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Hybrids... And Baco Noir

This week, Vin Greco explores some interesting and unusual wines made from hybrid grapes and gives us a preview of just a few of the many varieties of wines that will be available for the coming holiday season.

This past week, I tried a bottle of 20 Bees Baco Noir from Niagara. Originally, the 20 Bees were 19 growers and a winemaker, somewhat like the co-operatives you can find in France and Italy, but in 2008 Diamond Estates Winery took ownership.

I wasn’t sure what to expect: Baco Noir is a hybrid grape, originating in France as a cross between Folle Blanche, found in the Cognac district, and an unknown native North American vitis riparia.

Much of the wine produced in the northeastern states and Canada was commonly made from hybrid grapes.

This remains the case in Quebec, as the colder climate makes it difficult on one hand to get the “noble” European varieties to ripen fully, and, on  the other hand, extremely difficult to get the vines to survive through the winter.

In contrast, the hybrids can perform really well on both counts. 

Today, places such as the University of Minnesota continue to work on the creation of hardy hybrids which will not only thrive, but also deliver wines that are well worth drinking. 

Frontenac and Marquette are two such hybrids created by the university.

While hybrids were original building blocks in the fledgling Niagara region, they have gradually been supplanted by the noble varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, to name a few.

We used to see much more of Seyval Blanc, and De Chaunac, but now they are rarely part of the landscape.

Today, the only hybrids that still get some attention are Vidal, Maréchal Foch, and Baco Noir.

Vidal, a white which can be very flavourful and aromatic, is made into table wines that are somewhat like Riesling, but tend to lack that grape’s raciness.

Still, it is a common alternative for Ice Wine, as it can display that sticky goodness people enjoy at a fraction of the price of its noble counterpart.

Today, just a half-dozen examples of Foch are carried by the LCBO – 4 from Niagara, one from Prince Edward County, and one from Coffin Ridge on Georgian Bay near Collingwood.

Back From the Dead Red, of which only a couple of bottles are still in stock here, retails for $19.00, and while the Foch dominates, it also has some Cabernet Franc and Merlot from Niagara in the blend. 

Dark fruit, an acidic backbone, and some smoky flavours come through.

As expected, it is hybrid grapes that have the greatest potential currently, for red wine at least, in the colder areas.

When it can ripen fully, Maréchal Foch can be terrific. 

I still remember one made by Hernder estates years ago that had almost a butterscotch richness to it - but it was made in an exceptionally warm and long season. 

Since then those vines have been ripped out.

It has been left to Baco Noir to carry the standard for hybrid reds. 

Henry of Pelham is the most significant producer which still takes the grape seriously, but Pelee Island also has a couple of examples for us.

The Henry of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir cycles through vintages regularly, though there is only one bottle in town as I write. At $24.95, it demands that you take it seriously, and David Lawrason of WineAlign says it is “meaty and rugged with all kinds of licorice, plums, inkiness and sweet oak,” giving it a 91 ranking. 

But back - at last - to the 20 Bees.

At just $10.95, this really is a good tasting wine.

Though the LCBO calls it 'dry', it has 14 grams per liter of sugar, and this results in a balanced wine with a lovely sweet cherry core and smooth finish. 

I would definitely buy it again.

The style surprised me a little, as I have often detected a certain leathery note mid-palate which I find distinctive, and which I enjoy.

You’ll find it in the Henry of Pelham wines, both the general list at $14.95 and the reserve.

I didn’t detect it in the 20 Bees – given it’s yummy good taste, I didn’t miss it at all.

November 14 Vintages Release

It has started. 

The Christmas Barrage has begun. 

Vintages is rolling out its holiday enticements - large format bottles, high end items, and product with seasonal appeal. 

For the moment, we won’t go too far down this road, but we will identify some of the wines that catch our eye,

They can’t call it Port, but Forté 2007 is a highly rated example from Generations Wine Company in Niagara. At $16.95 for 500 ml, it is a very good buy. 

Made from Cabernet and merlot in the Tawny style, wood-aged with some oxidation, this has all the sweetness and balancing acidity it needs to provide pure pleasure.

Rosewood Mead Royale Honey Wine 2014 is also $16.95 for 500 ml. remarks on the, “delicious combination of nut, pear, red apple and mint flavours to go with the up-front sweet honey notes.”

Duckhorn in Napa Valley produces Cabernet Sauvignons that retail here for close to $85, but their Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from Sonoma Valley where the fruit is less expensive is a comparative bargain for $35.95 (the winery sells it for $25 U.S., so given the exchange, this is fair.) 

Blackberry cocoa and spice flavours are found in a lusciously smooth wine with good complexity.  It could be a good Christmas gift.

Among the several good Chardonnays, MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay 2013, $21.95 from Sonoma stands out for me, with a beautiful nose of spice and honey, abundant apple-like fruit on the smooth palate, and good interplay of flavours on the finish.

From Argentina, consider the Quieto 3 Malbec 2009, $17.95, a mature red with a Parker 90, or the Trivento Amado Sur Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah 2012 blend, $16.95, - calls it “plush and sweet, but with lovely balancing acidity”, and “nicely concentrated.”

Chile is home to Concha y Toro whose Marques de Casa Concha line always provided wines of excellent quality at a reasonable price.

The Pinot Noir 2013, $19.95, has Pinot Noir delicacy and a refined texture, but still carries good concentration of red berry and cherry fruit and has excellent length.

Australia’s Zonte’s Footstep Chocolate Factory Shiraz 2013, $17.95,  has a Gold Medal from the San Francisco International Wine competition, and is intentionally understated compared to some Aussie “Big Bang” Shirazes.

It carries  warm blackberry notes and cocoa on the nose and more of the dark berry and milk chocolate character on the palate through to the finish.

You could compare this with the Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013, $17.00, currently in stock, which will have a bigger impact on the palate with flavours reminiscent of ripe plum and nutmeg, but some refreshing notes on the finish.

We continue to receive some excellent, good-value reds from Bordeaux, such as Chateau Hauchat 2011, $15.95, which writer Rod Phillips describes as having “plenty of merlot flavour, but it’s restrained and structured, with the oak beautifully managed.”

Another Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, Thierry Delaunay Touraine 2014 is impressive at just $14.95, offering the new-mown hay, flint, and citrus with a racy finish.

For something different from the Veneto, the Almadi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is made from grapes dried in the Amarone style for 15 to 20 days, which will increase the concentration - here’s a chance to try a wine made in the Veneto area, but using a classic French grape.

When I tried the Torres Altos Ibéricos Crianza at the Primum Familiae Vini tasting in Toronto earlier this year, I called it “dusty roads of summer in a glass”, just what I hope for in a Spanish Tempranillo.

The 2012 is $16.95 - Susan Desjardins of remarks on “an elusive note of leather underlying the sweet spice and tangy fruit.”

There are many, many more good wines coming in, both inexpensive and pricey, so enjoy the hunt!