It’s been a long two weeks, between an office move and a five day course in project management, but I’m back and looking forward to covering some new grapes. It’s been a bit difficult to get myself back in gear, but I’m going to make it easier with a string of varietal wines from grapes that are new to me. Today is something of a rarity, the Niche Wine Company +124 Reserve Foch 2010.
I picked up some interesting wines while I was in Canada, in particular some varieties I’d not encountered before. Auxerrois was a familiar name but hadn’t tried one, and Ehrenfelser was completely new to me. The grape in this wine is one that I had come across in my studies but never expected to try because it’s so uncommon, and also because it’s a hybrid.
I believe this is our first hybrid, and as such it deserves a note. Most grapes used to make wine are from the Eurasian species Vitis vinifera which translates to wine bearing grapes. However, it’s possible to produce vines which have Vitis vinifera and another Vitis parent, and such vines are known as hybrids. It’s typically done in an effort to supplement vinifera with resistance to various pests, diseases, or difficult climatic conditions. After phylloxera hit Europe in the 19th century, there was a great deal of interest in such hybrids, typically bred with phylloxera-resistant North American species. Many were produced through viticultural research in France and are collectively known as French hybrids, something of an analogue to the German crossings discussed in the context of the CedarCreek Estate Winery Ehrenfelser.
However, development of hybrid vines is somewhat controversial, in that non-vinifera vines can have undesirable properties in wine, such as a scent evocative of animal fur which is termed foxy. Of the many hybrids to emerge at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, most were subsequently banned in France for grape production, and others relegated for use only as root stock onto which Vitis vinifera vines were grafted. Some, however, such as Vidal and Seyval Blanc, have proven popular in areas with marginal climate because of their ability to survive winter freezes.
This grape, Maréchal Foch or sometimes just Foch, is a hybrid developed in France in 1911 by Eugène Kuhlmann, and commercially released in 1921. It takes its name from Ferdinand Foch, a French general who became Maréchal de France in 1918. I know of him because I’m keen on military history and hardware, and while it’s quite common for the names of war heroes to grace things like ships and tanks, I can’t think of another general to have a grape named in his or her honour. This hybrid is recorded as bring the result of breeding Goldriesling (Vitis vinifera) with Millardet et Grasset 101-14 OP (which is itself a hybrid parented by Vitis riparia and Vitis rupestris), though it has not as yet been confirmed or disproved through DNA profiling. A red grape able to withstand the cold, very little of it remains in Europe, with plantings being limited to tiny amounts in the Loire and eastern Switzerland. However, it has found favour in some cold states in the northern USA as well as both eastern and western Canada.
Speaking of Canada, this wine is from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. I’ve written about the region a few times since my trip to Vancouver in September, so I won’t repeat myself, but details can be found in my posts on the JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay and the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois.
The Niche Wine Company is a very small producer based in West Kelowna. Joanna and James Schlosser run the winemaking and business side of the operation, which operates on vineyards James’ parents, Jerry and Kathleen, own and work. They released their first vintage in 2011, with varietal wines based on their plantings of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, and this Foch. They also produce a rosé, which at least for their first vintage was a blend of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. The company had two releases of their Maréchal Foch 2010. The first was released after just under a year in a mix of French and American oak barrels, whereas this second release is from a portion held in reserve and put into first use American oak barrels for an additional 124 days.
In the glass this wine is clear, and bright, with a deep brick red colour that is nearly black and quick, thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and intense with notes of dried red fruit, raisins (more Pedro Ximénez than Port), a little nail varnish and dark chocolate. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium plus intensity, medium fine tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length. There are notes of raisins, dark chocolate, prunes, cherries, and a hint of coffee.
I rate this wine as very good. It has a great intensity and complexity of flavours, particularly for a wine that’s so young. It was very fresh right out of the bottle, though 30 minutes after decanting the raisin notes started to appear which rounded out the flavour profile nicely. I wasn’t expecting this wine to be anything other than a curiosity – a hybrid that’s still listed in textbooks but with decreasing plantings. However, it absolutely delivered. While I’m unlikely to encounter another bottle any time soon, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up a dozen for the cellar to see how it looks a few years down the road.