Description 1 of 2
Name of varietal: Alicante Bouschet
Common synonyms: Alicante Henri Bouschet, Alicante, Garnacha Tintorera (Spain), Alikant Buse, and many derivations of the two names together or apart
Parentage of the grape: Petit Bouchet, Grenache
History of the grape: Like all good biographies, the rise and fall of Alicante Bouschet begins with its grandparents. For centuries, one of the most widely planted grapes in France had been Aramon. Though relatively bland, it’s prone to high yields and one of the few resistant to powdery mildew. In 1824, horticulturalist Louis Bouschet, in an attempt to add color to Aramon but retain its easy cultivation, crossed it with Teinturier du Cher. Teinturiers (the name means “dyers”) are a type of grape that produces naturally red juice (as opposed to most other grapes which whether red or white, make white grape juice unless given time to macerate), and named it Petit Bouschet. in 1865, his son Henri chose to cross Petit Bouchet with Grenache, and created Alicante Petit Bouschet. It soon became a popular blending grape, mostly for color.
US Prohibitionists saw a great opportunity with Alicante. The hearty grape traveled well. And its intense color meant it could handle a good dilution. Just add a bunch of sugar to the diluted grape juice and no one would be the wiser, right? These Alicante sugar wines came to be known as "jackass" wines in those years.
Plantings in California were reportedly up to 30,000 acres by the 1940s. But have declined considerably, down to around 5,000, since drinking once again became legal. It is still used as a colorant in blends, but not much else.
Characteristics of the grape: dark juice, thick skin, bland flavor, chalky
Regions where the grape is currently important: France, Spain, Portugal, California
Type or types of wines the grape produces: dry red
Description 2 of 2
The popularity of Alicante Bouschet has waned over the last half century amongst commercial winemakers. However, Alicante Bouschet's story and heritage lends a colorful glimpse of another side of winemaking in the 20th century.
Alicante Bouschet hit its height of popularity in the United States, during Prohibition. Alicante Bouschet’s vibrant red color allowed bootleggers to stretch it with water and sugar. Alicante Bouschet's thick skin, providing the grape's anti-oxidant properties, also proved popular with east coast home winemakers since it proved capable of making the long trek cross country. By the 1930s, it accounted for a third of all grape production in California. Sixty years later, with Prohibition long since repealed, this native of southern France has largely fallen from favor.
Alicante Bouschet is still grown,but it is mainly used to add color and a tannic edge to the bulk wine production of California’s Central Valley and its southern France homeland. In California, it now amounts to less than one percent of grape production and its acreage is constantly declining. This grape can still be found in Spain -- where it is known as Garnacha Tintorera ( a reference to its parentage of Grenache and Petit Bouschet -- and also in Corsica, Italy, South Africa, and Portugal, where it is an allowable grape in the production of port.
One of the few grapes with a lively, even gory, red-pigmented, free-run juice, Alicante Bouschet is a highly-productive blending grape, sometimes used – discreetly of course -- with nobler grapes to add color, depth and roundness. Born of a cross between parents Grenache and Petit Bouschet, this grape can trace its lineage back to an earlier pairing of Teinturier du Cher with Amaron, to create Petit Bouschet. Arguably, this grape was never given a proper chance to prove its worth outside of the hot climates of the Central Valley and southern France. Except for a few diehard producers on California’s North Coast, it seems destined for further decline.
In the past, you have masqueraded as nobility and fooled more than a few of France’s social elite. Alas, as time passed, it was revealed that your shiny red suit was not made of silk, but was merely a quickly-fading dye job of a rather brown cotton-poly blend. In North America, we have also seen you at your best. Your willingness to travel the trains during Prohibition brought cheer to the nation. Big, round and affable, what you lacked in tannic sophistication you made up for with your approachable demeanor. Monsieur Bouschet … Merci beaucoup! – Description from Appellation America (view original content)
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