In the world of wine, hybrid varieties and grape crossings are similar to the crazy uncle at the Thanksgiving table: He may be interesting or amusing, but you wouldn’t wa
nt to spend your summer vacation with him.
The two categories are slightly different. Hybrid varieties are created by crossing two separate species, and they are usually born out of necessity. Vidal Blanc and Vignoles were engineered to survive severely cold climates where wine grapes otherwise couldn’t grow. At the other end of the scale, warm-weather hybrids such as Blanc du Bois were designed for regions such as Florida, where vine diseases prevent conventional wine grapes from flourishing. Unlike standard varieties such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, hybrids tend to have a distinctive gamey or foxy aroma.
On the other hand, crosses of grapes within the same species are usually created for aesthetic reasons, to combine the best attributes of both. This was the motivation of Professor Luigi Manzoni (1888-1968) when he designed a series of new varieties at Italy’s school of oenology in Conegliano. The most famous is Manzoni Bianco, a cross between Riesling and Pinot Blanc that ripens early and is resistant to powdery mildew and rot. There are about 25,000 acres of Manzoni Bianco planted in Italy, mostly in the Northern regions of Friuli, Trentino and Veneto.
The most prominent producer is the Alois Lageder wine estate in the Alto Adige. The estate was founded in 1823 and is currently run by the sixth and seventh generation of the family. They are known for exceptional purity of flavor extracted from a collection of small, designated vineyard sites that have been farmed to their specifications for decades. The Lageders are firm believers in sustainability, biodynamic farming and low-impact winemaking. The winery facility itself is built into the side of a mountain and engineered to use zero consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels. In other words: If Al Gore were a winemaker, this would be his operation.
Lageder’s 2016 Forra ($30) is composed of 100% Manzoni Bianco. It has an intriguing nose of stone fruit, quince and ripe melon. In the mouth, the wine’s initial richness is balanced by good acidity. The texture is ripe and opulent, almost unctuous, with flavors of stewed apricots, citrus zest, fig and mandarin orange; because of that ripeness, it might give the initial illusion of being sweet, but this is not the case. The finish is long and resonant. This is a singular and striking white wine; because of its formidable mouth feel, it is better suited to veal, pork and poultry than seafood, and will easily complement dishes in earthy or complex sauces.
Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He has written several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is available on amazon.com; his second novel, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is due out in Spring 2019.