Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Hudson-Chatham Winery & the Joys of Baco Noir

"Among these wines, Baco Noir is the only eastern cheese partner. It is a full-bodied red from a grape of the same name, which makes it a 'varietal' wine. The grape is expected to have a great future in eastern winemaking."
--Chicago Tribune, November 3, 1968

Have you ever tasted a wine made from Baco Noir?

Baco Noir is a French hybrid grape, whose origin extends back to 1902, though it was initially called Baco 24-23. It didn't become known as Baco Noir until 1964 and very little is currently grown in France. In the early 1950s, the grape was planted in North America and currently you'll find it grown in various states as well as Canada. In the Hudson Valley of New York, you'll find one of Baco Noir's most ardent advocates, Carlo DeVito.

Carlo, with his wife Dominique, own the Hudson-Chatham Winery and you can read my prior article for background on the winery. The winery produces a number of different Baco Noir wines and I've enjoyed them in the past, especially the Baco Noir Old Vines. Recently, he sent me a media sample of the 2016 Hudson-Chatham "Block 3 North Creek Vineyard" Baco Noir and it didn't disappoint in the least.

Before I review this wine though, I wanted to highlight some intriguing historical items, found in old newspapers, concerning the some of the earliest mentions of Baco Noir grape in North America,

The earliest newspaper reference I found of a U.S. winery using this grape concerned the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, founded in 1860, which is said to be the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1967, published an article about the winery, noting that in a few years they would market a Baco Noir varietal wine. They didn't have sufficient grapes yet for a varietal wine, but had been adding some Baco Noir to their Burgundy wine, sold under their Great Western label.

Interesting, the Princeton Bureau County Record (IL), November 25, 1968, presented some Thanksgiving recipes and wine recommendations, and Baco Noir was mentioned. "Non-conformists and red wine lovers find that a herb-stuffed turkey calls for the depth of flavor found only in a Baco Noir Burgundy or Chelois." However, apparently the recommendations came from the Pleasant Valley winery so the inclusion of Baco Noir shouldn't be a surprise.

The above advertisement was in the Nashua Telegraph (NH), December 12, 1968, noting the unique taste provided by the Baco Noir.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, March 14, 1969, presented a different advertisement, which seemed to indicate their Baco Noir varietal wine was now being sold, although it still stated "Burgundy" on the label. An article in the Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1969, seemed to confirm this, noting "Great Western has made varietal wines of some of its former generics, and hopefully they will drop the name 'burgundy,' which should be reserved for French wines, soon as Baco Noir burgundy...are better known." The article also states that Baco Noir is "destined for popularity."

The Chicago Tribune, July 24, 1970, published an article about the Great Western wines, commenting on the Baco Noir and Chelois grapes, "Both are interesting, both popular and growing more so." The Daily News (NY), October 22, 1970, then printed an article on the grapes of New York. It mentioned, "Before the hybrids, New York wines were less than glorious. Native American stocks and crosses grew well, but wines from them had a strange, wild taste." It then continued, "Main interest now centers on red wines like Baco Noir and Chelois...these are low-priced at less than $2 a bottle."

Baco Noir had already spread to other U.S. states, but the first mention of a state other than New York  producing a Bacon Noir wine was in The Times Herald (MI), April 14, 1971. It had an advertisement for Bronte's Baco Noir Wine, comparing it to a Burgundy, just as Great Western had done. The Fort Lauderdale News, March 15, 1972, also noted that an Ohio winery was producing a red table wine made from Baco Noir and Chelois.

The Democrat & Chronicle (NY), March 16, 1972, provided some information on grape production in the Finger Lakes during 1971. The wineries processed 66,242 tons of grapes, a 32% increase from the prior year. Only 40% of these grapes were used for the production of wine. French hybrids, including Baco Noir, totaled 6,716 tons, so only about 10% of total production.

Great Western's Baco Noir was becoming so popular, that the Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1972, noted the wines had to be allocated, or they would have been completely sold out. In only a few years, Baco Noir had captivated wine lovers.

Now, back to the 2016 Hudson-Chatham "Block 3 North Creek Vineyard" Baco Noir. Block 3 is planted with two varieties of Baco Noir, including the hearty and dark Finger Lakes variety and the French/Hudson Valley variety which produces a lighter wine. Some of the wine is aged for about six months in neutral oak barrels, and the final blend isn't fined or filtered.

Initially, I love that this wine is only 12% ABV, making it easier to enjoy multiple glasses. When so many other red wines have a 14-16% ABV, it is always a pleasant change to see a lower alcohol red. With a light red color, this wine possesses an appealing fruity nose with subtle hints of vanilla and spice. On the palate, it is smooth, delicious and easy drinking, but this isn't a simple wine but rather one with some interesting complexity. It also possessed bright cherry and raspberry flavors, subtle spice notes, a touch of vanilla, and excellent acidity. This is a versatile food wine, great for pizza to burgers, salmon to roast pork. Highly recommended.

If you haven't tasted a Baco Noir wine, then now is the time to try one. And if you can find Baco Noir from the Hudson-Chatham Winery, then I strongly encourage you to buy it.

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