A few days before I left on my seven week odyssey (2 1/2 weeks in CA followed by 4 1/2 weeks leading bike trips in Europe) I got an email from a winery wondering if they could send me some samples of their wine to try.
Not all that unusual.
The winery’s name :DeBarge immediately made me think of the ’80’s R&B band that was essentially a one-hit wonder:
Again, not all that unusual since almost everything that happens to me I relate to some song from the ’80’s–unquestionably the source of all great music.
I had never heard of the winery, so I examined a bit further.
DeBarge Winery is in Tennessee.
DeBarge Winery also sources much of its fruit from Northern Georgia.
My response? “Sure, why not?”
The kind folks at DeBarge requested my address so that they could send out the wine.
I sent them my address and they quickly responded that they could not really ship to the fine Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
I gave them an alternative address I have in New Jersey.
They responded that they really could not send wine there either.
A bit unusual.
Eventually, we decided that they would ship the wine out to my in-laws house as I would be there in about a week and could sample their wines out there. Thus making my father-in-law the first recipient of Tennessee wine made in Northern Georgia in the entire state of California.
[Of course, I have no idea this is the case, but without putting any real effort into it–meaning exactly zero–I am willing to bet that if he is not the first, the number of people ahead of him would have trouble forming a doubles tennis team.
Before I get into the reviews, I need to get something off my chest.
I noticed that to of the wines contained at least some Chambourcin. I have tasted more than my fair share of Chambourcin in every style under the sun: dry, sweet, in blends, rosé–you name it. And I can safely say this without any equivocation: Every single vine of Chambourcin worldwide should be immediately ripped out of the ground with the greatest sense lot urgency. All the vines should then be piled high, doused with insanely unsafe levels of the most flammable liquid known to man, and lit on fire until all that is left is a smoldering pile of ash.
Was that too much?
Chambourcin is a hybrid grape (created by cross breeding two or more “parent” varieties) that only really exists for two reasons, as far as I can tell: it has fairly high yields and is mold resistant.
It has been historically grown in regions like Pennsylvania (and Georgia, I guess) where the summers are usually brutally humid, which can really increase mold pressure on the vines. Today, with more modern approaches to mold (choice of site, trellising, canopy management, and in some cases spraying), the problem can be better controlled and the need for mold resistant grapes has dropped significantly. The wine, no matter what the style, emits an odor that reminds me of, well, a locker room where all the rubber jock straps were far too close to the radiators for far too long. (That was the nicest thing I could fabricate.)
So you could say I am a bit tainted when it comes to Chambourcin.
2012 Southside Blush: Retail $18. Cabernet Franc (57%), Cabernet Sauvignon (32%) and Chambourcin (11%). I tried to keep an open mind here, but when I read the varietal breakdown, I almost refused to even try it. Nonetheless, I took the plunge. The nose of watermelon and a bit of raspberry is unfortunately overwhelmed by the Chambourcin.
On the palate, the Chambourcin is barely noticeable and despite my best efforts to dislike this wine, I don’t. That is to say I do like this wine. There is great acidity that is tempered a bit with a touch of sugar (2%). The raspberry really comes through on the finish and this wine would do well on the table or on the patio. It would do even better if those Chambourcin vines had been ripped out as per my suggestion, and never made it into this wine. Good, maybe Very Good. 85-87 Points.
2012 Trillium White: Retail $15. Traminette (44%), Chardonnay (21%) , Vidal Blanc (10%), Viognier (25%). Somewhat similar to Chambourcin, Traminette is another hybrid (one of the parents is Gewürztraminer and Vidal Blanc was developed as a table grape that would have similar flavors to its parent) and is also mold resistant and known for very high yields. The nose has some similarity to Gewurz, but is perhaps a bit less floral. On the palate, some acidity, but tampered again with what seems like some residual sugar. Good. 84-86 Points.
DeBarge Vineyards and Winery Labyrinth: Retail $27. Cabernet Franc (45%), Cabernet Sauvignon (45%) and Chambourcin (10%). OK, so a bit of honesty here. I tasted the above wines with a bit of prejudice (Tennessee?, Georgia?!?): But, honestly, I thought that the wines were interesting and even good. The next day, we decided to open the red. It is a non-vintage, comes from Georgia grapes, has a screw-cap, and costs close to $30.
I was hesitant.
I was even worried.
I was going to pop this with my father-in-law who, recently, indicated his affinity for White Zinfandel (gasp!). I waited until the third bottle of the night to open it–I figured everybody would be schnockered and never notice. Good plan?
Well, I unscrewed, poured it into my glass, and took a sniff.
Took another sniff.
No real sign of the Chambourcin.
At least on the nose, this was a serious wine: Cinnamon, spice, and everything nice (sorry, could not resist)). A bit of dark red fruit, a bit of cardamon, and I was ready to go. On the palate, whoa, again. Good fruit, great balance and an admirable finish. This is really good stuff. I was amazed. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.