to air.
Though medium-light in body, this wine offers generous fruit flavor — without crossing over into jammy — again showing blackberry, plum and blueberry character, along with a bit of black cherry and Concord grape skin. Though not very tannic, juicy acidity provides structure and brings focus. The finish is medium-long and very plummy, with hints of earth and spice. My cool-climate palate — as well as the fact that I like to enjoy a few glasses of wine with a meal — means that I appreciate the 12% abv as well.
I’m curious to see how this wine develops in bottle. If a bit more complexity emerges, this could turn out to be one of the better wines I’ve had from the Hudson Valley, regardless of grape variety.
Producer: Hudson-Chatham Winery
AVA: Hudson River Region
(3 out of 5, Very good/Recommended)