Chances are you’re familiar with the standard wine grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Grigio, and the rest. These staples have been used to create fantastic wines for hundreds and hundreds of years, many with their own legendary origin stories. However, what you may not be familiar with is the surge of new grape varieties that have been developed within the last 100 years, with new ones coming along every year.
Across the US research facilities have been working to create grape varieties that can be used to create high-quality wines and be tolerant of disease, pests, and difficult weather. By experimenting with traditional grape species from Europe, ex: vitis vinifera, and native North American species, ex: vitis labrusca, researchers at institutions such as Cornell University, the University of Minnesota, University of California at Davis, and the University of Florida are pushing the boundaries associated with traditional grape varieties, and the wines that can be made from them. Cornell University has the longest tradition of creating new grape varieties, with their efforts extending back to 1888, producing over 60, and setting the groundwork for this pioneering field of research.
Each new variety created is called either a ‘hybrid’ or a ‘cross’, depending on how they are made. A hybrid is a new variety made by breeding two grapes of different species, whereas a Cross is a new variety made by breeding two varieties of grapes within the same species. This gets especially complex when additional species of grapes are introduced, such as the new hybrid created at UC Davis using the European species vitis vinifera with a species native to the American South-West vitis arizonica. This 20 year long venture culminated in 2020 with the creation of five new grape varieties, all designed to be more sustainable and resistant to temperature fluctuations and increases in disease due to climate change.
With all of that in mind, let’s dive into some of the more popular creations you might come across!
Chambourcin: Originally developed in France in 1963, Chambourcin grapes are a French-American hybrid designed to be resistant to humidity and disease, and be able to grow abundantly in both cooler and warmer climates. Wines made from this teinturier (‘red fleshed’) grape are strong in flavor, with moderate tannins and high acidity. It has rich flavors of black cherry and red plum, with green herbaceous notes and black pepper on the finish. It is usually oaked to soften the acidity and is often served chilled due to its vigorous flavor.
Frontenac (A.k.a. Frontenac Noir): Developed in 1978 by the University of Minnesota, this hybrid was designed to be extremely cold hardy, as well as resistant to diseases such as powdery mildew and botrytis. Wines made from Frontenac often have low tannins and high acid, with the grapes naturally high sugar level resulting in an elevated alcohol level in the finished wine. It has ripe red cherry and red currant flavors, with warm baking spice, sweet tobacco, and chocolate notes on oaked versions.
Traminette: This cross was first created in 1965 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and was further cultivated by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station grape breeding program at Cornell. Traminette is extremely cold resistant, even more so than its parent grape Gewürztraminer, and is also partially resistant to several fungal diseases. It is grown across the country and has found a special home in the Finger Lakes AVA of New York, resulting in wines that range from dry to sweet, with floral and spicy notes on the palate.
Cayuga White: This hybrid was created at Cornell University and was first planted in 1945 on the northern edge of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region. Its parent grapes are Schuyler, a table grape, and Seyval Blanc, itself a French-American hybrid often used in the creation of new grape varieties. Cayuga was designed to be disease and cold resistant, although its greatest strengths are its high yields and ease of wine production. Wines made from Cayuga White can be either still or sparkling, with crisp green apple notes in cooler climates, and ripe stone fruit notes in warmer climates.
We encourage you to search out some of these wines especially if you travel to New York’s wine regions!
Check out our partner in New England where this post originated Commonwealth Wine Schoo: https://www.commonwealthwineschool.com