Alicante Bouschet: Planting Roots in the New World

Alicante Bouschet was originally a French grape designed by viticulturist, Henri Bouschet, when he cross bred the grapes Petit Bouschet and Grenache. A lot of grapes we drink today like Cabernet Sauvignon, born from a crossing between Cabernet franc and Sauvignon blanc, have evolved in this way naturally or induced by man to create a more favorable growing quality. Alicante Bouschet was created to have thicker skin so it’s rot resistant, ripens early, and travels well. It’s also what’s called a teinturier grape, meaning it has both red flesh and red skin. This helps add fullness of color and balance to blends as most other red grapes have clear flesh. (Think about biting into the average red grape from the grocery store. The inside flesh is usually light in color. This is also why red grapes like Pinot noir can make white wines like champagne.)

Alicante Bouschet first planted roots in southern France in the mid 1800’s because it was sturdy and easy to grow, but over time the region began to favor Carignan, Mourvedre, and Grenache. As it’s numbers dwindled Alicante found a new home in Portugal. Alicante Bouschet is perhaps the most Portuguese non-Portuguese grape in existence. In the southern region of Alentejo, this grape really shines. It is earthy, full bodied, with blackberry and plum fruit mixed with tobacco and spice. To this day, Alicante Bouschet is a premium varietal wine in Portugal.

But Alicante didn’t stop there. Next it travelled to America, planting roots in California. It became especially popular during Prohibition due to its signature thick skin, meaning it could travel well in less favorable conditions and pop up as “bathtub wine” all over the country. As the wine industry was reborn in 1933, Alicante Bouschet remained a work horse grape used for blending in red wines. More recently, however, Alicante Bouschet has stepped into the spotlight solo, especially in Sonoma. I had the pleasure of tasting a bottle of Source and Sink’s 100% Alicante Bouschet which was a delightfully earthy wine. It had that forest floor quality I love in a good Burgundy, as well as leather, spice, and red and black berries. The tannin structure (the drying quality you feel in your mouth when sipping red wine) is high, making this wine a great pairing for roast meats like lamb.

So, as I was tasting wine in Arizona, I wasn’t at all surprised to find… an Alicante Bouschet. This grape seems to be quite the traveller! I discovered it at The Original Jerome Winery, known for growing more grape varieties than anywhere else in the world. Here, it was blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, called appropriately “Three of Pentacles” for its three different grape contributors. This wine was rich, oaky with vanilla and baking spice, cocoa, ripe blackberry, plum, dried herbs, and an earthy, dusty quality. Truly delicious!!

I decided to pair this wine with roast rack of lamb topped with pesto, grilled asparagus, and baked potatoes. It was magic! The rich red blend complimented the fattiness of the meat and savoriness of the sauce. It truly danced in my mouth. I also tried some of the 100% Alicante Bouschet with the lamb. If you are going for a little lighter, less opulant accompaniament to the food this is what I’d go for. The Source and Sink stepped back to let the lamb shine. Personally, I preferred the pairing of lamb with the richer red blend, and sipping the Alicante solo so I could really savor its qualities, But either style pairing works!

You can order Source and Sink wines here or, if you’re in the LA area, pick them up at Buvette wine shop in Sherman Oaks. To get the Bitter Creek “3 of Pentacles” order here or visit The Original Jerome Winery in Jerome, AZ. Both wines are extremely affordable and worth the try. I also hope you seek out an Alicante Bouschet of your own.

Cheers!

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