Alicante Bouschet. That’s quite a mouthful. Alicante Boushcet is French, so it’s pronounced ahlee cantay boo shay. In this article, we’ll learn all about this very cool grape. Thank you to Wine Folly, WinePros, CATAVINO and TheBackLabel for their help with this article.
What Makes This Grape Very Cool?
Alicante Bouschet is rare in one of the rare grapes whose skin and flesh are both red. Usually, the skin of the grape is red but the flesh is white. The French call double-red grapes teinturiers, which means dyers.
The Creation of Alicante Bouschet
According to TheBackLabel, “In 1866, French viticulturist Henri Bouschet crossed one of his father’s creations — Petit Bouschet, itself a cross between Aramon and Teinturier du Cher… — with fruit-forward Grenache. The result was a deep, dark wine… It was exceptionally hardy, surging in numbers after the phylloxera blight ravaged France’s vineyards. But its real claim to fame? Turns out it was meant to be the perfect bathtub booze.”
Alicante Bouschet and Prohibition
During Prohibition, people could make 200 gallons of wine for personal consumption. That large amount enabled California’s vineyards to supply wine to the whole country. For a number of reasons, including the grape’s thick, tannic skin, its high yield, its ability to be pressed multiple times and its intense color that would allow you to dilute it with water and sugar, Alicante Bouschet was the perfect wine for this effort.
Alicante Bouschet Today
Unfortunately, after Prohibition, the wine had a bad reputation and was largely sold as table grapes. Today, very few CA wineries produce this wine.
According to WinePros, “Primarily used as a blending grape where color and tannin are needed, only a very few California wineries have offered Alicante Bouschet as a varietal. On its own, Alicante Bouschet generally makes wine that lacks distinction in character and has texture that is somewhat coarse. Although color is its main asset, it is also unstable, browning and precipitating easily.”
But it turns out that Portugal and Spain have had a lot more success with this grape. The Alentejo region of Portugal is known for producing high-quality Alicantes that are big, bold and smoky. Spain’s Alicantes are more fruity, and they go by the name of Garnacha Tintorera.
What to Look for in This Grape
The grape has notes of black cherry, blackberry, black plum, black pepper, leather, sweet tobacco, earthiness and hints of maple syrup. It’s a dry, dark, full-bodied wine with medium to high tannins and medium acidity.
Inspiring Words from CATAVINO
I loved that the CATAVINO writer became a fan of Alicante Brouschet after a trip to Portugal. Here’s Ryan Opaz’s writeup: “Upon telling one winemaker [in the Alentejo region of Portugal] that he couldn’t expect me to believe that you could create a long-lasting Alicante Bouschet of high quality, he proceeded to give me a barrel sample that had been in oak for 16 months. WOW rich, complex with light spice, rich red and black fruits, and a finish that felt eternal. This was not what I expected. I quickly made a mental note to try Alicante at every bodega I visited, consistently tasting wines that defied my previously held beliefs on this rouge grape. Do I think that Alicante Bouschet is on the track to take over the world once people wake up to its potential? The short answer is no. On the other hand, if a few people go out and taste a wine or two from the Alentejo and see what can be made from it, who knows.”
The intense smoky-sweet flavors of Alicante Bouschet make it ideal for intense foods such as barbecue and teriyaki.
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