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Intriguing Wines from Hybrid Grapes

Wine pouring into a wine glass

Part of the fascination of visiting PA Wine Land is enjoying the many different wines made from many different grape varieties. A wine made from two or more different grapes is called a “blend,” while a wine made primarily from one grape variety is called a “varietal.”

Whether blend or varietal, most wines we drink come from grapes that originated in Europe and the Near East known as viniferas. They include everything from Chardonnay to Pinot Grigio, Cabernet to Merlot. But there are also native American grapes, although they are less often used in wines, and French-American hybrids which were bred over a century ago to combat a disease attacking vinifera grapes worldwide.

Although hybrids are no longer grown in France, they have been widely planted for decades in the United States for table wines, except on the West Coast. Hybrids have a reputation for being easy to grow – they are somewhat resistant to cold and certain diseases – and for producing mellow, less-tannic and less astringent wines.

If you’ve visited PA wineries, you may have tasted a hybrid varietal called Chambourcin, the most-popular red, or Vidal Blanc or Seyval Blanc, the most-popular whites.

“In the vineyard, Chambourcin is a more forgiving grape than virtually any vinifera variety I have worked with,” says Brad Knapp, owner/winemaker since 1993 of Pinnacle Ridge Winery in Kutztown. “It tends to ripen evenly in cool, wet conditions and is often our best red wine in off-vintages.”

In making a Chambourcin varietal, Knapp says, the grapes “can produce deeply colored, fruit-driven reds with low tannins and with a little tartness.” In its fruity characteristics, Chambourcin has often been compared to a Merlot, while its spiciness has been likened to a less-aggressive Zinfandel.

Going to the other side of the color spectrum, Jim Kirkpatrick, owner/winemaker of Kreutz Creek Vineyards in West Grove, has long been an advocate of the versatility of Vidal Blanc. “Vidal is a pretty hardy grape,” Kirkpatrick says, “and I have made table wines, late-harvest wines and ice wines from it. The taste is somewhere between that of a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Grigio.”

Vidal has become very popular in the Eastern United States and Canada as an ice wine, a wine whose grapes have been frozen naturally in the vineyard or artificially in a commercial freezer. Freezing causes the fruit sugars to concentrate, making a very sweet, but well-balanced dessert wine. “Vidal Blanc is also an early-ripening grape, so I can leave it on the vines for an extra month or so to concentrate the sugars,” Kirkpatrick says.

Red or white, sweet or dry, hybrid grapes and hybrid varietals are an important part of the PA wines scene.

Learn more about the exciting world of your PA Wine Land by checking in regularly at www.PAWineLand.com. There you will find information on upcoming wine events for Pennsylvania’s 12 wine trails and its more than 150 wineries as well as wine tips and wine information. And while you’re on the road, find nearby wineries by using the mobile website at m.pennsylvaniawine.com.