On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Report from - Nights 1 & 2 Baco Challenge (Feb 5/12, 2007)

14 Mar 2007
Night 1 – Feb. 5, 2007

The night was cold, the fire was hot and the barrel cellar was cozy, as 15 of us filed in for the first night of this four-night event.  Tonight was all about young, or regular, Baco Noir, 9 wines were selected from the 18 entrants into this part of the competition … picked and poured completely at random.  Mostly 2005 and 2004 vintage wines, with a 2002 thrown in for good measure.  In fact, 2 of the wines entered in this category pre-dated the 2004 vintage – a 2002 and a 2001.  These wines were split up between the two nights that hosted regular Baco.  The stipulation for all wines and wineries was that the wine had to be available for purchase as of March 2007, which meant that some entrants were barrel samples, while others had just been bottled and were released to us prior to going on store shelves.  All three major regions of Ontario were represented.  On this night, the line-up was:  Peller, Harbour, Hernder, Rockway, Vineland, and Caroline from Niagara; Black Prince and Sandbanks from Prince Edward County; and Aleksander from the Lake Erie North Shore region.

All wines were uncorked at 6:45pm, poured at 7:00pm and the tasting began at 7:30pm.  By 8:30 all the tasting was done and the votes and comments were put to paper (wines were rated for taste/nose and likelihood to buy, not knowing the price).  It was time for the price-reveal, where I told the tasters the price of the wine and asked them to judge the value with regards to the taste (the third criteria).  After all the scores were marked down, then, and only then, were the identities of the wine revealed.

Night 1 saw Vineland’s 2005 Baco Noir take home the highest rating for taste/nose, Sandbanks’ second bottling of their 2005 Baco Noir took the likelihood to purchase site unseen crown, while Hernder’s 2002 Baco Noir, on the strength of their best value status took Overall Best Baco of the evening.  Their bottle of ’02 is available at both the winery and the LCBO for a mere tuppence ($7.95).  Their value status may have vaulted them into first place but they also ranked high in the other two categories, placing 2nd for taste and 3rd in likelihood to buy.  Those in attendance could not believe is was so readily available, and so “cheap”.  Second place of the night went to Vineland’s 2005 while third was quietly taken by Peller’s Heritage Series Baco Noir ’05.

Night 2 – Feb. 12, 2007

A larger crowd assembled for this evening, no doubt word had spread and interest had been peaked.  This was night two of the young (regular) Baco category, with another 9 wines grouped at random.  Those in attendance the previous night commented that the tastes were more earthy in this grouping, while those from grouping one were more dark fruit oriented.  I assured them that the grouping was purely random and the tasting similarities were freak chance.  Night two’s scores were lower than on night one.  I attribute that to the larger crowd, hence more diverse opinions.  The procedure for wine opening, pouring and tasting was the same as described on night one.  As for the wines being poured, representing Niagara were Mountain Road, 20 Bees, Rockway, Konzelmann, Birchwood, and Henry of Pelham; Prince Edward County had Waupoos and Black Prince in their corner; while the lone Lake Erie wine was from Erie Shore Vineyard.

Once again, the scores were spread out over the three categories with no conclusive winner, number crunching was definitely in order.  Top rated for nose/taste was again one of the oldest entries, the Mountain Road Wine Company 2001 Baco Noir; likelihood to purchase site-unseen went to Henry of Pelham’s 2005, and the value win was notched by Niagara’s only co-op, 20 Bees – which was surprisingly the same price as Pelham ($12.95), yet took 6th for taste.  That being said, the top 6 rated for taste were only separated by .74, so it was a very close battle for the tastebuds of the samplers.  Night two’s overall winner was Henry of Pelham’s 2005 Baco Noir, squeaking by Mountain Road’s 2001 by .04.  Henry also took 2nd for taste, 1st for likelihood to buy and third for value.  Rounding out the top three was the 20 Bees 2005 offering.

Report from - Nights 3 & 4 Baco Challenge (Feb 19/26, 2007)

14 Mar 2007
Night 3 – Feb. 19, 2007

This night saw a smaller yet intrepid crowd taste the most interesting of our Baco selections.  In this grouping there were 6 blends from the likes of Featherstone (Niagara), Smith & Wilson (LENS), Reif, times two (Niagara), EastDell (Niagara), and Henry of Pelham (Niagara) – there was also a sweet straight Baco (2) from Konzelmann (Niagara) and a rose from Black Prince Winery (Prince Edward County).  The last two wines really had no other place to go, so I placed them in this category as a catchall.  Overall they placed very well, taking 3rd and 5th respectively.  As for the blends, let’s just say that most of the tasters believe Baco should be left alone and not blended with other grapes.  In the end the competition was really between 2 wineries, the others lagged behind by as much as 5 and as little as 2 full points.  Henry of Pelham took first in the value category with their 2004 Cabernet-Baco ($11.45) – but the night belonged to EastDell who took a decisive 1st in both taste/nose and likelihood to purchase for their 2005 Black Cab, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc and Baco.  Had the medium dry Baco not been around to take third, Smith & Wilson’s 2005 Buckhorn Noir would have captured the Blended Bronze.  Now all that was left is the granddaddy of them all – Reserve night.

Night 4 – Feb. 26, 2007

A packed house joined me for this event, 30 people, all wanting to taste the best of the best in Baco.  Prices ranged from $14.85 to $34.95, and wines from 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002 competed for the “best of” moniker … ten wines in total (the most of any night) and all three major regions of Ontario were represented.  The wines being poured were Sanson Estate (x2) and Muscedere from Lake Erie North Shore; Sandbanks held the flag for Prince Edward County and the rest from Niagara included: Hernder; Henry, Harbour, Lakeview, Stoney Ridge and Peller.When the dust had settled, the heavily favoured wine of the night had been vanquished by another large winery, though one not known for its Baco Noir.  Many tasters thought the wines were good but overpriced, and of course, there were quite a few surprises.  The top ranking Reserve Baco Noir:  Peller Estates Wines 2004 Private Reserve Baco Noir - which took first in taste and value and second in the likelihood to buy category.  Taking second was the upstart winery from Prince Edward County, Sandbanks Estate Winery, whose 2005 Baco Noir Reserve took second place in all categories except likelihood to buy, where it took first.  The third place finisher should have been Sanson Estates 2002 Reserve (3rd in both nose/taste and likelihood for purchase), but when it was revealed it was $34.95 it took a major hit in the value category leaving the door open for the Cuvee 2007 winner for Red Hybrid – Lakeview Cellars Estate Winery 2004 Reserve Baco Noir.

In closing, there are many things to be said for Baco Noir and I read many comments on the tasters’ sheets.  Most prominent among was the requirement of a good piece of meat or cheese to accompany these wines.  After the tasting, I did pass out some Balderson’s Red Wine cheese and many thought the wines showed better with it.  Another comment that I saw over and over again was with regard to the youth of the wines and how many thought they could lie down for a few years.  That sentiment is echoed in the winners and placers for both the first and second night, where a 2002 took first and a 2001 took second respectively.  It also follows with what Dean Tudor said to me to spark this competition: “the best Baco Noirs I have had have been a minimum of 5 years old, 10 to 20 seems almost optimal.”  So in the spirit of that comment, I have laid a few bottles down, putting them aside for 5 years (case to be opened in March of 2012) – where upon I will re-try these wines to see if they in fact do make a difference with age.  Who knows, maybe we’ll invite some of our panelists back and gauge their reaction too … it will make for an intriguing experiment.  A big thank you goes out to all our participants and tasters.  We’ll do it all again soon with another Ontario grape.  If you have any ideas for which grape you would like to see us compare next, don’t hesitate to drop me an email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  To view the full list of placings for all our participating wines by night and read more insight and analysis, please visit the website.

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