Monday, April 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Cheer and Chambourcin

Originally Published November 2010

As the pages on the calendar are down to just two, the holiday season and the dinners that make the season complete are just ahead of us. Last month I hinted that I would be exploring Chambourcin with greater depth in a future article.  I was not sure if it would have been this month or next month’s article.  A friend on the occasion of a milestone birthday requested that for I hold one of my food and wine pairings and invite a few friends for an evening of good conversation, delicious food and fine wine.  After a few minutes of panic, I took a deep breath and said, “Ok, I can do that.”  What steeled my confidence was the realization of which wine I would center the dinner around:  a Chambourcin.

The wine selected for the Birthday Dinner was Zephaniah Farm Vineyards (“Zephaniah”) 2009 Chambourcin Reserve.
I had recently been exploring the Loudoun County Wine Trail on the Harmony Cluster, and stumbled across the smallest Loudoun County Winery, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. The tasting room is in the living room of a historical rich manor house that was built in 1830. Due to the small size of the vineyard, the family that owns the vineyard does all the work themselves; they tend the grapes by hand and harvest is accomplished with the help of friends and family.  The result is fine hand-crafted wine. 

 In addition to being a vineyard, Zephaniah is a third generation, 376 acre working farm. One of four siblings who grew up on the farm, winemaker Bill Hatch, planted his first vines in 2002 after many years of dreaming of owning a winery.  Mr. Hatch uses the traditional practice of canopy management in order to maximize leaf and fruit exposure to the sun and incorporates sustainable farming techniques.  The winery is named after Bill Hatch’s great-grandfather, Zephaniah Jefferson Hatch who built and owned the Monticello Steamboat Company in the late 1800’s.  The Monticello Steamboat Company crossed the San Francisco Bay three times a day to Vallejo, the disembarking point then, for Napa Valley wine and travelers.  In addition to his duties on the farmer and winemaker, Bill Hatch is also a senior video operator for ABC news in Washington, D.C.

Chambourcin wine is a deep colored, Franco-hybrid, whose exact parentage is a bit of a mystery. Chambourcin was developed by Joannes Seyve who often used Seibel hybrids from the 1860’s. Unfortunately, Mr. Seyve passed leaving no documentation as to the lineage of Chambourcin, but it is most likely includes the Sibel hybrids that Seyve often used. In Virginia, more likely than not, Chambourcin is based on a number of undetermined Native American species and Sibel hybrids.  Chambourcin is a relatively new varietal only being commercially available since 1963. While no longer a recommended varietal under French wine law, it is still widely grown in the western Loire Valley in the cool coastal region of Nantes.  Chambourcin is an easy growing, high yielder and due to its winter hardy nature has become a favorite grape of the cooler growing regions of North America (particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and the Ohio Valley).  Chambourcin is also grown in upstate New York, Canada and the cooler growing regions of Australia (particularly in the Riverina region and the South East Coast of New South Wales).  As an interesting bit of trivia, Chambourcin is one of the parents of the Regent varietal. The Regent is a new disease resistant varietal growing in popularity with German grape growers.

The tasting notes for Chambourcin wine, when grown the Mid Atlantic, traditionally read as a deep colored red wine with an herbaceous aromatic which does not suffer from the unpleasant hybrid flavors.  It can be made into either a dry or off-dry style and has been used as a blending grape.

The Milestone Birthday Dinner:

1)      Herb Rubbed Roast Beef With a Basil- Curry Dipping Sauce;

2)     Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes; and

3)     Herb Roasted Vegetable Medley (Button Mushrooms, Asparagus and Red Bell Peppers).

With the first taste of the 2009 Zephaniah Chambourcin Reserve (which was opened to breathe or decant for approximately one hour), one notes berries, hints of caramel, mild spices and herbs. The wine is medium-bodied and has a nice finish.  Upon tasting the wine with Herb Rubbed Roast Beef, the wine pulled out the cumin and coriander herb notes of the rub. The Basil- Curry Dipping Sauce pulled the spice notes out in the wine.

With the Herb Roasted Vegetables and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, the wine enhanced the earthiness of the herbs and roasted garlic but did not clash with the sweetness of the roasted red peppers or mushrooms. The wine did not overpower nor was overpowered by the mashed potatoes.  The wine was mellow and pulled the meal together creating a lovely tapestry of flavors that wonderfully complimented each other.

I capitalized on Chambourcin’s traditional food pairing:  beef.  However, this wine would pair well with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner or meals that one would pair a Merlot (non-peppery finish) or Pinot Noir.  So if you looking for an alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Pinot Noir, Chambourcin is well worth considering.  Enjoy and may this holiday season be filled with many happy memories.  Happy Thanksgiving and Cheers!