Cross and Wine

The term "cross" in wine has a very specific definition, which is different than in general horticulture / plant growing. When you use the term cross in plant growing, it means any time that you mix two different types of plants together. Let's say you have ruby red tomatoes and sunshine yellow tomatoes. If you cross-fertilized those plants hoping to make sunset orange tomatoes, that end result would be a "cross" of those two parents. It is just like taking a cocker spaniel mother, mating with a poodle father and creating a "cross" of a cockapoo puppy.

Now, that being said, wine specializes this word more because there is also the word "hybrid" in winemaking. A Hybrid in winemaking is specifically when you take two grapes of different species and mix them together. A cross is when you take two grapes of the SAME species and mix them together.

Why is this important? Mostly because of wine snobbery :) It's sort of the purebred dog theory of winemaking. Many people feel that only Vitis Vinifera (i.e. "European grapes") can make good wines. Vitis Vinifera includes grapes such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and so on.

In comparison, the Vitis Labrusca species is the set of grape vines native to the eastern US - Concord, Catawba, Delaware, Niagara. These grapes are often looked down on for having a "foxy" flavor to them.

You can see, then, the problem. If you cross two "high end" grapes (i.e. vitis vinifera) this results in a "nice" wine (according to those wine snobs). So if you cross pinot noir and cinsault - both which are vitis vinifera grapes - you end up with Pinotage, which is a lovely wine in its own right.

However, if you "mix the streams" and cross a vitis vinifera with a vitis labrusca, you get a wine that purists would call "half foxy" :) Hybrids include grapes such as baco noir, vignoles, seyval blanc and chancellor. These wines get some of the nice flavors of the vitis vinifera along with the heartiness of the vitis labrusca.

You can see I'm writing this a bit tongue in cheek. I happen to really enjoy many vitis labrusca wines and many hybrids as well. However, many wine drinkers out there have a severe dislike of anything non-vinifera. That is why it's important to use the terms cross and hybrid correctly. Those snobby wine drinkers would love to drink a cross, because they feel with vinifera parents, the cross child could be equally as delicious. They would NOT drink a hybrid, because as soon as a non-vinifera parent was introduced, they would almost feel the wine had been tainted. Much as a purebred spaniel owner would be extremely upset if a mutt came along and impregnated their star breeding mom :)

My advice? Certainly enjoy the crosses. They can be quite tasty. However, also keep your eyes open for hybrids and try those as well! They can have delicious flavors and provide just as much enjoyment by crossing the species.

Hybrid vs Cross vs Blend

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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.