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Great Grapes You’ve Never Heard Of

So how’s that glass of Seyval Blanc I just poured you? What d’ya think of that Baco Noir? Care to purchase another bottle of Norton? It’s on special today only.”

You’ve probably never heard these words, unless, perhaps, you live in New York’s Hudson River Valley and you get out a bit. And if you want to expand your tastes and wine experience a bit, here’s a primer to get you started.

Seyval Blanc is a French-American hybrid that’s a little reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, and can produce outstanding, crisp dry white wines as well as slightly sweet ones. When mixed with Chardonnay, as they do very well at Baldwin Vineyards with their Mist de Greco, or Clinton Vineyards where they do a 100% Seyval, it’s a nice change from the whites you probably drink frequently.

Baco Noir is another hybrid, this time a red, that produces a foxy, smoky varietal a bit like Charbono, another grape you may not know. Benmarl in upstate NY makes a great Baco as does Canada’s Henry of Pelham Family Estate, shown here.

Norton, which was introduced to the US in the 1830s by one Dr. Daniel N. Norton of Richmond, Virginia, is sometimes called “America’s True Grape.” They make very nice wine from Norton in New York, Virginia (Chrysalis Vineyards), Illinois, and especially in Missouri where it’s the popular state grape. Bet you didn’t even know that Missouri had a state grape! Try the Stone Hill Winery for this one, too.

And I’ll throw in a couple from across the pond, too.

Savagnin is a European white grape that can make an aromatic, sherry-like wine and is widely grown in the Jura region and often bottled as Vin Jaune or “yellow wine.” The nutty taste is unmistakable and makes a great aperitif before dinner in place of cocktails. Look for the place name of Arbois where it’s sometimes mixed with Chardonnay and gets a little closer to table wine.

Picpoul Blanc (Picpoul de Pinet) is a white grape and one of the few grown in France whose wine is named for itself rather than the place where it’s grown. Its name means “lip stinger” and it really is, with crisp citrus and floral flavors that go great with seafood.

So – expand your horizons and try some of these.  Happy 2013!

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