You probably never heard of these strains. Why? Because their names almost never appear on the labels. These strains are “children of a lesser god” and work stealthily to improve the world’s red blends.
“Children of a lesser god” is the title of a famous movie with William Hurt and Gina Davis. Surely some millennials do not know what I’m talking about, but I invite you to Google it. Worth it. But speaking seriously, Teinturier varieties are not considered noble strains and rarely does an oenologist vinify them as a varietal wine or write their name on the label.
You can think: why then, these strains are cultivated? Very good question. Because these varieties give a world of color. But, let’s go step by step …
The father of these strains was Henri Bouschet. In 1850 he crossed two ancient French vines (Aramon and Teinturier du Cher) and obtained two new hybrid varieties: Petit Bouschet and Gros Bouschet. Afterwards he crossed Petit Bouschet and Grenache and today we have the Alicante Bouschet strain (its other names are Alicante Vero, Moratón, Romé Negro and Garnacha Tintorera). And, finally, the Aspirant Bouschet, who was born from the crossing of Gros Bouschet and Aspiring, well known in Chile and Argentina.
In the vineyard, these vines are characterized by their good fertility, but it is in the cellar that they reveal their tremendous personality. Not only their skins are dark red, but also their pulp. So, the must also is intensely colorful, in addition to tannic and somewhat harsh, with aromas of red fruits and a balanced acidity.
The noble strains of selected vines and low yields provide a beautiful and perfect grape. Just do not make mistakes in the cellar to get a good wine. However, the majority of the wineries have more affordable wines in their portfolio, of daily consumption, pleasant and easy to understand. Obviously, these wines come from large vineyards, where quality is sought, but also quantity. Long story short: high yields dilute coloring matter and tannic structure. Why? Because a vine has to feed 8 or more bunches with the same amount of nutrients. It is simple math.
Winemakers, therefore, knowing that color is a guarantor of good quality for consumers, look towards the bench and reinforce their varietals with small percentages of Teinturier strains. In Chile, for example, the law allows a single varietal wine to have up to 25% of another strain and still wine can be named Cabernet Sauvignon or Carmenere on its label. However, as our country is focused mainly on exports, this percentage drops to 15% to be in accordance with international regulations.
No, do not be scared. There is nothing wrong with this practice. It is absolutely natural, because these strains are vitis vinifera and does not mean to betray the purity or style of the wine. In a broad sense, all wines are blends, as they may contain grapes from different vines, vineyards, valleys and even vintages. A talented winemaker plays with the different components to bottle a harmonious wine, where nothing is missing or over.
If you ever visit a vineyard where some Teinturier varieties grow, do not hesitate to play with their ripe berries. They are sweet and juicy. You will be left with purple mouths and hands. Then taste the grape and the wine with all your senses, even listening to the sound of the wine as it is poured into the glass. There, at that moment, you will be able to appreciate the power of these strains: the blinding red, purple, “winy” Alicante Bouschet or Aspirant Bouschet.