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  • Batty for Baco

    We may not be able to decide if pipelines are good or bad. We may not be able to decide if the Flames or the Oilers should win the Stanley Cup. We may not be able to decide if Calgary should host another Olympics.

    However, for all our indecision as Albertans, there is one thing that we can agree upon, which is that Toronto sucks.

    I visited the centre of the universe this past summer to see the nightingale of NYC. The diva of disco. The princess of post-punk. Yes, I am referring to none other than Blondie, one of the greatest New Wave bands of the late 70s and early 80s, who were touring the world in support of a new album.

    While the local music scene was great, I can only assume that all 8 million residents of the GTA decided to get in their cars to go exactly where I was going for the entire week, as the traffic could only be described as a Lovecraftian horror, where the laws of space and time had been repealed.

    It was at that moment I fully understood the true amount that Toronto sucked, and let me tell you, it sucked a lot. Aside from the dulcet tones of Blondie, I can only report one other positive feature, and that is the abundance of wines made from the Baco Noir grape.

    For those not familiar with the varietal, Baco Noir is the most widely planted red grape in Ontario wine country, even more so than the Bordeaux varietals.

    The Baco Noir grape varietal is a hybrid grape, first developed in 1902 by crossing the noble European Folle Blanche grape with a common vine of North American origin.

    I guess you could say that the parents of the Baco Noir grape were much like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, with one parent being old-world nobility, and the other a scrappy commoner from the colonies.

    The chief advantage of the Baco Noir grape is its extreme cold tolerance, thanks to its lineage of native North American rootstock.

    Baco Noir was planted extensively in Canada during the swinging seventies, but most of the vines were pulled out in the naughty nineties as consumer preferences shifted to the more traditional European grape varietals like Cab Sauv and Merlot.

    The turn of the millennium brought renewed interest in the Baco Noir grape, largely thanks to extensive viticultural research and development at Niagara College, located in the heart of Ontario wine country.

    The reputation of the Baco Noir grape grew quickly in the early part of the millennium, and its ability to easily tolerate even the coldest of Ontario winters made it a godsend for winemakers who were tired of losing half their Pinot Noir vines every year.

    Over the next decade or so, the Baco Noir plantings continued to increase, and are now the most commonly planted red grape in Ontario.

    Because of its ignoble parentage, the snobby old-world vineyards of Europe have shunned the Baco Noir grape, but it grows with vigour here in Canada, as well as the up-and-coming Oregon and Washington wine regions in the USA.

    Baco Noir is a very juicy grape, with plenty of dark berry fruitiness on the tongue, but the thin skins provide very little tannin, making for a wine that does not have tremendous aging potential. I have kept a few bottles of Baco Noir in the cellar for 3-5 years without incident, but any longer would likely result in a wine past its prime.

    Some of the oldest Baco Noir vines in Canada are located at the Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, adjacent to the shores of Lake Ontario near St. Catherines.

    The 300-acre vineyard was hand-planted in 1984 by the Speck family, who put their teenage sons to work with shovels and hoes on the old farmstead that had been in the family for generations. More than three decades later, the winery is still going strong, and the towheaded youths who planted the vines by hand all those years ago are now running the place, making them the seventh generation of the family to work those same fields.

    Look in the Ontario wine section of your local booze merchant, and you will be sure to find some Baco Noir. My favourite is the Henry of Pelham Old Vines Baco Noir, which is a steal at under $20. Give one a try today!