Chelois (S. 10878) (Aest., Cin., Labr., Rip., Rup., Vin.)–This is one of winemaker Steve Casscle’s favorite Seibel red hybrids for the top quality wine that it makes. Also, it is a solid grape in the field. Chelois is a cross of S.5163 x S.5593 and shares the same parent (S.5163) with the Seibel hybrid Chancellor and De Chaunac. The vinifera heritage of Chelois includes Dattier, Aramon, Alicante Bouschet, Black Hamburg, Grenache, Piquepoul, and several other unknown vinifera grape varieties. Chelois has about 50 percent vinifera genes. Some have suggested that Chelois is a cross of Bienvenu (S.2859) x Roi Des Noire (S.4643).

In France, there were 2,236 acres of this variety in 1958, and 1,609 acres in 1968. In New York, there was 156 acres of Chelois in 1975.  and, in 2001, there was less than 50 acres of this grape.  The variety S. 10878 was commonly called by the name Chelois in France. Chelois is a vigorous vine that is moderately productive. This red variety, to ripen properly, must be picked no earlier than late mid-season to early late season. It ripens about ten days after Baco Noir. Its bud break is late, which reduces the risk of spring frost damage, and if injured, it has a small secondary crop. The variety is hardy to very hardy to winter damage in the Hudson Valley, but less so than Marechal Foch or Baco Noir.

The wine quality of Chelois is excellent. Phillip Wagner maintained that a good deal of Chelois was grown on the “wrong side of the road” in French Burgundy.  Further that the wine does have a Burgundian character. Chelois has soft mature fruit, a medium bodied tannin structure, an approachable acid profile that ages very nicely for twenty years. In addition, unlike many other French-American hybrids, it has an appealing medium hued red color in the glass that is not blue to red/purple, nor is the color inky or thick like De Chaunac or Chancellor. Walter S. Taylor wrote that “a wonderful balance is found in this variety. Lightly flavored both in bouquet and taste, its color is nicely rubied and its tartness neutral.”

Chelois is a complicated wine so it has many descriptors associated with it. Some commentators suggest it is Burgundian in character  and other maintain that it is more like a Bordeaux as it gets old. Some, myself included, maintain that it is something different and has a unique quality all its own. If forced to compare it to another wine, it would be similar to a dark Pinot Noir with elements of a light Cabernet Franc.

The color is a medium red, with no purple/blue hues like many other French hybrids. The color does brown sooner than Baco and goes to brick red with hints of orange within seven to twelve years. This medium bodied red wine’s nose is aromatic, complex and layered with elements of dried fruits, smokey wood, cedar box, black cherry, raspberries, and other berries, strawberry jam, and a nice spiciness reminiscent of anise and eucalyptus. Some darker Chelois will have in the nose, taste, and finish, flavors of tobacco, burnt toast, and barbequed meat that melds with dark black cherry and black raspberry flavors. Chelois has a firm, but approachable acid/tannin profile that can stand on its own, or it can be blended with other reds such as Cascade, Marechal Foch, Baco, Chambourcin, or Burdin red hybrids to add complexity.

What distinguishes Chelois from other French-American hybrid wines is its soft spice and black pepper. This flavor permeates the nose and taste. This interesting and layered wine has the same nose as its taste and then finish. As the wine gets older, the fruit flavors remain, but the structure becomes more noticeable with earth and wet brick flavors, and the body, while still velvety, has a grainy complex presence that gives structure to the entire wine. The wines age well and needs oak to enhance its quality immeasurably.

Praise for…

Hudson-Chatham Chelois 2008  If I were to taste this wine blind, I would tell you this is a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France. And really a great food wine. So for me, the story here is unusual grape, very small amount of it produced, and a successful hybrid, which I think is rare. The nose is lots of red fruit, and a little bit of earthiness. Very jammy attack. And completely dry finish. High acidity. A refreshing quality to it, and yet it has real structure, real substance. A beautiful wine. A great food wine. I’ve had this wine with white meats, it’s awfully good. I had it with vegetarian lasagna, it’s excellent. I would have it with leaner cuts of red meat, braises… really a nice wine. – Steven Kolpan, James Beard award-winning author of Exploring Wine, on WAMC

Hudson-Chatham 2008 Chelois – I was excited to try it. On the nose I got a bouquet of raspberry, cooked cherry, mushroom and a hint of vanilla… I found the wine light and soft with flavors of black cherry an cran-raspberry…I really enjoyed this wine. – Debbie Gioquindo, Hudson Valley Wine Goddess

Hudson-Chatham Winery 2008 Chelois is made entirely from fruit grown in Casscles own vineyard — a 15 year-old block located on the rocky hills adjacent to the Hudson River. Hand picked, the fruit was manually pressed and aged in French oak for nine months, the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. It’s interesting that the Chelois grape was once grown in Burgundy as there is something distantly Burgundian about it. The nose shows a lot of sweet vanilla and oak at first, but also red cherry, dried cranberry and a distant black pepper-crusted grilled mushroom note way in the back. Soft and light bodied, the palate shows more of a vanilla oak than a toasty oak, with more dried cranberry and cherry flavor. The acidity is subtle but makes the medium-short finish fresh, dry and clean. Without any tasting history with this grape, I won’t delve into the potentially hyperbolic, but there certainly seems to be potential here. This is a good start. – Lenn Thompson, New York Cork Report

Hudson-Chatham Chelois 2010 – Very distinct sweet strawberry jam tones greet the nose joined by smoky top notes and a touch of minerality. Lightly sweet on entry, this is round and lush with soft tannins and finely integrated acidity. The fruit is fairly fresh with blueberry tones complimenting the wild strawberry base. Nice and lively on the palate, this finishes with some drying tannins that lend the finish an odd astringent/sweet character. A bit on the rustic side. 83pts! – Gregory Dal Piaz,

Hudson-Chatham Chelois 2010 [C]learly a cut above, sporting vibrant red fruit, medium body and nice acidity… it’s a superb food companion as well. – Christopher E. Matthews, UpstateDowntown

Hudson-Chatham 2011 Chelois  [A]romas of strawberry conserve, plum skin, red cherry and something slightly earthy and stemmy. Medium-light in body — the mouthfeel reminds me of a middle-tier Beaujolais — the palate is fruity with strawberry and red cherry dominating. This is a lively, fresh wine where acidity is more prominent than tannin. There is a faint peppery note on the mid-palate but as the wine finishes in the mouth there is a stemmy/woody, slightly bitter flavor that is a bit rustic and makes this a wine best suited to the dinner table rather than as a cocktail replacement. – Lenn Thompson, New York Cork Report