Wine Review: Henry of Pelham Triple Baco Battle

27 05 2020

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

By Peter Vetsch

The hardest part about writing a review like this is resisting the urge to pun the headline.  Baby’s Got Baco.  Backstreet’s Baco.  Baco to the Future.  Baco Tuesday.  Where Baco Noir goes, a world of pun glory follows.  But in the end, I decided the title had to focus on the mission.  Three different Baco Noirs from one of the world’s best-known producers of this star-crossed grape, Niagara’s Henry of Pelham, at three tiers of the winery’s portfolio.  One survivor.  Take what you need, give nothing Baco.  OK, I’ll stop.

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Opening a bottle of Baco Noir feels a little like drinking Canadian wine history.  One forgets in our nation’s current golden era of properly ripe bigger vinifera reds and advanced farming techniques allowing warm-climate grapes (even Grenache!!) to flourish in northern climes that it was not that easy in the beginning.  Micro-soil-mapping to ascertain the perfectly right spot to plant the right varietal didn’t exist. Climate change hadn’t yet made the task of Canadian viticulture slightly easier.  It was not always clear what would grow, and when it did, there was always the chance it might just freeze and die the next winter.  The grapes that did the best in the conditions were not necessary the ones that made good wine, but at least they lived long enough to make wine.  You can understand the allure of Baco Noir, a grape that attempted to do both.

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Baco Noir is a hybrid variety, meaning that it is a human-bred cross between two grape parents, one of which hails from the vinifera species of vitis (grape) native to the Old World (from which all of the world’s top wine grapes are found), and the other of which is from a North American vitis riparia species, which makes a poor choice for winemaking but has a constitution much better suited to marginal climates.  Baco’s vinifera mother was Folle Blanche, one of the traditional (white) French grapes of Cognac and Armagnac; its riparia father was previously not known but has now been shown to be Grande Glebre, which carries on a sort of half-life in the wine world currently as a producer of phylloxera-resistant rootstocks onto which many susceptible vinifera vines are grafted.  These parents were crossed and bred by Frenchman Francois Baco in 1902, who obviously decided to name the result after himself.  It was initially called Baco 24-23 (giving you a sense of just how many Baco varietals there likely were out there) before being more convincingly changed to Baco Noir in the 1960s.  After a brief flirtation in Burgundy and the Loire Valley, the hybrid was planted in North America in the mid-20th century, where it gained a foothold in the northeast part of the continent.

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BACO.

Baco’s allure in a nascent Canadian wine industry is not difficult to understand.  Not only was it resistant to phylloxera, but it grew vigorously and ripened early (critical in a short growing season) and yet still retained plenty of acid.  It was cold-resistant through the difficult winters.  It is a teinturier grape, so unlike most red grapes, its flesh and juice were dark-coloured as well as its skins, allowing for guaranteed depth of colour in the finished wine.  Back when the idea of ripening and keeping alive most of the big red grapes of the world was sheer fantasy in Canada, here was this hearty and disease-averse grape that could reliably produce a dark, deep, rich, meaty red without losing its acidic backbone and without dying before the next spring.  Nowadays local alternative options have improved significantly, but the love affair with Baco Noir, particularly in Ontario, has never fully gone away, particularly at Henry of Pelham, where the Bacos are often some of the first wines to sell out every year, despite healthy production levels thanks to 60+ acres of plantings.  Bring on the Baco ladder. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Calliope White Trio

3 10 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Pop and pour power.

There are a few ways to measure how far British Columbia has come as a wine industry in the past 10-15 years, during which time for my money the jump in quality, understanding and identity has been close to exponential.  Here’s one way:  15 years ago, I don’t think you could have convinced me that a BC winery’s SECOND label could produce a suite of balanced, expressive and generally delightful wines worth seeking out.  In 2017, Burrowing Owl (or, more accurately, Wyse Family Wines, founders of Burrowing Owl) have managed that exact feat with the 2016 releases of their Calliope label, a lineup of wines that according to the accompanying campaign literature is meant for easy and early enjoyment; a true pop and pour.  Sourcing grapes from both the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, the Wyse family focuses mostly on whites for Calliope, creating (at times) multi-regional blends under the general “British Columbia” appellation, yet still under the BC VQA banner.  These are marketed as easy-drinking patio wines, meant for drinking rather than dissecting…but since we’re all here, let’s dissect them anyway.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (See what you can do if you apply yourself to screwcaps?  Dead sexy.)

I was provided three different single-varietal examples of Calliope’s white regime:  Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier.  When I’m drinking single-grape wines on the lower end of the price spectrum (these bottles probably straddle the $20 mark Alberta retail), the first thing I look for, even before balance of component elements or general deliciousness, is typicity.  In non-wino speak:  if the wine is a Sauvignon Blanc, does it smell like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it taste like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it help people understand what Sauvignon Blanc is all about, and does it then go the next step and show people what Sauvignon Blanc from its particular home region is all about?  Varietal wines that do this exhibit strong typicity, and as such become extraordinarily helpful barometers for both learning about wine and understanding your own preferences.  If these 2016 Calliopes have any major strength, it is dialled-in typicity:  they are clear and precise examples of what’s in the bottle and what comes out of the ground. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Mission Hill Reserve Riesling

25 06 2012

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

Canada, meet your new favourite grape.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll be aware of my completely transparent devotion for Riesling, the top wine grape of all in my books and the star of the show in my favourite white-producing country, Germany.  It’s also a varietal that is starting to be developed more seriously in the major wine regions of my home nation of Canada, both in the Okanagan Valley in the west side of the country and the Niagara Peninsula in the east.  This comes as a huge relief to me:  we’re definitely still a country trying to find its identity wine-wise, and thanks to our climate and latitude it will always be a steep challenge for us to produce big reds in all but the most privileged sites, so one way to get recognition as a serious wine nation in an increasingly competitive market is to focus our energy and resources into developing the absolute best quality wine grapes that thrive in cooler, more marginal conditions.  That’s where Riesling comes in.  It creates some of the best, longest-lived wines in the world, but it also embraces sites at extreme wine-growing latitudes with colder average temperatures and shorter growing seasons…in fact, it reaches its apex in these types of locations.  I think Canada and Riesling are a vinous match made in heaven, so it was with great anticipation that I cracked this bottle, sent to me by one of BC’s largest producers, Mission Hill. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2006 Inniskillin Cabernet Sauvignon

5 08 2011

$15 Canadian Cab...don't get me started.

Oh, Canada…I had been starting to feel a glimmer of optimism about red wines from my home and native land after positive recent experiences with producers like Laughing Stock (Okanagan) and Tawse (Niagara), but just as I began to forget why Canadian reds have until recently been an endless source of frustration for me, tonight happened.  My consternation isn’t that these wines are terrible (though some are); it’s that too much of the wine industry here seems locked in to grapes and wines that we are hard pressed to make better than many other regions around the world.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a case in point.  Why take one of the most heat-loving, slow-ripening, warm-weather grapes out there and try to specialize in making single-varietal wines out of it north of the 49th parallel?  Why especially would you try to target the sub-$20 price range with your Cabs when better-situated producers with hotter weather and cheaper land from Chile, Argentina, Australia and California basically have that market covered?  Where is the global competitive advantage in that approach?  We need a new business plan. Read the rest of this entry »








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