A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Himrod and Lakemont - Finger Lakes, New York

Himrod Grape Cluster
Today's wine is something I picked up on my recent trip to the Finger Lakes because it was something that I had never seen before.  It's a wine made from seedless table grapes.  Essentially, what was in this bottle is very similar to what you'd get it you went down to your local grocery store, bought a bunch of seedless grapes and tried to make wine from them at home (though nearly all grapes that you get at the store are Thompson Seedless grapes, also known as Sultana, which do find their way into some California wines, but are limited almost exclusively to jug wine/bulk wine production). 

Someone may already be asking the question "well, those grapes aren't very expensive, why don't I just go ahead and give that a shot?"  The short answer is: seedless table grapes tend to make lousy wine.  The long answer is essentially the same, but with much more detail.  If you've read the site more than once, you'll know that I don't like short answers, so buckle up, because here we go.

First we need to consider where seedless grapes come from and why they are the way they are.  Seedless fruit is not a naturally occurring phenomenon since, for a plant, the seed inside the fruit is the natural way for the plant to propogate itself.  Seedless fruit is typically bred by humans as a convenience for consumers.  Many people aren't very comfortable with the process of spitting things out and for fruit like watermelon or grapes, there isn't really any clean, comfortable way to eat around the seeds.  Further, if you offer people the choice between food that is messy and a lot of work to eat or fruit that is easy to just pop in your mouth, they'll choose the path of least resistance almost every time. 

Grapes have a kind of double whammy of trouble, though.  Not only are the seeds inedible and an inconvenience to eat around, but the skins are also very thick and often inedible, so the grape must be eaten either by popping the pulp out of the skins directly into the mouth (and then spitting out the seeds) or by eating the whole grape and spitting the skin and seeds out together.  Finicky eaters are not fond of either option and when you add to all that the fact that many grapes have high levels of tannins in their skins (and seeds) which are very bitter and can cause an astringent sensation in the mouth, well, you're starting to see the many different reasons some people may have for deciding not to eat grapes at all.

Lakemont Grape Bunches
Enter the seedless grape. Picture it like an over the top infomercial.  The pitchman comes on the screen holding a grape in his hand: "Do you love grapes but hate the hassle of eating them?  The seeds are always getting stuck in your teeth and you've got nowhere to put them when you're eating them on the couch!  Then there's those pesky, tough skins that you can't spit out in mixed company but which you can't eat either.  And don't get me started on that sand-papery feeling they leave inside your mouth.  Well, have I got the product for you.  It's a grape with much thinner skins that you can bite through and eat without any messing spitting.  But wait, there's more!  This grape also lacks those tiny annoying seeds!  You get it all in this super-convenient package!  Grab a bunch and eat them on your way into work without worry!  Or dry them out and make amazing, convenient raisins!  Never deal with the hassle of grape detritus every again with the new seedless grape!"

And so on, etc.  But Mr. Pitchman, we may ask, if these grapes are so amazing then why aren't more wines made from them?  And why is it that the wines that are made from them aren't very exciting?  There are a few answers.  First of all, the skins on the seedless grapes are so thin that they don't impart much flavor to the wine.  This isn't a big deal in white wine making where there is minimal skin contact anyway, but it's a huge deal-breaker for red wine production.  The main reason, though, is that the grapes themselves just don't taste like very much.  There are a number of possible reasons for this.  First of all, it may just be that the bland flavor of seedless grapes is what appeals to the largest cross-section of consumers and is thus what sells the best.   It's also likely that whatever flavors the grapes may have is diluted due to the fact that they are designed and employed to produce massive amounts of grapes per vine.  Take another look at that Himrod cluster at the top of the page.  The clusters are enormous and the goal of the grower is always to get as many of those clusters as possible from the vines since tonnage is all that matters.  Deep, explosive flavors are irrelevant in table grape production.  You just want as many bunches as possible.

All of which brings us to the two grapes that this particular wine is made from.  The first is Himrod, which was developed and then released in 1952 by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, which is located at the northern tip of Seneca Lake.  The second grape is Lakemont, which was released in 1972 from the same institution.  Both grapes are hybrids and are siblings of one another, which means that the parentage for each is identical (there are two other grapes that are the result of this same parentage: Interlaken and Romulus).  In all cases, the two parents are Ontario, itself a crossing (or possibly a hybrid as I'm not sure about the exact species designation of the two parents) between Winchell and Diamond,  and Thompson Seedless, which I did not realize was actually a vinifera grape until today (it is native to either Turkey, Greece or Iran).  All four of the sibling grapes are named for towns in the Finger Lakes region.

The wine that I bought was from Fulkerson Winery on Seneca Lake.  The wine is named "Matinee" and is made up of Himrod and Lakemont grapes in some unknown proportion.  The bottle cost $14 at the winery.  In the glass, the wine had a pale, silvery lemon color.  The nose was moderately open with aromas of mint and green melon.  The mint is startlingly prominent here as my note indicates that the aroma is "like toothpaste."  On the palate, the wine had a light-medium body with medium acidity and was definitely sweet.  There were flavors of tangerine and mandarin orange along with mint, candy apple and candied lime citrus.  It definitely had a bit more complexity than I was expecting, but let's be honest, this isn't a "serious" wine by any stretch of the imagination.  That doesn't make it a bad wine, though.  Wines like this have their place and don't necessarily deserve to be looked down on just because they're sweet and unabashedly unpretentious.  There are times in my life when I want crème brûlée for dessert and there are other times when I just want gummy bears.  This is a gummy bear wine for those days when you want something sweet and a little fun and don't want to spend a lot of time thinking about what's in your glass.  It's respectable for what it is and while it's not a style I reach for often, it's out there for those who want to seek it out.

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