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Carl Hudson
June 5, 2019 | Wine Varietals | Carl Hudson

Alicante Bouschet - A Really Red Grape

Alicante Bouschet (“alla kahn tay boo shea”) is one of only a very few varieties of teinturier grapes of the Vitis vinifera species that have both red flesh and red skin.  This grape originated in France as a cross between Petit Bouschet (also a teinturier grape) and the better known Grenache.  The grape is sometimes called Alicante Henri Bouschet after the man who first generated the cross in 1866. 

The dark color of Alicante Bouschet provides winemakers with some advantages which can be important here in Texas.  Several grape varieties, Grenache, for example, are color limited in Texas, so blending Alicante can help darken the color and provide a richer flavor profile.  Alicante has long been used as a blending grape.  Another advantage relates to helping reduce extended skin contact for typical red grapes.  Since the color for grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot is in the skins, extended contact (maceration) of the originally colorless juice may be required to extract suitable color from the skins.  This may also cause extraction of too much tannin from the skins and seeds, and give the wine an astringent character that not everyone may appreciate.  By blending Alicante to increase color, reduced maceration times and lower tannin levels can be achieved. 

Alicante Bouschet can give high fruit yields, and was thus a very popular variety in France following the Phylloxera epidemic that devastated most European vineyards in the late 1800’s.  The grape is also relatively easy to maintain in the vineyard with a thick skin that helps to resist many pests and diseases.  Today, Alicante Bouschet has significant plantings in the French regions of Languedoc, Provence and Cognac (where it is used to make wine that is distilled to produce brandy).  Elsewhere in Europe, Alicante is grown extensively in southern Portugal, particularly in the large Alentejo region where its wines are prized for their color and intense flavor. 

The history of Alicante Bouschet in the U.S. is quite interesting.  The grape was extensively planted in California during Prohibition (1920-1933) and the fruit was shipped in railcars to the East Coast for use by home winemakers, who were allowed to make 200 gallons of wine per year for personal consumption, and producers of sacramental wines.  Alicante has a thick skin that helped resist rot and damage during transportation to East Coast distribution centers like the produce docks in Philadelphia and New York’s Pennsylvania Station.  Adding further value to these grapes, the dark red color in Alicante wines allowed significant dilution to stretch supply without giving away too much color. 

A Wikipedia reference indicates that during one New York City auction in 1928, 225 railcar loads of grapes were purchased by a single buyer for further distribution.  This was enough fruit to make about 2 million gallons of wine (833,333 cases).  Does this make you, like me, a bit suspicious that perhaps organized crime may have been involved with plans for some serious bootlegging?  LOL 

Alicante Bouschet is still grown in many wine regions with a focus on its dense color and concentrated flavor profile.  Alicante is used in Chile and several areas in California to blend with grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon to make more concentrated, deeply colored reds.  Alicante Bouschet plantings are also known in warm climate regions like Algeria, Israel, parts of Italy, and now Texas.

4.0 Cellars is pleased to have two wines available for purchase that contain Texas-grown Alicante Bouschet.  Brennan Vineyards has produced The Protectors blend of Alicante Bouschet 60% and Syrah 40%, as well as Lavender Skies, a blend under the 4.0 Cellars label comprised of Montepulciano 45%, Alicante Bouschet 40%, and Malbec 15%. 

A red wine from the Alentejo that is a blend of several Portuguese grape varieties including Aragonez (Tinta Roriz/Tempranillo), Alicante Bouschet and Alfrocheiro.

where tertiary aromas are allowed to predominate through ageing. The grape vine is thought to be prone to grape diseases like anthracnose, downy mildew and occasionally bunch rots in rare instances where bunches are tight at harvest.[5] Alicante Bouschet leaves turn a beautiful purple hue in late autumn.[2]

Alibernet - crossing of Alicante Bouschet x Cabernet Sauvignon was bred in 1950 in the Ukrainian Scientific Research Institute for Wine and Vines in Odessa. It is planted in Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Lusitano - Alicante Bouschet is thought to be a parent of this rare Portuguese grape having been crossed with Castelão (aka Periquita)


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