Corey wants to talk about marquette
by Corey Nuffer
Marquette. It’s a wine grape you should know about. Like pinot noir or chardonnay. Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery has just released about fifty cases of this grape as a lightly oaked red still wine. They’ve been canning a prosecco-style for the past couple of years. I’d like to talk about it, but before I do so, I need to talk about the grape itself. There’s some drama involved, and because it’s not well known, I feel like I also need to preach the gospel about it.
Bon Appetit’s Marissa A. Ross said of marquette that it left her “insides as fuzzy as my favorite sweater.” Don’t you want this for your insides? :) I do. And I want that for you, too. Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal didn’t have as profound of an experience with marquette but nonetheless spoke highly of it and other “hybrid” grapes like it.
Hybrid grapes, by the way, are how you refer to wine grapes that have as parents one European species and one American. The genus-species name of European wine grapes is called vitis vinifera. “Is this vinifera?” is a question you could ask, signaling that you’re “in the business...the wine business.” It can also be code for “I might be a little bit snobby and am flexing right now. Y’hear?” This is a super nerdy form of snobbery, and it totally exists, especially when it comes to hybrid. Out in the wild, this is a hill some folks choose to die on: hybrid versus vitis vinifera. It’s a very strange, specific, nerd hill, indeed. This is part of why folks adore wine appreciation. Just like almost every liquid, there are nerd hills for everything.
Eye roll. Just a little. :) Why? Because there’s quite a bit of snobbery about vinifera versus hybrids. Vinifera is seen as superior. And it is, in many respects. Hybrids are very new. That doesn’t mean one should be snooty about the hybrids and even more so, about where the grapes are grown. It turns me a little bit into Hannibal Lector—that type of snootery or snobbery or ‘tude. And just to be careful, I’m name dropping Dr. Lector for his approach to what he called the “free-range rude,” versus his food-and-wine-pairing suggestions. Both, of course, he enjoyed at the dinner table.
And so, yes, no one likes a snob. Except with some fava beans and a nice chianti. The larger point I’m trying to make is this mindstate gets in the way of the sensual aspect of wine. The sizing up, like a diamond merchant looking for a flaw. The deep inhale, as you let it enter you and hold its ghostly presence like a thought that’s about to be forgotten. The first sip. The pause as you assess. How long is the sip? Is there evolution on it, or is it like a sustained chord that the conductor is holding and holding and holding, rising it up to a fortissimo’s worth of presence on your palate, and then with each passing beat, the descent to the pianissimo, and then, a gustatory silence from which it emerged… Which one is it? Not sure? You’ll just have to take another deep breath in, another sip, right?
Again with Marissa A. Ross, as she clearly enjoyed the hybrids Vermont wineries had to offer:
I’m talking bottles of La Crescent that crackled with the acidity of a dozen grapefruits and sang like Annette Funicello’s “Pineapple Princess”—the grape should have the world’s best Rieslings shaking in their boots. I tried Frontenac Noirs that gave me goosebumps, tasting like spiced cranberries rolled up and smoked in violets, and Marquettes that left my insides as fuzzy as my favorite sweater. Discovering these unsung grapes—add Baco Noir and St. Croix to that list too—inspired the same feeling as coming across a new wine region: exciting to explore and delightful to drink. Get yourself a bottle from Barnard, Vermont, winemaker La Garagista and you’ll see.
About six years ago, Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery started planting hybrid vines—marquette and another red, petit pearl. These are relatively new grapes for them, as they’ve been growing tens of thousands of vinifera since the 80’s. Now, about the actual wine.
Held in mostly what’s called “neutral” French Oak for about a year, it took on a bit of the famed baking spices and vanilla that folks love about oaked reds. The barrel aging also allowed the wine to relax—if I can anthropomorphize—a bit. Unlike warmer climes, the AVA (American Viticultural Area) of Southeastern New England does acid really well. That doesn’t seem like anything worth noting, but it should be. Because of the maritime climate, the grapes ripen and yet are allowed to keep their juicy acidity. This is primarily why they knew this would be a fabulous region for Champagne-Method sparklers. What they didn’t anticipate is being able to grow a red grape that was sumptuous, plump, and hit all the right spots when it comes to red wine. To be careful, this isn’t to say that this “red” is anything like a zinfandel or malbec or any of those big, jammy reds. Instead, the marquette is something slightly exotic in this new world of a country.
Chemistry that gasses off in hotter climates remains in the grape when grown here and in climates like what we have here on the south coast. Think something like Burgundy, Alsace, Rhone River Valley. Along with red fruits like cherries, there’s a ceiling of layers to the sip. Spicy, Silk Road aromas, dusty saddle leather, crushed autumn leaves—they hover over the fruit. As the wine breathes, a sip finds the mouth awash in something refreshing and simultaneously delicate. Think Beaujolais or Grenache but more refined and restrained, svelte.
My favorite pairing so far is with salmon. Just as with our pinot noir, the sip goes full-neon cherries with this protein. Like an Allen Ginsburg poem, if I can go there. It’s one of the most satisfying pairings I’ve ever had, even though it’s so simple. The acidity also does what wine is supposed to do—cleanses the palate. While not a heavy drool causing children to cry and others to point, this wine gets the juices flowing. It can really stand up to the richest, creamiest, marbled food treasures you can stuff your face with. Hence my use of “exotic.” I’m conditioned to go with a California red when it comes to these more hedonistic pairings. Still trying to make the “favorite sweater” descriptor work in ways that are beyond a quick affirmative nod that I totally get that description, but with a slow walk away as I process it. And perhaps this is the best type of wine writing: that which gives you a frame from which to work, freeing you up to “go there.”
2020 Marquette is available at The Drawing Room for $29.99
Join Corey for a wine tasting during our upcoming Sonata Saturdays event, this Saturday, September 25th from 4-6pm. She’ll be pouring Marquette as well as Gruner Veltliner, Geisenheimer, and Sun & Spirit spritzes.
Can't make it? You can also book with Corey for a private wine tasting event.