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Profile Of The Black Spanish Grape

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ORIGIN
The Black Spanish grape has been called El Paso, Jack, Blue French, Ohio, and Jacquet, and is now legally known as Lenoir or Jacquez (more about the name in a minute). It is a hybrid which appeared in America (probably in South Carolina) sometime in the 1830s. One of its parent grapes comes from the species Vitis vinifera (the species of most wine grapes) and was brought to America from France. Its other parent comes from Vitis aestivalis, a native American species. They crossed to produce Black Spanish, or Vitis bourquiniana. This hybridization may have been purposeful or may have occurred naturally.
HISTORY
Black Spanish played a significant role in the worldwide phylloxera crisis in the late 1800s. Phylloxera is a vine louse which is native to America and to which American grapes are resistant. European grapes have no resistance and are killed by this pest. Phylloxera was accidentally transported to Europe in the 1800s and devastated the vineyards there. As a hybrid of vinifera and aestivalis, Black Spanish vines produced wines reminiscent of those made from vinifera grapes, but were resistant to phylloxera. For this reason Black Spanish was used to produce wine in parts of France and the Madeira islands during this time. It was also used as rootstock onto which vinifera vines were grafted, which is a practice that continues today with various grape species.

Grafting Spanish Vines Onto American Rootstock
Black Spanish was widely planted in Madeira (where it is known as Jacquet), after the vinifera grapes on the island were nearly wiped out by phylloxera. But when Portugal (which governs Madeira) joined the European Union in 1986, EU regulations requiring Madeira wine to be made with vinifera grapes caused this to change. At this time most of the Black Spanish grapes were removed and the traditional vinifera varieties were reinstated. Today the small amounts of Black Spanish remaining on the islands are blended into cheap cooking Madeira to add body to thinner wines, or made into a wine sold only on the island.
IN THE VINEYARD
Because of its American parent grape, Black Spanish is not only immune to phylloxera, but to Pierces disease, which occurs in the southern parts of the United States which experience warmer winters. Black Spanish grows vigorously and thrives in deep, sandy soils, though it is adaptable to a range of soil types. Its fruit is dark purple to nearly black, and it is one of the few red grape varieties with colored flesh, producing red juice. It is capable of reaching high sugar levels, but also maintains its acidity, even in hot temperatures. The grapes tend to produce a low yield of juice, but with good concentration of flavor.

Black Spanish Grapes Grown Primarily In Texas

Low Juice Yield With Good Concentration Rich In Flavor

WHERE IT IS GROWN TODAY

Today Black Spanish is primarily grown in Texas, although that name has almost disappeared from wine labels. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates wine labels, and has approved the names Lenoir and Jacquez to appear on bottles, but not Black Spanish.

The Older Black Spanish Label

The Currently Approved Label As Lenoir
Black Spanish has always thrived in Texas because of its heat tolerance and disease resistance, and it was commonly planted throughout the 1900s. Today it makes up only 3% of Texas wine production, but that number is rising. It is particularly important in the eastern and gulf coast regions of the state.
Black Spanish, or Lenoir, is made into dry and off-dry red wines, dry and off-dry roses, and sweet and fortified dessert wines. It is often blended with vinifera grapes, especially Tempranillo, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Port-style wines from Texas are generally good, but the dry reds vary in quality.
Small amounts of Black Spanish are produced in California and North Carolina.
HOW IT TASTES
Black Spanish produces a full-bodied wine with concentrated flavors. It has been described as weighty and musky, with flavors of black cherry, boysenberry, elderberry, blackberry, plum, spice, and floral or herbal qualities. Older examples, especially those made in a sweet Port style, may have aromas of toasted oak, vanilla, wet earth, leather, cigar smoke, or chocolate.
Black Spanish rewards aging in oak and aging in the bottle. It is slower to oxidize than most wines, and benefits from aeration or decanting when serving.
FOOD MATCHES
Food pairings with a dry Black Spanish would include anything youd eat with a Syrah or a Pinotage, especially roasted meats or barbeque. With a sweet Black Spanish, anything youd eat with a Port would work, but theres nothing better than chocolate.
This old grape is becoming new again as wine enthusiasts seek out new grape varieties and flavors, and as winemakers are improving their techniques with this distinctive and potentially rewarding variety.
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Comments

Thanks for posting! A very interesting read as someone living and working in the California wine and spirits industry:)
 
Black Spanish is now an approved synonym for Lenoir, for labeling purposes. You will start to see more labeling of this grape as Black Spanish, in the future.
 
I live in San Antonio, and I have one of these wonderful vines. They are extremely vigorous growers, easy to care for, and produce grapes that are very good, if small. If you need a structure covered, this is your grape. They don't require elaborate pruning strategies unless you are specifically cultivating them for wine production. This is a fantastic beginning vine, and very forgiving of abuse and difficult conditions. I'm actually taking out an under-performing vine and replacing it with another Lenoir this weekend. I love this grape!
Locals will also call 'em "Mustang Grapes" due to relation to native grapes.
(I've never made wine with mine. We have just eaten them. Small, and very sweet if they get enough sun on the berry, sour if they are shaded, but still pretty good.)
 
I am using Premier Cuve for its gentile tones and heat/alcohol tolerance. My fermentation temp is 76f so things happen pretty fast! Make sure you leave space in your primary fermenter just in case it goes crazy. Lower fermentation temps around 70f seem to be the better way I just don't have that luxury. ;-)
 
A Lenoir wine is now being produced in the small Wellborn Winery in Travelers Rest, SC. They call their Lenoir wine 'Dark Purple', which at this time a semi-dry example of this grape.
 
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