Unsung and underappreciated, baco noir has been good to the Speck family, which runs Henry of Pelham in Niagara wine country. The Speck family has also been good for baco, a grape that, like undrafted Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, can be a star when given an opportunity to shine. A cold-hearty French hybrid grape variety that’s typically one of the first varieties to be picked in Ontario, baco has helped generate significant media coverage for Henry of Pelham over the years as news outlets document the start of the annual grape harvest in Ontario.
From its first vintage in 1988, Henry of Pelham’s decision to treat baco with the same winemaking care and attention as the fruit from supposedly more noble, European vinifera vines has made them world leaders with the variety. It’s helped open export markets, including Belgium, Germany and Britain and generate sales across the country.
The winemaking team expects to start picking baco grapes from some of Henry of Pelham’s younger vineyards next week, making for an early start to the 2020 harvest. The combination of a wet spring and hot, dry summer for growing conditions has them drawing parallels to the 2007 and 2016 vintages, which were very good years that rewarded wineries across the province with an abundance of highly regarded red, white and sparkling wines.
Beyond baco, a seemingly endless stream of wine grapes await discovery. With more than 1,300 different varieties cultivated for wine production across the globe, there’s a lot more to wine than superstars such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Spain and Italy are steady sources of wines made with seldom-seen varieties that live in the shadows of more popular local grapes. Two enjoyable Spanish reds made with the monastrell grape, which is known as mourvédre in French and other wine regions, and a striking Italian wine made from an obscure variety, piedirosso, stand out among the wines recommended this week. Adding to the incentive to explore the full extent of the selection at the liquor store, wines made from these lesser-known examples typically represent better value because they don’t have the name recognition of admired varieties. As VanVleet can attest, just because you’re overlooked doesn’t mean you cannot compete with the best.
Château Pesquié Ventoux Édition 1912m 2018 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
A harmonious blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault from a family-owned winery in Ventoux, this full-bodied red reveals a core of ripe berry fruit with some herbal and floral accents. The name of the cuvée refers to the height of Mount Ventoux. Made to be generous and smooth, this excellent bistro-style red would be enjoyable with a wide assortment of dishes or by the glass. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta (2017 vintage), $15.90 in Quebec.
Enrique Mendoza La Tremenda Monastrell 2017 (Spain)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17
Founded in 1989, Enrique Mendoza is a member of Grandes Pagos de Espana, a quality-minded organization dedicated to producing distinctive regional wines. La Tremenda is a single-vineyard, single-variety red wine from Spain’s Alicante region. It is a dry and well-structured red made with the monastrell grape (a.k.a. mourvèdre). Fruit from older-bush vines is used to great effect in a wine that reveals attractive spice and juicy fruit flavours. Drink now to 2024. Available at the above price in Ontario, $17.70 in Quebec.
Familia Castano Hecula Monastrell 2017 (Spain)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
Another take on monastrell from Spain, this fruity and enjoyable red wine is made with fruit from 35- to 60-year-old vines farmed in Yecla in the southeast part of the country. Ripe and juicy, the Castano family’s Hecula label can be counted on to deliver appealing fruit and smooth texture. Drink now to 2022. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in British Columbia, $12.65 in Quebec, $17.58 in Nova Scotia.
Fourth Wall Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (Canada)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22
Fourth Wall is a new virtual winery created by Niagara-on-the-Lake native and sommelier Joel Wilcox, who plans on partnering with different wineries to produce a range of Niagara wines. This ripe and mouth-watering single-vineyard sauvignon blanc was made in collaboration with winemakers Lydia Tomek and Eden Garry at Ravine Winery in St. Davids. It was fermented in older, larger-format oak barrels, which add weight to the wine without contributing any toasty or vanilla notes. It’s a clean and refreshing white that’s more classic in nature than the exotic or intense example of sauvignon blanc made popular by wineries in New Zealand. Drink now to 2023. Available direct through fourthwallwines.com.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Old Vines Baco Noir 2019 (Canada)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
Made with fruit from vines ranging from 20 to 36 years of age, this Old Vines Baco is one of Henry of Pelham’s signature wines. This is a red wine that offers a mix of sweet and tart red fruit, with some peppery spice and oak aromas and a smooth texture. Drink now to 2026. Available at the above price in Ontario or direct, henryofpelham.com, various prices in Alberta, $22.99 in Saskatchewan, $20.99 in Manitoba, $22.65 in Quebec.
Monte del Fra Bardolino 2018 (Italy)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $16.99
A refreshing red blend of corvina, rondinella and sangiovese from the Veneto region, Monte del Fra‘s Bardolino stands out as a solid barbecue or summer-picnic selection. Its fragrant and fresh style helps to stimulate your senses between bites. Serve slightly chilled for best effect. Drink now. Available in British Columbia.
Tawse Winery Pinot Gris Lawrie Vineyard 2019 (Canada)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $26.96
The Lawrie family’s vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake provides the fruit for this bright and refreshing pinot gris made at Tawse Winery. An enjoyable mix of peach, melon and honeysuckle notes makes this an ideal white to enjoy during these waning days of summer. Drink now to 2022. Available direct through tawsewinery.ca.
Villa Matilde Avallone Stregamora Piedirosso 2018 (Italy)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $18.95
This easygoing and fragrant red wine is produced from the piedirosso grape, one of the Campania region’s indigenous varieties. It’s grown in vineyards at the foot of Roccamonfina, an ancient volcano that’s the focal point for the appellation. Made in an appealingly dry, fresh and fruity style, this presents red fruit notes mixed with floral and subtle spice aromas. Drink now. Available in Ontario.
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