Sunday, November 15, 2015

November is Chambourcin Month!

"Polite bottles:" That's what Doug calls my purchases when I buy a Chambourcin instead of a Norton at a Missouri winery. For the past 14 years I've collected Oregon pinot noir, and, since 2004, Missouri Nortons. If a winery makes a Norton not to my taste or out of my price range, I will invariably buy the Chambourcin, the Traminette, or, more regularly, the winery's Chambourcin-Norton blend. Chambourcin is not my second favorite grape by any stretch, it's quite nice, this French-American hybrid planted across 150 acres in Missouri, but I collect Nortons for my rack. Nortons can generally age longer than Chambourcin and often carry a heavier oak component than its lighter bodied dry red partner, Chambourcin. Nevertheless, I buy a bottle or a glass (if the bottles are too expensive or not that great) at every winery I visit. Because of that, I usually go home with fabulous Nortons, but also end up with lots of bottles of drink now-Chambourcin or, the extreme of the polite bottle, random fruit wines for which I have found very specific occasions for serving. Behind me as I type tonight is a bottle of a very good jalapeno-Granny Smith apple wine that I picked up several years ago, and a bottle of tomato wine. Unlike my daily reds, these two bottles will require a very specific cuisine to highlight their very specific qualities. But these non-grape wines merited purchase and will be consumed at some point. I respect winemaking as a craft, a skill, so I respect these wines that I purchased even though they're not my 'go-to' wines for drinking while I comb through my email.

Meanwhile, the list of Missouri wineries making incredibly supple wines out of the Chambourcin grape continues to increase. For those of you less familiar with the grape, Chambourcin is a lighter-bodied dry or semi-dry wine, often bottled in a pinot noir-styled bottles and used often in blending. I'm particularly fond of Chambourcin-Norton blends, or Chambourcin-Cabernet Franc blends, but regardless I treat Chambourcin like a pinot noir, using a French pinot noir Riedel glass for consumption. Unlike Norton, Chambourcin does not have its own glass. But Missouri and surrounding states are producing fantastic Chambourcin wines which are often less expensive than Norton, perhaps thanks to the larger grapes and more available juice, but equally supple and full of flavor. Chambourcin is lovely, a fantastic wine and perfect for the holidays. Light like a pinot noir but full of flavor like a Norton, Chambourcin is the ideal wine for a wide variety of meals.

I have enjoyed Chambourcin aged in steel, American oak, Hungarian oak, and French oak; my favorite is the French oak cask. While I prefer my Norton aged in American oak, preferably from barrels made with staves created from white oak logs harvested from Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest, Chambourcin is really quite nice in French oak. The French oak barrels impart a more subtle oak overtone which highlights the grape's natural fruitiness. Chambourcin is bright, a light red wine with high acidity that not only blends well but also stands alone as its own varietal. The King of Chambourcin, Herr Heinrich of Heinrichhaus Winery outside of St. James makes wines of meatier heft with the Chambourcin grape. He's the annointed King of Chambourcin. I realize that meat and heft are not wine terms, but Heinrichhaus Winery makes heavy Chambourcin, and he has been named the King of Chambourcin. When I visit Herr Heinrich, I purchase his Cynthiana with my limited budget. But his Chambourcin is certainly award-winning.

As Thanksgiving comes in, I'll bring my obligatory bottles of French Beaujolais-Nouveau, a few bottles of Missouri's Nouveau which is made with Chambourcin and a few other grapes, and a Norton for the day after Thanksgiving, a meaty wine to go with chocolate. Chambourcin is a lovely white meat wine. Because the Wine and Grape Board has declared November as Chambourcin month, local retailers are offering great sales on fabulous bottles of wine for the Thanksgiving table.

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