Alicante-Bouschet

Alicante-Bouschet is a teinturier (red fleshed) grape variety widely planted in Spain, Portugal and France, particularly in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It has a long history in the wine world but lost ground in the later 20th century in favour of more fashionable international varieties. However, Alicante-Bouschet is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, with modern producers making some excellent examples at attractive prices.

The variety is a crossing of Petit Bouschet and Grenache, and was first cultivated by viticulturalist Henri Bouschet in 1866. Originally designed as a blending grape to improve the depth of colour of such popular 19th century grapes as Aramon, Alicante-Bouschet quickly became popular, not just for its intense colouring but for its generous yields. With its high-yielding, easy-to-grow vines, Alicante-Bouschet was used to help rebuild devastated European wine industries following the phylloxera epidemic.

During the time of Prohibition in the United States, Alicante-Bouschet was often grown in California and sold on the East Coast as table grapes. The variety's thick skin made it sufficiently robust to withstand transportation in crates and its juicy flesh enabled illicit winemakers to press the grapes several times, ensuring that nothing went to waste.

In the latter half of the 20th century, Alicante-Bouschet developed a reputation for producing uninspiring wines that lacked varietal distinction. Modern producers in Almansa, Spain and in Alentejo, Portugal, are working hard to change people's perception of the variety and prove that, when grown properly, it is capable of making great wine that is fruity, fresh and balanced.

In a blend, Alicante-Bouschet contributes soft texture and desirable colour. However, its ability to ripen and produce large crops very early in the season can come at the expense of depth and alcoholic strength. This means that, in order to produce quality Alicante-Bouschet wines, vignerons must be fussy and particular when it comes to site selection and controlling yields.

Although its spiritual home nowadays lies in southwestern Europe, Alicante-Bouschet can be found around the world, with plantings in parts of Italy, Israel, Macedonia, North Africa, Brazil and Australia.
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