This Spring, Fill in the Blanc With Non-Sauvignon

By Lenn Thompson

You know Sauvignon Blanc. Be it from New Zealand, California or Sancerre, you’ve seen it, tasted it and probably enjoyed it.

But let me ask you this…have you ever tasted ______ Blanc or _______ Blanc? Let me fill in the blanc for you: Seyval and Vidal.

Now before any of you vinifera snobs protest against these hybrids, let me just tell you to shut up. Are these wines on par with the best whites in the world? Absolutely not. But why does every wine have to be ethereal?

Let’s start with Seyval Blanc. Reliable and early ripening, it often leads to crisp white wines, without any of the “foxy” flavors many other hybrids possess. Extremely well suited for cool climates, it’s grown extensively in the UK and also in the northern U.S., including the Hudson Valley region of New York. That’s where I picked up a bottle of Cascade Mountain Winery 2004 Seyval Blanc ($12). The nose is somewhat fruity with apples dominating and accented by intriguing wet gravel aromas. Slightly sweet (a little too much so for my liking), it’s juicy with bright green apple flavor and a tart finish. It lacks the acidity I’ve tasted in other bottlings — mostly from the Finger Lakes — but I can think of many worse white wines. Chill it well and serve it at a party (it’s only 11.5% ABV). I suspect that this wine has some chardonnay blended in, which is common.

Another hybrid, Vidal Blanc, is best known for the deliciously unctuous ice wine renditions that come out of Canada and the Finger Lakes. Ugni Blanc, also known as Trebbiano, is one of its parents (with the other being a French hybrid). Last night wasn’t the first time I tasted Atwater Estate 2004 Vidal Blanc ($10), but it always surprises me. For $10, I’d drink this crisp, light-bodied, off-dry gulper any day. It’s all ripe pear and apple with some lime zest and minerality. Almost reminds me of a cheap off-dry riesling, but racy acidity brings more balance than those blue bottles usually have. Also at 11.5% ABV, sip it with spring salads or even out by the pool.

So this spring, bring on the Blanc…Vidal and Seyval that is.

Join me next week as I explore a native Greek variety that was unleashed upon me last week at my local Greek restaurant as I devoured some delicious leg of lamb.

Drink on my friends.

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Reader Comments

Lenn: Great and timely post! Here in my “flyover” neighborhood, several Ohio wineries are doing great things with seyval and vidal, and are producing some fine ice wines from vidal as well. One potential stumbling block — and it sounds like you encountered this too — is that these wines seem to be all over the map when it comes to residual sugar. They range from dry to off-dry to semi-sweet, with little or no information on the labels to signify the style. So far, the best examples I’ve found seem to have just enough r.s. to make them off-dry. They can be delicious and refreshing — and inexpensive, too (is that the tax man at my door?)

I will never tire of seeing someone sing the praises of Vidal. It is one of a small group of French-American hybrids that can genuinely and consistently produce very good wines in the hands of a skilled winemaker.

I often compare Vidal to Riesling. Both have unique flavor characteristics, both possess nice natural acidity and both are remarkably versatile grapes; from ice wine to dry table wine and everything in between.

The some solid examples of Vidal are produced here in Maryland but I haven’t yet had a truly good Maryland Seyval. Oakencroft’s Virginia Seyval is the best I have had from this region thus far.

What about Chennin Blanc and Pinot Blanc? Why not a battle of the Blanc’s?

I never knew Seyval Blanc existed until a friend introduced me to Unionville Vineyards’ Seyval Blanc last summer. I’m not really a white wine person, but this wine’s clear flavor (not too sweet, not too dry) won me over. It’s a perfect summer wine.