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Obscure varietal a feature of West Elks AVA

By Dave Buchanan
Mike Dunne, food and wine critic for the Sacramento Bee, wrote recently in his blog "Appetizers with Mike Dunne" that a chambourcin from New Jersey won the prized sweepstakes award for red wines at the Long Beach (Cal.) Grand Cru. The Grand Cru is a major international wine competition, this year attracting around 1,960 diverse entries. Twenty-four red wines made it into the sweepstakes round and that something as little-known as a chambourcin would out-taste even the major reds from California indeed speaks, as Dunne pointed out, "not only to the quality of the wine but to the open-mindedness of the judges, eager to embrace the novel as long as it is well made." A what, you ask? Chambourcin is so ill-known that Dunne notes the varietal receives but one short paragraph in Jancis Robinson's comprehensive "Oxford Companion to Wines," where Robinson remarks the grapes been commercially available only since 1963 and still is most-common in France, Australia and along the U.S. eastern seaboard. Oh, yes, and along Leroux Creek in the West Elks AVA. There, Yvon and Joanna Gros, owners and operators of Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards, produce several notable wines, including a chambourcin and the equally little-known white varietal cayuga. Both wines are grown organically in the Gros' vineyards around the inn. We tasted the wines during a recent swing through the West Elks AVA, of which you'll read more in our regular column in The Daily Sentinel. Robinson wrote chambourcin offers a "better-quality wine than most hybrids, being deep coloured and full of relatively aromatic flavour." Gros' chambourcin was silky with light tannins, plenty of berry fruit and with a faint hint of cedar, a not-unpleasant characteristic we found in a few other West Elks reds.