Chambourcin is a red hybrid that is becoming extremely popular in the Commonwealth - particularly in the northern part of the state, the region close to Washington DC. This is due to a variety of factors: The soil in northern Virginia (as well as Maryland, and especially Pennsylvania, where Chambourcin has pretty much become the state red) is perfectly suited for it, more so than the southern and central parts of Virginia, and as a Chianti-like lighter (but complex) red wine, it's been called "the red wine for white wine drinkers." For new wine fans just discovering Virginia vino, but still accustomed to bottles of wine with flip flops and cupcakes on the labels, Chambourcin is a great crossover wine to introduce them to drier style reds.
The history of Chambourcin is a bit of a mystery. If you visit a winery that produces the hybrid, you will get a different story about the grape. One winery advised the blogmasters that Chambourcin originated in the Finger Lakes region of New York, in a laboratory at Cornell University to be exact. We have visited the Finger Lakes area numerous times and have found the red varietal in only a few tasting rooms there, so we wonder about that theory.
Another theory provided by Virginia's Claude DelFosse (who we recently discovered passed away last year after a short bout with cancer) has the hybrid's origins in his native France. Being French and possessing that notorious strong opinion, he was quite adamant about this theory.
Based on our research, we found that DelFosse did in fact speak the truth. Chambourcin was developed by Joannes Seibel in the Loire Valley of France, based on a number of undetermined Native American species and Seibel hybrids. Released in the early 1960s, plantings increased steadily in the cool coastal Nantes region of the western Loire Valley in France. It is very possible then that Finger Lakes wine pioneers such as Dr. Konstantin Frank worked with the hybrid, as many Finger Lakes region wineries had their first plantings in the '60s (although as of this writing, Dr. Frank does not offer a Chambourcin).
Pennsylvania realized its soil and climate are quite perfect for the grape, and most wineries in the Keystone state offer it in their tasting rooms. In Virginia, the wine can be found in many Northern Virginia spots as well as higher elevation locations in the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains.
Our Top Five Virginia Chambourcins:
It's always a challenge to select five wines in Virginia that stand out as Best of the Best. We have yet to come across a Chambourcin that is not dangerously drinkable in the Commonwealth. This said, five are a little more interesting (complex) than others, and more likely to win over a serious California bold red wine fanatic.
5. Willowcroft Farm Winery (south of Leesburg)
4. Hiddencroft Vineyards (northern Loudoun County near Lovettsville)
3. Fabbioli Cellars (northern Loudoun County near Lucketts)
2. Old House Vineyards (near Culpeper)
"Wicked Bottom" is the name of their Chambourcin and it's the best wine Old House offers (although all of their wines are good to excellent). Complex but approachable enough for those new to (or comfortable with) red wine. Notes of black currant, plum and smoke.
1. Zephaniah Farm Vineyard (south of Leesburg near Willowcroft)
This is one of our favorite wineries in Northern Virginia; in all of Virginia, as a matter of fact. Once you turn on to their gravel driveway, you are transported to a scene that is European in atmosphere, but laid back California or Oregon in vibes. Their chambourcin has won over diehard red varietal (Red Zin, Pinot Noir and Cab Sauv) fans in the blogmasters' families. Bold yet smooth, with notes of black cherry, pepper and leather.
Get out this weekend and open your taste buds up to this intriguing red wine!