The Sweet and Lowdown for an Odd Grape

Despite committing to sweet wines, Chaddsford gets esoteric.

Posted on by Jeff Alexander

chaddsford-noiret-2011

Just as chatter and speculation surrounding Chaddsford Winery’s reincarnation was beginning to fade, a press release from their PR agency landed in the PAVC inbox. It described a bottling of an odd variety called Noiret, part of a so-called Artisan Series of “small-batch dry wines from unusual, uncommon and underrepresented grapes.”

We were intrigued.

The 2012 changes at Chaddsford were big. Eric Miller, founder and visionary, was gone and production was boosted significantly in the sweet wine category. The news got a little distorted, too, with many believing dry wines were kaput at the Brandywine Valley mainstay. When our fellow PAVC mate, Jeff Kralik, visited Chaddsford last year, he saw the wholesale sell-off of assets like oak barrels as an indication of the winery’s ultimate goal: To transform wholly into a producer of high-volume sweet wines.

We recently connected with Chaddsford winemaker Jim Osborne for an update. Regardless of the winery’s founding goal of becoming a fine wine producer, he said, the sweeter varieties garnered a life of their own. “Sweet wines have always been the majority of our sales,” he confirmed. “We feel our main opportunity for growth nationally, or outside the state, is in the sweet wines. (We) just can’t produce the volumes of traditional varietals at a price point that’s very attractive to folks.”

He went on to note that sweet wine sales are picking up Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, and the intent is to continue the momentum nationally. The winery recently won entrée to Walmart locations in West Virginia and placement in more than 165 Giant supermarkets.

“With that growth, we’re also going to be making some of these smaller lots…We’re not totally abandoning our roots,” he said of the Artisan Series’ raison d’etre.

Recently, Mike Madaio and I both cracked the seal on bottles of the Chaddsford Noiret 2011 and traded emails with our thoughts and impressions. Here’s how it went down:

* * *

Jeff A: Noiret is totally new to me, but a little research tells us the grape was created at Cornell back in 1973. It’s a hybrid of Steuben and Chancellor, which is technically called NY65.0467.08. How’s that for sexy? Anyway, it was engineered for blending. Jim Osborne said they produced a mere 50 cases and it’s only available at the winery and their retail outlet in Bucks County. Is it worth the trip?

Mike: I gotta say that I’m immediately skeptical of these “hybrid” grapes. I’ve yet to have one that made me want to drink it again (and don’t get Jeff K started on Chambourcin!). Looking at the wine in the bottle, it’s looks awfully Welchy. We shall see.

Jeff: Yeah, but look at the presentation. It’s a substantial bottle, complete with wax cap seal. Not a cheap approach, which makes you think they might actually be serious. It’s hard to buy in fully, though, because it’s such a strange, whimsical offering. I can’t imagine there will be a broad calling for this wine.

Mike: Speaking of the cap, how the hell does one deal with it? Are you supposed to take it off, or just pull the cork through? I almost carved up my forearm while attempting to get through it.

Jeff: Wax definitely isn’t your friend in the utility department. I got mine off with some effort and poured a glass. That’s an intense, deep purple color. The nose is interesting, too, even complicated. You can almost get lost in trying to identify everything. I get spice, cherry pie, cassis, earth. It’s a little musty and faintly rosy. The aroma is alluring to me, I have to say.

Mike: What the hell is cassis anyway? Something wine snobs like to throw around, because nobody can dispute them? Is it even real? (Just kidding; I know cassis is real, but I have no idea what it smells like, so I won’t be agreeing with that particular descriptor.)

Anyway, yeah, the nose. It’s not bad. I’m getting mostly floral notes, like violets. Reminds me a bit of Beaujolais. Some of that candied feel you get from BJ, too. Carbonic maceration? After it opens a bit, I’m also noticing sweet tobacco, and some noticeable alcohol heat (despite this being only 12.5% abv) that I could do without.

Jeff: The acidity is good, medium body. Definitely a food wine. I’m pairing it with a turkey chili that is light on spice but has brown sugar mixed in, and it’s a nice match. Flavors of fruit, mushroom, pepper and light drying tannins. After a couple hours of air, a much stronger black pepper thing emerges that’s evident through the mid palate, but the finish goes limp. Are you picking up any oak? It spent a year in the stuff.

Mike: My wife insists she’s getting a lot of pepper. (I don’t really get it, so don’t tell her.) I do find the tobacco note to be quite prominent, along with some warm spices, both of which are evidence of the oak, I think. The palate is a touch watery, but does feature some interesting flavors. That said, the combo of tobacco with out-of-balance malolacitic acid (which kinda tastes like rotten cheese that’s been soaked in brandy) doesn’t work all that well for me.

I do agree that it’s a food wine. Decent acid and tannins. I could see it going well with lighter foods that pair well with lighter reds, like salmon or chicken.

Would you pay $25 for this?

Jeff: The fact that they’re in sweet wines is obviously taking their eye off the dry wine ball. I’m puzzled as to why they would go with Noiret and not strictly stick with a core of popular varieties like Cab Franc and Pinot. The oddity has some appeal, but requires appreciation and, honestly, disposable income. It’s kind of a table wine for the well-heeled and adventurous, attributes that don’t typically go hand in hand. Spenders tend to dwell in the safe trophy zone of Shafer, et al.

Mike: I concur. I get that Noiret was meant to thrive in the Northeast, but generally those grapes don’t taste as good as classic European varietals, and this is no exception. It’s not horrible, but it reminds me of a Beaujolais-Villages that I could get for $10-12, and is thus tough to recommend at $25. Of course we’re always going to have to pay more for local wine and, if we don’t, the industry will never grow to the point where it’s competitive. But that’s another conversation for another time…

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About Jeff Alexander

A co-founder of Pennsylvania Vine Company, Jeff has written about wine and related pursuits through his Main Line Vine blog and Examiner.com, where he is also known as the Philadelphia Wine Examiner. Based outside of Philly and father of a future gourmand, Jeff is a photographer, runner and PR pro who has drained many worldwide destinations of wine, beer and spirits including Europe, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Argentina, Central America and Alaska. Bottles that hold his attention tend to emanate from the Rhone, Alsace, New York, California and, increasingly, Pennsylvania. He is a devout acidhound and will always take a glass of Riesling in a pinch.

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