Concord has a place
Why do so many “wine experts” hate the Concord grape variety for making wine? As of recent, I have heard from a number of commercial winemakers and wine shop sales people that Concord wine isn't good. What does that mean? When I try to probe for the meaning I get obscure textbook answers like “it's foxy aroma” or it isn't vinifera. So do those attributes make it bad wine? If there is one thing I do dislike in the world of wine, it is wine snobbery. Whenever I read something or watch a documentary on winemaking and the focus is that the only good and truly great wines are made from vinifera noble grapes, I cringe. Maybe it is because I am a cold-climate wine grower and the options for successfully growing vinifera varieties long-term are slim to non-existent. Maybe it is because I believe that every wine has a place.
The first wine I ever made was from fresh Concord grapes that I harvested from a local home vineyard. I knew nothing about making wines and about wines in general at that time. I did a ton of research and gained enough knowledge to be dangerous. I made a wine from the Concord. True to many of the wines made from this variety, I made it sweet. As an introductory wine for my wife and I, it was a great starting point. Over the years our palates have evolved and now sweet wines are only something we might look for as an after dinner drink. So do we now turn up our nose to Concord? Absolutely not. As my winemaking skills have improved, I look for ways to maximize the positive attributes of Concord, and all my grapes, in my winemaking. The Concord's strawberry and general berry fruit essence can make for a beautifully fruit-forward wine. This attribute can be complementary to some other wines that have more earthy and spicy components.
This year I made a wine I call Labrusca. Labrusca is the family of grapes that Concord is a part of. My Labrusca is a blend of Concord with Syrah. It was made totally dry and put through malolactic fermentation to reduce its acidity. Yes, Concord is an acidic grape. I also allowed for a touch of oak aging for complexity and added gum arabic to enhance the wine's mouthfeel. Although it is still developing, it will make a very fine, easy drinking table wine.
In addition, Concord makes for a great Port-style wine. I can say with confidence, based on the regular awards I have won in competition with it, that it is very palatable. I have tried many a Port-style wine. I have even tried many a one from Portugal as well. What I can tell you is, it can stand tall along with some of the best of them.
The thing I want to stress to my winemaking peers is please stop hating on Concord. It, as many hybrids (a tirade for another discussion), has its place in the world of wines. If you don't like its flavor profiles, don't drink it. There are a number of wines out there made from Vinifera varieties that I have tasted that I didn't like and as a result don't drink. That's OK. I, however, don't go around and say that Gewürztraminer has no place in winemaking. I know there are plenty of people that love the extreme flavors and aromas of flowers that come from this variety. To me, it reminds me of drinking an extraction of potpourri. In the end, an individual's palate should determine if a wine is good or not. That's why there are so many wines available on the market. My suggestion to all is, like with everything else, try to follow the golden rule; if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.