The Knott’s Berry Farm of Forgotten Grapes
Never heard of Knott's Berry Farm? That sadly doesn't surprise us. Knott's Berry Farm didn’t always get short shrift as a southern California theme park, though. For a long time, it was the only option in the region. Hell, it was the only option in the entire state and country. Then that mouse-loving animator had to move in down the street in 1955 and ruin everything...Well, okay, not ruin everything, but certainly usurp most of the market share from under Knott's feet. As Disney became more of a mythic destination and other parks popped up all over Southern California, Knott's has seen its cache dwindle to the point where it’s almost been forgotten as a major theme park attraction in Southern California. Both Disneyland parks, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, Sea World, even Legoland have all leapfrogged this grand old belle in the hearts and imaginations of children not only across the country, but in close proximity as well; it’s been seemingly forgotten by just as many locals as tourists. And for no good reason. I mean, this is where Steve Martin got his start in show business, for crying out loud! Sure its coasters may not be as thrilling as Magic Mountain’s, and it may not have the perfect, glossy, magical (corporate) veneer of the Mouse House, and there might not be a killer whale swimming around splashing people and it may not be as geared toward younger kids as other parks (though, to be honest, Knott's Camp Snoopy was one of the originators in that area), but it’s still a great place to spend a day, and if you’ve ever had one of their world-famous chicken dinners or boysenberry pies, you know how special a trip to Knott's can be.
Well, the same thing happened to the Alicante Bouschet grape. At one time it was the most popular wine grape in America, accounting for nearly a third of all grapes grown in California. Today, though, it’s fallen onto hard times, especially here in the United States, where only a handful of wineries make 100% varietal wines with it (and even that number is slipping every year). Alicante Bouschet was once considered a robust, rugged, and nearly impervious grape that could survive harsh train rides from California and deliver its tannic payload to thirsty winemakers across then Midwest and East Coast, where it was turned into hearty dark red wines with a strong tannic bite. Not for the faint of heart, by any means, but a wine that reminded a lot of immigrants (who dominated the winemaking field in those days) of the bold hair-on-your-chest reds produced in their motherlands.
However, as tanker trucks and the American interstate roadway system rose in popularity, as viticulture technology evolved and allowed for grape vines to be planted and successfully grown in all fifty states, as American wine palates softened and grew more discerning, and as wine importation increased, allowing wine from all over the world to make its way into every corner of this country, the allure and advantages of Alicante Bouschet waned, surpassed by myriad other wine grapes considered more palatable and easier to drink by so-called “sophisticated” palates.
But the fact remains that despite their diminishing popularities, both Knott's Berry Farm and Alicante Bouschet can still deliver the goods and provide more than their share of thrills to the average theme park enthusiast or wine drinker. Knott's coasters are still tall, fast, and will flip you up, down, around, and upside-down as well if not better than any other coaster out there. Meanwhile, Alicante Bouschet offers a bold, untamed tannic red wine that needs to be paired with a good prime cut of beef at a minimum. It’s a wine comparable to a lot of the Zins, Super Tuscans, and “Big” Bordeaux-style wines that are popular in the market today. In fact, you could even make an argument that given their levels of neglect shown by the general public to both, Knott's and Alicante Bouschet provide more return for their value than just about any other wine out there.
Look, we’re not advocating NOT taking your children to Disneyland or Sea World or the like and we’re certainly not advocating that you clean out your red wine cellar (you do have separate cellars for red and white wine, right?) and stock it with nothing but Alicante Bouschet. Though we imagine some of the producers we’re highlighting below would appreciate that. No, what we’re saying is that you need to open up your mind and not let these bold, thrilling, surprisingly fun options fall into further ignominy by sticking to the same-old. Break from the norm. Try something different. We think if you do so, you’ll end up more than pleasantly surprised.
So, the next time you’re planning out your family trek to SoCal, don’t forget to add at least a half-day at Knott's to your itinerary, and the next time you’ve got a prime slab of beef or game and are looking for a big, bold, bad-ass red wine to pair it with, don’t forget about Alicante Bouschet, the Knott's Berry Farm of Forgotten Grapes.
How do I pronounce Alicante Bouschet
Alicante Bouschet Looks Like:
Not as dark as Mourvedre and Carmenere, Alicante Bouschet does have an inky purple/violet color to it, produced from the flesh and juice from the grape alone. Because the color and tannin is already in the juice, most Alicante Bouschet winemakers don’t allow the grape must (the official name for post-pressed/pre-fermented juice) to sit on the grape’s black skins and dark seeds very long for fear of adding too much tannin to the wine and destroying the balance between the tannins and the natural acid in the wine.
Alicante Bouschet Smells Like:
With a wine this dark and this tannic, you’d expect to have deep, rich, dark, leathery scents on the nose, then you take a whiff and you smell...maple bars? Seriously? Yes, no joke. Because Alicante Bouschets require quite a bit of time in oak to soften up the wine enough to be palatable, you will definitely smell vanilla, warm dough, and even maple scents on the wine. It’s like standing in the bakery aisle of your local supermarket holding a glass of wine in your hand. Or, you know, a local bakery, if you still have one. On top of that, you should get some distinct leather and some peppery spice scents from the wine, particularly a spicy cinnamon aroma that can wrinkle your nose and make you sneeze. Like if you took a handful of Hot Tamales or Red Hots and jammed them up your nose (note: do not try this at home!) As for fruits, they are going to be dark and brambly, blackberries and loganberries. You might even get a hint of coffee on the nose to accompany your blackberry-filled maple bar studded with Red Hots. A perfect morning companion. You want a dozen to go?
Alicante Bouschet Tastes Like:
Tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin acid acid acid tannin tannin blackberry tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin acid acid acid tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin acid acid acid tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin cranberry blackberry again tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin tannin acid acid acid tannin tannin tannin...you get the idea. If there was a way to actually take a picture of tannins, that is what we’d put in this box (instead you get the chemical compound for tannic acid over there. Chem-heads, go nuts). Fruit-wise, you’ll taste blackberries and cranberries and flavors not too unlike a very big Zinfandel, only much, much bigger and vastly more tannic. Like we said, Alicante Bouschets are big, big wine. Only the bold need apply.
● California, small acreages in Napa, Sonoma, the Central Coast, and east of Fresno
● Portugal, in the southern Alentejo
● Spain, where it's known as "Garnacha Tintorera" or just "Tintorera"
● France, primarily in the Southwest
Cindy’s “Did Juneau?”:
Almost every wine grape, regardless of the color of its skin, is either clear or tinted only slightly green underneath its skin (Go on. Go find out for yourself. We’ll wait for you...See? Feel better? Good. Let’s continue). Red and rose wines, as you may know, are not naturally those colors but get their namesake hues from contact with the skins and seeds, which impart their pigment into the clear pressed juices. Alicante Bouschet, though, is the exception to that rule. It is one of only a handful of wine grapes with red flesh and red juice. These grapes are known as teinturier grapes, from the French word meaning “to dye or stain,” and are commonly used only as blending grapes to give other wines more color or more tannins, since both are already imbedded into the Alicante must. Teinturier grapes are notoriously difficult to turn into wines of “distinguished merit” (whatever that means. I mean really, why would a wine’s “merit” even matter to an adventurous wine drinker? Isn’t that just another way of saying “bias”?) because it is difficult to balance the already heavily-tannic juice to the proper acidity level, especially in climates that are too warm (producing not enough acid) or too cool (producing too much acid). But when you do get that perfect balance, it’s absolute magic and a highly drinkable wine. It’s a challenge some winemakers are up to. We applaud those winemakers.
Alicante Bouschet is a big, heavy, tannic red wine, and the default for most people on that is steak, some sort of big red meat like a porterhouse or prime rib or a big old slab of roast beef. And those would work, certainly. But I like to think out of the box here, and when I tried these wines, the first thing that came to my mind was sausages. Especially Italian sausages. Something about Alicante Bouschet reminded me of big red Italian wines and I think a good, spicy, fennel-laced grilled Italian sausage would work wonders with an Alicante Bouschet. Or you could even dress it up with some sauteed onions, peppers, red sauce, and mozzarella and do a sausage parm. The fresh acidity in a marinara is going to cut through a wine that big nicely. The other sausage that might work with these wines is boudin noir, or blood sausage, but properly made. All of those tannins will do well to balance out the iron flavor of something like that. But sausage is definitely top of mind with these wines.
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