"If hybrids were good, we'd know by now." That was Frederic Simon in 2016, just three years ago. Now he's making some of the most convincing examples of wine made from hybrids. I have no idea what changed, but it could be a monumental shift.
Hybrid grape varieties -- a mix of wild North American species like Vitis labrusca and Vitis riparia combined with the Eurpean vitis vinifera -- are superior in many ways, mostly because their wild parentage gives them far more disease-resistance, requiring less treatments and chemicals, and making organic farming possible where it would otherwise be unfeasible. The issue with hybrids is one largely of taste, and Simon's quote from above is shared by most in the world of fine wine. Many describe the clunky, Welch's-grape-juice-taste of many hybrid wines as "foxy." So it's no wonder Simon began by planting vinifera such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, despite the challenges for vinifera in the hinterlands of Magog, Quebec, an hour east of Montreal.
Though Simon still makes vinifera, I was far more moved by the two hybrid wines we're offering here, the Frangine White made from La Crescent and the Verre de Gris made from Frontenac Gris, than his Chardonnay. They are kind of like the first glimpses of a sculpture emerging from a rough hunk of marble: not polished or finished in a recognizable way, yet all the more thrilling to see the first outlines of something new, startling even. It piques the imagination and sparks conversation. If a hybrid wine can do that, it's getting pretty close to what we often seek in any wine, and that's quite an accomplishment.
Pinard et Filles have thus unwittingly found themselves on the cutting edge of natural wine where few have dared to tread. The catch? Most of these wines never leave Quebec. Simon's partner and wife Catherine Belanger, co-owner of Montreal's Moleskine restaurant, and David McMillan of Joe Beef take most of the wine. New York is one of the few other places these can be found. These were a hit last year, we expect them to go quickly this year, too. Don't miss the chance to taste the future of what hybrids can do in the right hands.
Made from 100% La Crescent, a cold-hearty hybrid created in Minnesota in the 1990s known for it's aromatic properties and high acidity. Pinard's version spends 120 days on the skins. Crunchy and lively, it's got lots of sour cherry, orange, apricot, and dried prune notes. It's not the most elegant wine, certainly not smooth, as it has a touch of volatile acidity. But it more than makes up for that with its delicious, sizzling attitude mixed with a remarkable clarity of fruit that is downright exciting to drink. Compare at $49.
100% Frontenac Gris, another hybrid grape of Minnesotan origin, based on a wild vine found growing near Jordan, Minnesota in the 1970s. Pinard also employs extended skin contact here. This wine is intensely evocative of strawberry: alpine strawberry, strawberry sorbet, even pink strawberry Starburst®. It smells almost syrupy, but is not sweet at all, in fact it's very tangy on the palate, in a uniquely refreshing way. Bright, vivid, and irresistible. Compare at $44.