Wine Culture Magazine

The tasty tough guys of the vineyard

Ehrenfelser grapes. Getty Images photo

Genealogy is exciting stuff. During the last year, subscriptions for and ramped up, and it seemed everyone was searching for their relatives. We all want to know where we come from, don’t we? It’s the same for grapes.

Our beloved wine grapes belong to the family “Vitis,” the Latin word for vine; “vinifera” is the grape species. Almost every grape used in winemaking today comes from a Vitis vinifera grape variety. When you consider that the majority of wine we see on the shelves is limited to about 40 varieties, it is mind-boggling to comprehend that there are more than 10,000 species of grapes in the world today, including hybrids and crosses.

Both grape crosses and hybrids are created for a specific reason, such as improving characteristics like colour and flavour or having better resistance to disease and vineyard pests.

Think of a popular wine grape. Odds are, it is the offspring of two different varieties. Often, parent grapes are ones you have heard of, like Sauvignon Blanc. But many well-known varieties are combinations that involve obscure grapes wine lovers have yet to discover.

A “crossed variety” is a grape bred from two different Vitis vinifera varieties. Many celebrated European Vitis vinifera wine grapes are spontaneous field crosses, where two species mated, with Mother Nature’s assistance, producing an entirely new grape variety. An example of a well-known crossed grape is Cabernet Sauvignon, the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Hybrid grape varieties blend Vitis vinifera and North American Vitis labrusca or Vitis riparia grapes. Hybrid grapes were born from necessity. In the 19th century, an insect named phylloxera almost decimated the European grapevines by attacking the roots of the vines. The ingenious grape growers were not deterred and started researching how to create something new that would survive. By crossing a Vitis vinifera and a Vitis labrusca or riparia grape, they created hybrid grape varieties that were not only resistant to phylloxera, but also stronger against vineyard diseases and could grow in less-than-ideal climates.

Hybrids to try

Summerhill Pyramid Winery Organic Baco Noir 2018
(Okanagan Valley, B.C., $28)
Rich, smooth, blackberry and chocolate.

Gehringer Brothers Winery Ehrenfelser 2020
(Okanagan Valley, B.C., $13.99)
Refreshing. Fresh apricot and citrus.

Singletree Winery Siegerrebe (Siggy) 2020
(Fraser Valley, B.C. $17.80)
Lightly off-dry with spice and citrus.

Crosses to try

Arrowleaf Cellars Zweigelt 2019
(Okanagan Valley, B.C., $23.10)
Medium-bodied with notes of raspberry and mocha.

Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyard Ortega 2020
(Cowichan Valley, B.C., $23.99)
Fresh peach, jasmine, seafood friendly.

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