Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Report from ... 9 years worth of Baco Noir With HoP - June 20, 2011

"Baco Noir has been berry-berry good to me" - not sure if they say that around the winery at Henry of Pelham but they should - they are the Kings of Baco Noir - and one of three wineries in all of Ontario I feel are doing justice with this grape (the other two are Sandbanks (PEC) and Sanson (LENS)).  At its best it can taste like a real wine - at its worst its not fit to clean the toilet ... harsh words yes, but as someone who has waded his way through many a Baco Noir (way back in 2007 I organized an Ontario-wide Baco Noir Challenge) I can say that with authority.

Today, at the Summerhill LCBO, a dozen wine writers from the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada joined Paul Speck (co-owner) and Ron Geisbrecht (winemaker) of Henry of Pelham to taste through 9 years of Reserve Baco Noir.

By the Numbers ...
Henry of Pelham (HoP) started growing Baco in 1984 and making it into wine in 1988.  The first year the word `Reserve` appeared on the label was in 1995.  Oak treatment is always 100% American oak, of which 60% is new in the Reserve line ... the wine rests in oak for 6-10 months (regular) and up to 18 months for the Reserve.  Finally, Ron admitted to using 8-15% of Merlot in the wines, though sometimes he`ll use Cabernet Franc

The vintages tasted today ranged from 1997 to a 2010 barrel sample, missing were 01, 03, 04, 06 (no Reserve made those years) and 05 (limited made - sold out).  On average HoP makes only 1500 cases of Baco Noir Reserve compared to 12,000 of the regular.

By the Nose and Palate ...
General note: old Baco smells pretty rank, but the palate is surprisingly gentle and welcoming ... the older wines also seemed to fall apart quickly in the glass.

1997 ... an early favourite with a leathery nose and leathery red fruit flavours, but within a half hour it turned rubber hose and nail polish, drink quickly for best enjoyment.

1998 ... smoky yet horrible on my nose, thought about plugging it before sipping, but that would have taken all the fun out of this (?) - palate has some redeeming qualities with hints of black cherry and smoke.

1999 ... the best of the 90`s Bacos.  The nose proved to be pretty harsh but the palate rescued it from being poured down the sink - full in the mouth with new leather and black cherry, still quite drinkable with a pleasant and long sweet fruit finish.  Drink now.

2000 ... "Not half bad, " I wrote in my notes, "still has a stinky nose though" - palate is okay for a little while, half hour in the glass and it turns weedy and unappealing.

2002 ... one of two that really had impressive credentials - we have here a nine year old Baco with red licorice and cherry on the nose and a lovely palate of sweet vanilla cherry, black currant and plum with blueberries.  I could not swear this to be Baco, it tastes too good.  Drinks very well now.

2007 ... another hot vintage (see above) and another excellent example of well made Baco (this time Cabernet Franc was added).  The nose was almost non-existent but the palate was more than just a little inviting: smooth red fruit (cherry) with nice tannin structure to hold it up and good acidity - great fruit core.  Still a few years ahead of it, the question is: will it turn out like the `02?  One can only hope.

2008 ... no redeeming qualities at this time - varnish aromas and flavours - but as we have seen Baco needs time.

2009 & 2010 ... both barrel samples that need time.

It was once said to me that "good Baco (if there is such a thing) needs at least 5 years in bottle to become a drinkable wine".  Judging by the proof of 1999, 2002 and 2007 - there seems to be some truth to that statement.

Big thanks to Paul Speck and Ron Geisbrecht for giving us some insight into this most maligned and misunderstood grape variety.

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