Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2007 Dry Oaked Concord

It's not likely to be a wine you'd find at very many North American wineries - and that's precisely my reason for making dry, oaked varietal Concord.

In an earlier post I went into detail about how I first made dry Concord in 2002 from scratch using the best Concords I could get. With each vintage it has become clear to me that to make fine wine from labrusca grapes it's necessary to avoid all manner of "bad advice" that's been standard practise for too long - dilution of the must and copious sweetening with cane sugar in particular. Those methods will not produce quality wine; at best they will make a passable wine from overcropped fruit. The unspoken premise seems to be exactly that: Concord is deemed to be so acidic as to require such adulteration. Like sound bytes, these views get repeated ad infinitum and develop a certain inertia - yet if one cares enough to look beneath the surface, there is more to the story than meets the palate.

Since so much of wine quality depends on what happens in the vineyard, it follows that just as with any other grape variety, Concord too will benefit from common-sense techniques like maintaining an open canopy and partial green-harvesting after fruit set. These techniques require a hands-on approach, just as one would expect at a meticulously managed estate winery: the problem is that labrusca grapes, generally, are simply not grown in that manner.

That said, I did manage to find an impressively well tended labrusca vineyard in the western Niagara Peninsula. The vines had an open canopy with fruit well exposed to the sun; the sugar/acid balance was impressive, and the flavour was ripe and vinous; there was no sourness or other harshness that in any way hinted at a need for "amelioration" - a hydrometer reading of the must simply confirmed that the sugar needed to be bumped up prior to fermentation to get the desired alcohol level of 12-13% by volume. But this is normal with Concord: it's not a high sugar accumulator, though many of its labrusca hybrid brethren like Steuben, Delaware and Valiant certainly are.

Manual sorting and de-stemming were followed by crush and a 24-hour pectic enzyme soak on the skins; this was then followed by pressing, retention of a portion of the skins, innoculation with Lalvin EC-1118 "Prise de Mousse" yeast and a measured addition of yeast nutrient. Fermentation ran to completion with no problems and the wine was pressed off the skins and racked into sterilized carboys. Once clear, the wine was again racked into gallon jugs - some with medium-toast French oak shavings, some without any oak at all. The wine was left like this at basement temperature for four weeks and then was transferred to the garage for cold stabilization. Once the tartrate deposit formed, coating the oak shavings which had earlier fallen to the bottom, the wine was carefully siphoned into sterilized 750-ml bottles and the bottles were closed with natural cork.

In the glass, the wine shows a deep, translucent scarlet-ruby hue with a slight blue-garnet tinge. The nose is vinous Concord grape juice coupled with wild strawberry and hints of acacia flowers. There isn't a lot of muskiness on the nose here, something I think might be explained by the good sun exposure that these particular grapes received. The oaked version of the wine had all the same aromas framed by sweet toasty oak - an unusual, but ultimately harmonious combination. On the palate the wines are crisp and light-bodied with tart but not sour acidity; flavour replays follow from the nose. Both wines show some grape tannins too: they're short and the acidity carries the structure. In the oaked version, however, toasty oak flavours not only round out the finish but also add a kind of cohesive astringency.

The final conclusion? Wood tannins do work well in dry Concord!


  1. Paul, I'm an old, retired lawyer, but I'm still active as a wine lover and wine eductor. I have recently begun an exploration of the Internet to see what studies have been done on blending red wines made from hybrids and other cold hardy grapes. It seems, from both discussions with a dozen or so northern winemakers and from what I have read over the years, that all red hybrids lack some quality that could make them truly "great." Is blending the answewr?

  2. Hi, thanks for your feedback.

    There's definitely a school of thought that believes in blending of various hybrid reds to achieve a "great" wine (a difficult term all on its own since we all have our likes and dislikes), and while I believe that this is necessary experimentation, it remains true that varietal hybrid wines can and do vary tremendously in quality and character. Case in point: I've tried 1978 varietal Chancellor from New York at 27 years of age that was spectacular! Who'd have thunk it? Certainly the wine press doesn't spotlight such wines.

    Where I do think there can never be too little experimentation is in the area of creating red hybrids that will give a good solid backbone of tannin - something that the old-line French hybrids didn't have much of. Now, here I refuse to say that those grapes were in some way worse off for it; they simply produced wines that were more acid-defined; more "northern Italian", if you will, than Bordelais. But, live and let live is my vinous motto.

    I think we should look with great confidence to the future and grapes like Marquette and Frontenac, which are promising material for the popularization of home-grown red wine across much of Continental North America.

  3. Hello Paul,

    Well it seems you have done it again, pushed the boundaries that others have laid down. To be able to take new direction is always hard, especially when the masses are inundated with half or false truths. Paul your wine as described by yourself is proof that Concord is the poster child of abuse at the hand of the grower and winemaker. It is a pleasure to see you do things right with Oenology, I look forward to your future endeavors...Cheers !!!

    John D. Zuccarino

  4. Thanks for the feedback John. My hope is that people will see Concord for its overlooked potential more than for what it has so successfully been made out to be - which, ironically, is not based entirely on fact! Circuitous language aside, what I mean is that much better wines are possible from Concord than what has come to be known based on commercial examples to-date.

  5. Thanks for your input on my concord wine. I intend to keep experimenting and making wine, and I'd like to making something really full bodied like a Zin. Do you have any suggestions on a hybrid variety that would be good? I'm graduating fro college in a few weeks and will be moving down to NYC, so I hope I can get some grapes or juice from the Long Island area.

  6. Eric,

    If you ask me, most hybrids have something good about them. A hybrid that would make a wine like Zinfandel in the Eastern U.S. ... I don't know of any. Most of the red hybrids make wine that's frankly more Northern Italian in style than something big and glycerolic, like a Primitivo or Zin. Not sure I can suggest something along those lines. Good luck!

  7. just found your blog.
    Great stuff. Keep it coming.

  8. Thanks for dropping by . This oaked concord sounds delicious.

    I love your blog. I am going to stick around!

  9. Paul,
    Love your pushing the boundaries and questioning the status quo. By design, I made a concord dry from Welch's concentrate from the supermarket, 10% black currant juice, 5% blackberry juice, and 5% crabapple from the back yard. The crabapple has the effect of muting the 'foxiness' and adding tannin mouthfeel. The currant and blackberry add fruity depth. The wine is surprisingly good, and I expect aging to help. With juice from real grapes, I expect an even better wine. I know this is not a 'pure' grape wine but I'm trying to experiment with materials that can marry the tastes and feel of vinafera grapes using native or hybrid grapes as the base. Hey, I like it, and I think that counts for a lot.

    My advice to the poster who wanted to make a wine close to Zin from eastern grapes is to check into Chambourcin. A lot is grown in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. I made some from grapes last year (2008)and it is a deep, robust red with nice tannins and black currant fruitiness.

    I'll be checking back.