2014 Henry of Pelham Old Vines Baco Noir

5 10 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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Welcome Baco.

I admit to approaching this bottle with a slight sense of foreboding.  One benefit of learning about wine is that it helps you pinpoint rare or obscure high-quality grapes or regions that are under-appreciated, and thus underpriced, by the market.  However, one drawback is that it can stratify your thinking about what quality looks like and give rise to unwitting prejudice about varietals or areas that aren’t always known for it.  Baco Noir, like all hybrid grapes, falls within the latter category.  But this bottle is proof that wine prejudice can be overcome.

Almost all of the quality wine grapes in the world, including all of the varieties you can list within 5 seconds of reading this sentence (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.), belong to a grape species called Vitis vinifera, widely (and accurately) known to be the best of the many families of grapes in the world for wine production.  A hybrid grape is a cross between different species of grapes; in wine-speak that usually means a cross between a vinifera grape and a non-vinifera grape.  These crossings almost always arise out of intentional experiments by people looking to combine the flavour, quality and structure of vinifera with non-aesthetic desirable characteristics of the other species, usually ability to withstand weather or disease, ease of ripening or size of yield.  Spoiler:  they usually don’t accomplish all of these goals.

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PURPLE

Canada, questionable wine climate as it is, on the very northern edge of grape ripening possibility, has seen a lot of hybrids in its young viticultural existence.  Baco Noir is one of them:  a North American-centric hybrid between white vinifera grape Folle Blanche (a traditional varietal in Cognac) and an unknown grape from the Vitis riparia species indigenous to this continent.  Strangely, although it is almost entirely found on this side of the world in eastern Canada and the US, it was created by a Frenchman, Francois Baco (who may or may not be an eccentric French reincarnation of Francis Bacon).  Baco Noir’s gift to marginal climates is that it can grow and ripen in the cool and yet still develop remarkable depth of colour and texture, a rare combination in a red grape.

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Hybrids are often used as cheaper, easier alternatives to vinifera in regions where ripening the latter can be a costly challenge.  This bottle is emphatically not an example of that phenomenon.  These Baco vines were hand-planted 30+ years ago by the siblings who own Henry of Pelham in Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment; some of them predate the estate itself, which was founded in 1988.  Trust me when I say that there’s not a lot of 30 year-old Baco Noir vineyards around.  The grapes are given the star treatment when they come off the vine, with minuscule yields, extended maceration and active cap management during fermentation, all of which extract and concentrate flavour.

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Cork Rating: 7.5/10 (Guessing this harkens back to the first owner of the family lands a couple centuries back. I approve of all Cork Stories.)

All that effort reveals itself quickly, as this thinking man’s Baco immediately draws notice thanks to its magnetic, semi-opaque deep purple colour.  It is unafraid on the nose, part grape and blackcurrant, part charcoal and smoked meat, and part sweat and leather, that twinge of funk that many hybrid reds share, although in this case it’s deftly folded in with the other aromas.  Only medium-bodied despite its apparent roundness of texture, it shoots parallel beams of bright acidity and sweet, almost candied dark fruit which leaves a lingering Wine Gums tang.  Smoked salt, olive and capers lend a clear savoury undertone to an otherwise fruit-filled palate.

This is like many good wines I’ve had before, only rotated about 15 degrees from the norm.  The alluring strangeness and clear passion behind this well-executed hybrid makes this a wine I’ll continue to reflect on and puzzle over well after the bottle is gone.  Hard to ask much more out of a wine than that.

88- points

$25 to $30 CDN

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