A Guide to Alicante Wine

Regardless of the colour of their skin, most wine grapes produce clear juice. Red colored juice is actually quite rare. Consequently, grapes which produce red juice occupy a valued niche in the wine making industry. The most well known and commonly grown red juice grape is the Alicante Bouschet, a hybrid grape developed in France during the 1800s.


Until the 1960s, the most popular grape grown in France was the Aramon. A hearty grape which produces high tonnage per acre and which offers strong resistance to powdery mildew, Aramon does have considerable drawbacks. The wine which Aramon produces depends on blending to give it flavor, alcohol content, and color.


Enter Louis Bouschet. In 1824, Louis Bouschet crossed a long established red juice variety with the Aramon and created Petit Bouschet. Some forty years later, his son carried on the family tradition when he crossed Petit Bouschet with Grenache. The result was Alicante Bouschet, named from the Alicante region of Spain which is itself known for producing several varieties of red wine.


With crop productivity that can exceed ten tons per acre, Alicante Bouschet is sometimes a bit over enthusiastic. Growers must take pains to limit excessive production. Depending on climate, acidity control can be another challenge presented by this thick skinned variety. Acidity levels are high in warm climate and low where the climate is cooler.


With the onset of Prohibition in the United States, Alicante Bouschet gained notoriety. The grape was tough enough to handle being shipped long distances and its strong color retention meant that it could be diluted with water and sugar. This quality was important to the bootlegger’s bottom line because it meant that greater volumes of wine could be produced more cheaply. To this day, there are still some 5000 acres devoted to growing Alicante Bouschet in California.


Used mostly to blend for tannin and color, Alicante Bouschet doesn’t stand well on its own when compared to varieties produced in the Alicante region of Spain where, among others, Syrah, Pernot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown. True, while Alicante Bouschet lacks the some of the distinctive characteristics of these other varieties, it still plays a role in the wine industry, adding a much needed splash of color.