A Lesson in Wine Grape Varieties

In viticulture (grape growing), there are only a few species of grape vines out there. Grapevines belong to the genus Vitis, which is composed of the 60 or so various species such as vinifera, labrusca, and rupestris. The ideal genus for winemaking is Vitis vinifera – this is the “European” vine and the various varieties of this species is where cabernet sauvignon comes from, where chardonnay comes from, and so on.

What is a Hybrid Grape?

Thought of another way, you have wolves and domestic dogs. In your home you might have a Chihuahua, a boxer, or a poodle. You can breed a dachshund and a corgi to get a cross, but if you breed two different species, you get something different – a hybrid – a bit like a mule.

Biologically speaking, the role of a vine isn’t to make wine, it is to make fruit, which is then eaten by various species of animal that help disperse the seeds etc., and ultimately propagate the species. It’s just that man, somewhere along the way, figured out that by letting grapes rot in a bucket, you can have some fun on the weekend and certain grapes taste pretty good when you do this.

When Europeans came to the Americas they were pleased to find that vines were already abundant, and whether you think that the missionaries needed communion wine, or the colonists just wanted to enjoy a Saturday night with a buzz, sooner or later efforts turned to making wine from what was on hand.

But that comes at a price, the fruit is less… well suited to our palates and wine made from these varieties often has a distinctively rustic character -often described as “foxy” flavours. Calm down swinger, not sexy-foxy but hairy-animal foxy. Aspiring viticulturists and winemakers in the eastern states and eastern Canada thought to cross European varieties with the local vines in the hopes of getting the best of both worlds.

Were they successful? Find out by reading more at Culinaire Magazine …


Tom Firth’s List of 4 Great Canadian Hybrid Wines

Stag’s Hollow 2014 Tragically Vidal, Okanagan Valley, BC

Henry of Pelham 2013 Baco Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Quail’s Gate 2013 Old Vines Foch, Okanagan Valley, BC

Calona 2014 Sovereign Opal, Okanagan Valley, BC


If you’re thirsty for more wonderful wine suggestions from Tom Firth, check out The Other Cabernet – Cabernet Franc.