The French-American hybrid grape Chambourcin is probably the most popular locally-grown red grape in the warmer states in the Midwest. It’s not quite cold hardy enough to survive Wisconsin or Minnesota winters and requires a relatively long growing season, but as you head south into Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Eastern states with moderate winters Chambourcin is highly favored for its versatility, aromatics, and supple mouthfeel. The fact that it does a fair imitation of lighter bodied v. vinifera grapes such as Cabernet Franc endears it to winemakers who prefer vinifera.
Should you want an example of the best of what Chambourcin has to offer, this perennial award-winner would be a good place to start. This is an intriguing wine with many dimensions. Focused aromas of blueberry jam, loam, cedar, sweet vanilla and hints of soy give this a rich and complex nose. On the palate it’s mineral driven and herbal up front. Bright berry flavors emerge at midpalate just as the acidity is kicking in which knocks down the fruit intensity and flattening the wine, until releasing into a long, slowly evolving finish showing gravel, then black pepper, and finally sour cherry. As is characteristic of Chambourcin, the tannins have a meager presence, yet the finish has good length. Texturally it’s quite interesting; underneath the layer of tense, electric acidity, the wine is soft and warm with some suppleness and nuance.
As with most of the hybrids, Chambourcin has high acidity which takes some getting used to and very reticent tannins which makes the wine seem unbalanced when judged against vinifera standards. There is an argument to be made for using varietal-specific criteria although I lean toward using an absolute scale.
This winery is on the Kansas side of the border but the grapes are from Lelyon Vineyard, a Missouri vineyard 45 min. east of Kansas City. There is very little information available about how the wine was made and my queries to the winery have not yet borne fruit.
Electronic music with a tense upper register, linear dynamics, elongated phrasing, and soft underlying chord beds match this wine. Everything in its Right Place by Radiohead is a perfect fit.