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.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Traminette - Finger Lakes, New York, USA

Hello and welcome to Fringe Wine's first post of 2013.  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and is having a happy young new year!  I figured I'd ease back into the blogging game by taking a look at a grape I came across during my trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York a few years back.  That trip turned out to be a fertile one, as this is the 15th post I've written about some wine I picked up while I was out there.  It is, unfortunately, also the last for awhile.  I still have many wines from that trip in my cellar, but for the most part, they're probably a bit too mainstream for this site.  I do hope to re-visit the region in the not-too-distant future, and hopefully I can find a few more unusual and interesting things then.  In the meantime, I still have many interesting grapes and wines to share with you in the coming year, so let's go ahead and get started!

Traminette is a hybrid grape with a lot of different grape species in its pedigree.  Its parents are  Gewürztraminer, which isn't too complicated, and Joannes Seyve 23.416, which is where things get crazy on a couple of different fronts.  Let's start with the grape itself: Joannes Seyve 23.416 is a cross of Bertille Seyve 4825 and Chancellor.  Bertille Seyve 4825 is not itself important as a commercial grape, but it has been somewhat important for grape breeders, and you can get a sense for how complicated its pedigree is from this chart, which is from Robinson, Harding & Vouillamoz's Wine Grapes (and which is freely available on their website due to printing issues with the book).  As you can see, Bertille Seyve 4825 (left side of the page, about half way down) has a lot of grapes in its family tree, and those grapes are from several different Vitis species, such as riparia, labrusca, aestivalis, lincecumii, rupestris, cinerea and vinifera which means that not only is Bertille Seyve 4825 itself a very complex hybrid, its offspring and its offspring's offspring are as well.

You may have also noted that we've been using two different human names for some of these crosses and these two names have a surname in common.  Joannes Seyve (1900-1966) was a French biochemist who also apparently bred grapes, as did many other members of his family.  Joannes's best known creation is Chambourcin, which we looked at not too long ago.  His father and brother were both named Bertille Seyve and both also bred grapes, though the father was more accomplished than the son.  Bertille Seyve Sr. worked closely with his own father-in-law Victor Villard, who was also a noted and successful grape breeder.  Seyve and Villard were essentially carrying on the work of Albert Seibel (who created Verdelet and Chancellor among many others) and all of the Seyve family members used Seibel crossings liberally in their own works.  The most successful Seyve-Villard crossing is Seyval Blanc, which you can read more about here.

Traminette, though, is not a Seibel or a Seyve crossing and only belongs to that group known as the French hybrids by virtue of its parentage.  You see, Traminette was created at the University of Illinois by Herb Barrett in 1965 in an effort to create large clustered table grapes with the characteristic spicy tang of Gewürztraminer.  Barrett sent the seeds from his crossing to Cornell's grape breeding program in 1968.  The seed was planted and fruit was first observed in 1971.  The vine was selected and propagated starting in 1974 under the lovely name NY65.533.13.  The vine's roots are phylloxera resistant, so grafting is unnecessary.  It is moderately winter hardy, but much more hardy than Gewürztraminer, and when it does suffer damage from cold conditions, it is typically the trunk rather than the buds which are harmed (which is not really a good thing since severe enough trunk damage can kill the entire vine).

The vine typically ripens in the first half of October in New York state.  Traminette's acidity level stays relatively high for a short while during the ripening process, and its acidity is generally higher than its parent Gewürztraminer.  It lacks the unwelcome foxy aromas and flavors of many hybrid grapes while also maintaining some of the characteristic floral and spice notes of Gewürztraminer, though the grape purportedly does not have the bitterness that turns so many people off to its parent.  These flavor characteristics can be enhanced with prolonged skin contact (12 to 48 hours) at fairly low temperatures (40 -50 degrees Fahrenheit)  prior to fermentation.  The berries and leaves are moderately resistant to a variety of mildews, though the leaves are susceptible to downy mildew.  In 1996, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station officially named the grape Traminette, making it the fifth grape named by that group.*

I was able to try two different wines made from the Traminette grape.  The first was the 2009 Fulkerson Traminette from the Finger Lakes region of New York, which I picked up at the winery for around $12.  In the glass, the wine was a medium lemon gold color.  The nose was moderately intense with grapefruit, lychee and peach aromas along with something vaguely floral as well.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with low acidity.  It was sweet with flavors of peach, mandarin orange, lychee, rose water and pink grapefruit.  The low acid was a problem for me, as the sugar in the wine tasted clumsy and off-balance without it.  It was also a little bitter and soapy as well, which I really don't have an explanation for.  I'm generally a fan of Gewürztraminer, and this wine had a lot of Gewürz character to it, but it really picked up a lot of the bad things Gewürz brings to the table without enough of the good.  It was probably the best of the four Fulkerson wines that I picked up (Vincent, Dornfelder and Lakemont/Himrod) and it is a decent wine for the money, but it's not something that I would find myself consistently reaching for.

The second wine that I tried was the 2009 McGregor Vineyards Traminette from the Finger Lakes, which I picked up in their tasting room for around $16.  In the glass the wine was a fairly light silvery lemon color.  The nose was moderately intense with grapefruit, baking spice, lychee, and pear aromas with something vaguely floral as well.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity.  It was maybe a little sweeter than off-dry with flavors of lime, pink grapefruit, lychee, green apple and honeysuckle flower.  This wine was almost searingly tart and had acid to burn.  I generally prefer my wines to be more like this, but I found myself wishing that I had something in between these two examples, as that's where I thought the real balance probably was.  Overall, I thought they both kind of tasted like more restrained versions of Gewürztraminer, so if the powerful floral and spice characteristics of that grape are too much for you, then Traminette may be worth a shot.  I personally love the rich heady perfume of Gewürztraminer and don't think that these wines are really a fair substitute for wines made from that grape, but they're interesting and characterful in their own right and are priced much lower than their European counterparts.

*I have heavily leaned on their press release for much of the information in this post.  The release can be read in full here.

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