Pennsylvania Wine School: What is a Vignoles?

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help comprehending the plethora of exciting Pennsylvania grape varietals? We’re at your service, offering up information on some of the wines you need to know.

Varietal: Vignoles (pronounced veen-YOL).

Grown: Across Pennsylvania

Similar to: Riesling

Vignoles is white hybrid grape with a hazy origin story. Development of the wine variety — originally named Ravat 51 — was long credited to J.F. Ravat, who crossed Seibel 6905 and a clone of Pinot Noir in 1930. The name “Vignoles” was coined in 1970 by the Finger Lakes Wine Growers Association. In a study published in 2008, genetic testing proved that what American grape growers call Vignoles did not share any major genetic markers with its supposed parents and was completely unrelated to the “Ravat 51” grapevine imported to the United States in 1949. So, the wine variety’s real origins are a mystery!

Fortunately, its charms as a wine grape are less murky. The grape buds late, which helps it avoid early spring frosts. In addition, the fruit has a thick skin, so it can remain on the vine until November, producing lovely ice wines. Those factors make it incredibly successful in cooler climates like Pennsylvania.

Naturally high in sugar and acid, this dynamic grape can be made into a wide variety of wine styles, from dry to semi-sweet to dessert. The color runs the gamut from pale straw to golden to almost orange. Like other cold-weather whites, these are highly aromatic wines. When made in a dry style, the grape tends to exude notes of pineapple, peach, tea, and orange blossom. When off-dry, it showcases pineapple, honey, and grapefruit peel. When semi-sweet, it recalls baked pineapple, apricot, ripe apple, and orange marmalade. Vignoles can also be aged in oak, giving Chardonnay lovers something to get excited about.

As mentioned above, the varietal is increasingly popular as an ice wine, a method where growers leave the fruit on the vine late into the season so it can shrivel and intensify in flavor. Late-season Vignoles grapes produce concentrated, honeyed juice with a punch of sweetness and a backbone of acidity for balance. When you grab a bottle of this dessert wine, expect notes of citrus, apricot, papaya, and, of course, pineapple.

Deciding on a food pairing for Vignoles depends on the sweetness of the style. Wines on the sweeter side complement bold flavors, such as spicy Asian or Mexican dishes and stinky cheeses like Stilton. Wines on the dryer side — with their intriguing floral aroma —boost subtle dishes such as roasted salmon or nutty alpine cheese. Late-season wines made from Vignoles are a treat alongside cheesecake or creme brulee, turning a simple dessert course into a symphony of sweet, bright, complex, intense flavors.

Below is a sampling of PA Vignoles wines for you to try from all across PA Wine Land. Check your local wineries for more Vignoles wines. Wines listed below were available as of the date of publication [09/24/18]. Contact the winery directly for current inventory.

Arrowhead Wine Cellars, Vignoles
Penn Shore Vineyards, Vignoles

Bee Kind Winery, Vignoles
Happy Valley Vineyards & Winery, Vignoles

Pickering Winery, Vignoles

Glades Pike Winery, Vignoles
Thistlethwaite Vineyards, Vignoles

Nissley Vineyards, Vignoles

Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery, Vignoles
Vynecrest Winery, Vignoles

To learn more about other varietals grown across PA Wine Land, visit our Wine School library.

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