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It is a great day when I discover a new varietal that expands the universe of what wine can be. I’ve tasted Baco Noir before and was not particularly impressed, but these two from different sub-regions of Southern Oregon have overcome my previous skepticism. This is an extraordinary grape in the right hands and deserves much more attention than it has thus far received.

Baco Noir is an American hybrid grape made by crossing  the French varietal Folle Blanche (often used to make Cognac, especially Armagnac) and an unknown American grape from the Vitis Riperia species. It was developed by a French grape breeder François Baco  in 1894 in an attempt to create a phylloxera-resistant vine that would produce a recognizably French wine. Its virtues are that it can withstand cold winter temperatures and returns good yields, so it’s planted heavily in the Great Lakes and other northerly regions but largely ignored in France except in Cognac production. Southern Oregon does not suffer from excessively cold winters but their hot summers reveals another virtue—it makes a deep, rich, dynamic wine.

Girardet’s version is from their estate vineyards in Umpqua Valley. The cuttings for their plants were imported by Philippe Girardet in 1971 from his family’s vineyards in Switzerland. These are the first Baco Noir plants in the U.S.

Bradley Vineyards Baco Noir is from the cool, maritime-influenced Elkton AVA, part of the larger Umpqua region. Both are intriguing but are distinctly different wines. Which do I like best? It depends on what’s for dinner. Girardet’s is lighter, more ethereal and versatile as a food wine. Bradley’s is too big for anything but robust meat dishes. Bradley Vineyard’s version is riper and more extracted than Girardet’s but both are charming and fascinating. This really feels like a very successful first date.

girardetGirardet Vineyards Baco Noir Umpqua Valley 2015

The nose is intriguingly complex–red plum, dark berry, thyme, and hints of chocolate and smoke. But on the palate here lies excitement.

Most accessible, ready to drink, red wines peak at midpalate and then come down to earth finding a foundation in push concentrated fruit or supple, polished tannins with noticeable grain.

This one opens with broad, expansive juiciness, climbs to the ridge line with bristling, stony minerality supported by a core of lovely sweet black cherry, and then launches into orbit with a lifted, prickly finish. A wonderful orbit by the way. Very subtle tannins and not a hint of sourness, just terrific tension and energy, a feeling best captured by Ralph Towner’s soaring Icarus.

Score: 90

Price: $34

Alc: 13.2%

Aged 7 months in neutral, French oak.

 

bradley bacoBradley Vineyards Baco Noir Reserve Elkton Oregon 2015

Lovely chocolate and caramel meld with raisin aromas of great intensity although there is a bit of exposed alcohol. Smoky cedar develops with aeration. In a blind tasting on the basis of the aromas I would guess Amarone. These flavors are very ripe and concentrated for a cool climate growing region such as Elkton, but 2015 was that kind of warm year with a long growing season.

In the mouth a rich, juicy, viscous entrée gives way to scintillating acidity tamed by persistent chocolate notes, and then we get blast off—a long finish of searing acidity supported by lovely fine grained tannins, luxuriant fruit but some alcoholic heat. Full bodied with alcohol off the charts but the acidity gives this wine life.

This is flat out luscious and shares with Coltrane’s A Love Supreme Part 1 a  coiled energy ready to explode inside all that sumptuousness.

Score: 90

Price: $38

Alc: 16.9%

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