A week into my Quebec vacation and I’ve yet to imbibe anything Canadian. The government owned wine-opoly SAQ, as reviewed last week, leaves few reasonably priced options beyond Southern France. So that’s all I’ve bought.
Sure a Côtes du Rhône and our attempt at poutine go fine together…
But for those of you south of the (Canadian) border, they make more than maple syrup and beavers.
Places such as British Columbia on the West Coast and Ontario on the edges of the Great Lakes (pictured below) squeeze out just enough sunny, warm days to ripen grapes.
As in New York’s Finger Lakes, credit goes to the lake effect (heat reservoir, humidity and convection) for making grape-growing possible. If you’ve tried Canadian ice wine -that laborious and costly but delicious late harvest dessert- then awesome. But Canada makes respectable reds and whites for everyday consumption.
Henry of Pelham’s 2009 Baco Noir jumped at me, so I caught and bought it for $15.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery sits on the Niagara Escarpment along the sun-facing slope of Lake Ontario. They pulled Niagara and Concord grapes (known more for jelly than wine) back in the 80s and planted wine-ready vinifera classics like chardonnay, riesling and pinot noir and crossings like baco noir.
Baco noir began as a crossing a century ago by french-person, Francois Baco (no relation to Bac-o Bits). He created a vine more resilient to rot, mildew, phyloxera, and cold from an unknown American with the grape hiding behind Cognac and Armagnac fame: folle blanche. Since the 1950s, baco noir is grown from coast to coast across the north of Northern America.
But what about Pelham’s 2009?
The chart below catches the basics of this extreme, northern red.
Once open, this wine doesn’t shut up. Like a teenager with ADD who hasn’t showered, Pelham’s baco is equal parts funk, fruit and nervous energy. It is dirty, spicy, yet edgy with high acid. The flavors are all over the place: with mulling spices, orange, red apple, and black pepper.
Against patient parenting with oak barrels, Canada’s cold climate gives the grapes here their acidity and spice.
Since I can’t disown it, I learn to like this problem child. The acid attack demands attention and cheese. Cheddar curds and olives curb it, but a fondu or Burgundy-friendly food (e.g. salmon) would sing it into submission.
I may not wake up Canadian…
But I understand it better.
Like New York’s Finger Lakes, this is as far north as grapes will grow. You won’t get the heavy, matronly, ripe fruit bombs of hotter places. Instead, rebellious youth and intensity will slash your tires, get an Anarchist tattoo, and challenge any food you throw at it.