Bacchus (pronounced Back-us) is emerging as Britain’s homegrown, dry, still white wine of choice. Often compared to Sauvignon Blanc because of its powerful floral aromatics, green fruit and vegetal characteristics, and delightful refreshing acidity. Bacchus thrives in Britain’s temperate maritime climate and produces distinctive, yet delicious wines. If you’ve never heard of this vitis vinifera variety, then you’re in for an exciting journey of discovery!
Bacchus came about in 1933 when well known German viticulturalist and agronomist Peter Moiro successfully crossed a Silvaner x Riesling cross with Müller-Thurgau (Riesling x Madeleine Royale). This new variety was then named after the Roman god Bacchus (the Greek’s call him Dionysus), god of agriculture, wine and fertility. Talk about living the good life!!
When creating a new variety of wine grape, if the parent grapes are not both vitis vinifera species, then the plant is classified as a hybrid species. Once crossed with another species, the new grape variety is no longer a 100% European wine grape (vitis vinifera) variety. The most common grapevine species crossed with vitis vinifera (European wine grapes) are American grapevines. Hybrid grapes have been developed to create varieties that are more disease resistant, drought tolerant, winter hardy and possess more desirable and beneficial winemaking characteristics. Bacchus is still considered a vitis vinifera grape because both of its parent grapes are vitis vinifera species.
Let’s Talk Terroir
Bacchus was initially created and planted in Germany, as an alternative to Riesling. It ripens earlier and grows in areas where Riesling may struggle to fully ripen. The main drawback with Bacchus is that it has naturally low acidity levels. So warmer growing conditions decrease acidity levels even further, resulting in a less-refreshing, flatter dry white wine style. On the other hand, if the growing season is too short and Bacchus isn’t allowed to fully ripen, then its varietal characteristics aren’t as expressive. However, when fully ripe, the Bacchus grape creates wines with powerful aromas, memorable flavours and refreshingly crisp acidity.
Despite having a cool continental climate, the growing conditions in Germany are still a bit too warm for Bacchus to express the best version of itself. Higher yields, lower acidity levels and less complex fruit characteristics tend to be the norm; however a few regions such as Franken and Rheinhessen produce more successful examples. As a result, Bacchus is often blended with other varieties to add floral aromas and/or more complex flavours to a wine rather than as a stand-alone varietal.
Britain’s cool maritime climate, higher latitude and shorter growing season create the perfect terroir for Bacchus to maintain higher acidity levels, produce lower yields and develop more complex, dynamic varietal fruit characteristics. Some grape varieties are unable to fully ripen in cooler climates, thus leading to an abundance of acidity and not enough sugar. However, the Bacchus grape has naturally low levels of acidity and is an early ripening variety. Together, these traits enable the fruit to achieve an optimal sugar and acidity balance earlier in the season as compared to other varieties in similar growing conditions. Additionally, the cooler, harsher conditions, dampen the vine’s vigour and as a result, has to struggle a bit more to fully develop its fruit. This struggle leads to the development of more concentrated flavours and smaller individual berries.
All About the Wine
Known for its expressive floral aromas and powerful flavours, Bacchus offers a memorable journey on the palate. Floral aromas can range from spring-time blossoms, elderflower to honeysuckle alongside further aromas and flavours of green orchard fruit, subtle citrus, grass, nettles and hedgerow. Under warmer growing conditions, riper stone fruits can also be detected. If the acidity is well-balanced, you will enjoy a slight zing on the back palate; a gentle reminder from ‘the god’ himself that this wine is jam-packed with surprises!
If you’re after a great British Bacchus, then head to London’s home-grown organic Forty Hall Vineyard. You will be surprised by what this wine offers and will definitely want to buy another bottle!
Grape: Bacchus (Vitis Vinifera)
Colour: White grape
Preferred Climate: Cool maritime or continental
Key Regions: Britain and Germany
Sweetness: Dry to Off-dry
Alcohol: Medium-low (11-12.5%)
Tannins: no detectable
Acidity: medium to medium+
Aromas and Flavours: (Medium+ Intensity)
Floral: Honeysuckle, Elderflower and Blossoms
Fruit: Green Apples, Pear, Citrus & Stone Fruits
Vegetal: Nettles, Grass, Herbs and Hedgerow
Pairings: Aperitif, chicken, white fish, seafood
Drinking Window: 1 – 2 years