Chambourcin for my real friends, real boursin for my sham friends…?

20 February 2010
By Tom Mansell

Pinnacle Ridge Winery Chambourcin Reserve 2007

I lost the picture of this bottle, so here is the 2004 vintage label. It was the same for the 2007 vintage.

Appellation: Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania)
Grape: Chambourcin (pronounced sham-bor-SAN with that uppity French nasal “in” sound)
ABV: not determined (labeled “table wine”), but given Brix at harvest, I would guess around 13%
Price Point: $16
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes: {Brix} at harvest: 23.5-24. pH: 3.95, TA 6 g/L after malolactic fermentation and stabilization with potassium carbonate. Destemmed, pumped into bins and inoculated. Extended maceration (3 weeks) with punchdowns. 16 months in Hungarian oak. (Thanks to Pinnacle Ridge owner Brad Knapp for the detailed info!)

Hedonic Notes:
Pours a dark ruby red. Whoof, smoky oak on the nose. A little {heat}, with some raspberry fruit. There is just the slightest sulfur off-aroma on the nose, like opening a hard boiled egg. In the mouth, light and fruity if a bit thin, with slight {astringency}. It’s got a very short finish, but acidity lingers long after. When I approached this wine the second day, it was already badly {oxidized}, which I would attribute to some Acetobacter. The relatively high pH of this wine (close to 4) makes it susceptible to spoilage in the presence of oxygen.

Rating: corkcorknocorknocorknocork 2 out of 5 corks .

When I was back home in PA between Christmas and New Year’s, my friends and I went for a tour of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail. I have to say that I was impressed with many of the wines that I tasted that day (I came home with about 2 cases…). Pinnacle Ridge particularly impressed me, showing a great “Naked” Chardonnay, good sparklers (one made from Cayuga White), and other nice wines, including Riesling and Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, this Chambourcin didn’t show so well for me outside the tasting room, but if you are around Kutztown, I highly recommend stopping by Pinnacle Ridge.

Science! Grape Profile: Chambourcin
The parentage of this French-American hybrid grape is uncertain, as breeder Joannes Seyve died leaving no notes, apparently having wildly interbred all kinds of grapes without documenting the results. It is listed in the National Grape Registry as Seyve-Villard 417 x Seibel 7053, and was released commercially in 1963.

Chambourcin is promoted highly on the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail as its signature grape. If you know the hybrids produced up in the Finger Lakes, then Chambourcin may not be as familiar as Cayuga White, Seyval, Foch and others. That’s because it’s not grown extensively in the Finger Lakes.

In terms of hybrids, Chambourcin is not well-suited for the Finger Lakes because it is relatively cold-tender, with tissue damage occuring anywhere from 0 F to -5 F (compare to DeChaunac’s -15F). Pennsylvania, especially the southeast corner, is warmer than New York, with fewer extremely cold days and more frost-free days, so it’s a bit of a safer environment for Chambourcin vines.

Chambourcin is one of few hybrid grapes that still exists in France, along with Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, and a handful of others that survived the Order 66-like purge of American hybrids from France in the mid-20th century. It’s predominantly found in the Loire Valley, but you won’t find it in any of the top-quality AOC wines, at least not legally. It turns out that this grape is handy to have around, though, since it produces monoglucoside anthocyanins. Why is this important?

Example of a vinifera anthocyanin, with a sugar in the 3- position. Diglycosylated anthocyanins also have a sugar in the 5- position. Figure "borrowed" from G. Sacks, Cornell University.

Red hybrids are generally high in anthocyanins, the compounds that give red wine its color. Often, these have sugar groups conjugated to them to improve solubility. Many hybrid varieties add TWO sugar groups, creating diglycoside anthocyanins. Vinifera grapes only add one sugar, leading to monoglucoside anthocyanins. The test for mono vs. diglucoside anthocyanins is relatively simple (thin layer chromatography, or TLC) and can be used to determine if a wine has been “adulterated” with “inferior” hybrid grapes (e.g., unfit for AOC classification). However, since Chambourcin’s anthocyanins are monoglycosylated, they are difficult to distinguish from those of European vinifera grapes, at least at first pass. So, if you were a French winemaker and your wine needed a little color, for example…. ah, perhaps I have said too much.

Further Reading:

Wine Business Monthly overview of Chambourcin
Detailed info on Chambourcin from Iowa State
Article from the New York Cork Report on the connection between mono- and diglycosides and foxy aroma
Review of more-advanced wine adulteration analysis: García-Beneytez et al., “Analysis of Grape and Wine Anthocyanins by HPLC-MS”, J. Ag. Food Chem., 2003.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to Chambourcin for my real friends, real boursin for my sham friends…?

  1. VA Wine Diva on 20 February 2010 at 7:54 am

    Chambourcin also shows up at a number of vineyards in Virginia. A lot of people scoff at this hybrid, but it can make a nice wine when handled well (even a decent port given a bottle I’ve got open right now – got to blog about that soon). Also, thanks for all the science, I am so science geek enough to love it!

  2. Cyclist on 21 February 2010 at 5:42 pm

    The “stabilized with Potassium Carbonate” and then your comments about the low acidity of this wine caught my eye. The numbers on that juice don’t sound too bad. Why do winemakers in the NE tend to futz about so much with their juice/wine? I’d like to see more minimalist winemaking in our part of the country.

  3. Tom Mansell on 21 February 2010 at 5:50 pm


    The acidity on this one was actually still palpable in the mouth, in spite of the high pH. Hybrids are notorious for presenting high pH and high total acidity together, which is an apparent contradiction.

    Potassium and calcium ions from the skin can increase pH, so my guess is that K+ and Ca+ are higher in hybrid skins, but I have no data to back that up. The long maceration may also have contributed to the low pH in this way. I would bet that before stabilization, this wine was in the 8-9 g/L range, very high for a red, so the cold stabilization was likely necessary for balance. Like I said, the acidity was definitely there.

  4. David Falchek on 22 February 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Excellent chambourcin overview. Lehigh Valley producers are intent on making chambourcin their trademark red. I like the variety for the color, body and strong flavors often so hard to attain in red of cooler climates. Maybe it’s like a softer zin. Some folks get a “cesspool” smell. I refuse to call it “Chamby.”

    I think there is still a hybrid wine competition in Loire somewhere, probably underground.

    INAO rules “recommend” Baco Noir for Armagnac — I think the only place where FA hybrid are at that level.

  5. Tom Mansell on 22 February 2010 at 3:52 pm


    Thanks for the comment. Pinnacle Ridge and Galen Glen were my favorite stops out of the 6 PA wineries that I visited.

    If the pH on “Chamby” always comes in that high, then low microbial stability could be to blame for “cesspool”. Usually anything above 3.6 is vulnerable to spoilage organisms, though this probably varies with alcohol content, etc.

  6. brad on 26 February 2010 at 5:23 am


    I guess I feel the need to chime in on this discussion since I made the wine and have some strong thoughts/opinions about chambourcin. Chambourcin growth behavior in the vineyard is generally very favorable with good disease resistance, good flavor development even in lesser vintages etc. The most significant issue (in my opinion) is that Chambourcin (in our vineyards) tends to come in with high acid and low pH. This combination is much easier to work with than the high acid, high pH combination discussed above. We always put our Chambourcin wines through malolactic and then evaluate whether further deacidification is necessary/warranted. The 2007 vintage was a superb vintage but did result in Chambourcins with acids in the 7-8 gms/l range after ML. This high acid necessitated deacidification. I brought the acid down to approximately 6 gms/l with KCO3 which brought the pH up to high levels. I then sterile bottled the wine due to the high pH. The reviewers comments regarding oxidation and acetobactor seem wrong to me. Oxidation occurs due to exposure to oxygen (e.g. in a half-empty bottle). Acetobactor causes high volatile acidity and ethyl acetate (not oxidation). Hope this helps.

    Brad Knapp/Pinnacle Ridge

  7. Tom Mansell on 26 February 2010 at 6:53 am


    Thanks for your comments. I’m not well versed in Chambourcin viticulture since we don’t have too much of that variety up here in the Finger Lakes. I know Foch and Frontenac sometimes present the high pH/high acidity issue (maybe it’s their V. riparia heritage…?)

    Unlike Cyclist, whom I know from previous conversations to be a huge non-interventionist, I have no problem with stabilization to reduce acidity.

    Re: oxidation, it was mostly acetaldehyde. I was just surprised at how quickly it got to that point. If you sterile filtered, then it wasn’t Acetobacter in the bottle (didn’t get any VA the first day), but who knows? It was just a guess, given the high pH.

    For the record, Acetobacter CAN accumulate acetaldehyde under low-oxygen conditions (i.e., in a barrel, or perhaps a bottle with a cork in it?)
    ( (For those of you playing at home, acetaldehyde is the product of oxidation of ethanol [and smells "oxidized"]. Further oxidation of acetaldehyde leads to acetic acid [vinegar], which esterifies to also create ethyl acetate [nail polish]. So the presence of acetaldehyde in the bottle means your liquid is somewhere between wine and vinegar.)

    Maybe low SO2? Or maybe the cork was letting oxygen in and it was already on the brink.

    I hope I made it clear that I enjoyed many of the wines I had at Pinnacle Ridge (in fact, I just finished a bottle of the Riesling 2 nights ago). I went out of my way to try Chambourcins on my short, 6-winery tour, and I remember liking this one, at least enough to buy it. Maybe I just got a bad bottle. I still have the 2008 Chambourcin, so I’ll definitely give that one a fair shot. Again, thanks for your feedback. It’s great to have winemakers in on the discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


More in Tasting Notes (5 of 5 articles)