Grape Varieties I-J Isabella

Isabella Wine

Illustration of the Isabella grape variety from The Grapes of New York (1908) by Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick
?wikipedia/public domain

Isabella is an intriguing American hybrid grape, thought to be a crossing of unknown Vitis labrusca and vinifera species. The exact origins of the variety remain unclear, but it is thought to have occurred naturally when European grapes were first propagated in North America.

Isabella can make light-bodied red wine with strawberry flavors, although they will often be affected to some degree by the unpleasant foxy flavors that are common among labrusca species. The grapes have dark purple skins but, as these detach from the flesh easily, the wines tend to be lightly colored.

The name Isabella was given to the variety in 1816 when it was discovered in Dorchester, South Carolina, by Brooklyn nursery owner, William Price. He named it in honor of his friend’s wife, and Southern belle, Isabella Gibbs.

The grape went on to achieve moderate success in New York State for the production of still and sparkling wine, and as a table grape. However, changing tastes resulted in most Isabella vines being uprooted in favor of the more fashionable Concord.

In contrast to many American hybrids, Isabella has good heat resistance and can be grown in hot, marginal conditions. It has consequently been planted in India, Bali, Japan and is the most common variety in Brazil. In New Zealand, Isabella is known as Albany Surprise and is popular with both amateur winemakers and food growers.

It is officially banned in most European countries for PDO and PGI-level wines at the very least, but can be seen in some still and sparkling wines. It is propagated by many backyard growers particulalrly in Italy, Portugal and Ukraine for homemade wine. It is grown as a table grape.

Synonyms include: Isabelle, Izabella, Fragola, Uva Fragola, Albany Surprise, Seksarda.

Food matches for Isabella include:

  • Wild boar fillet with quince chutney
  • Spicy lentil and bacon stew
  • Buffalo chicken wings
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