Root, root root for the Home Team

By Jamie Gabrini
The Wine Chicks


One of the advantages of my relocation is the proximity to local produce. In New York City, I could always pop by Union Square for the Greenmarket, which would be full of vendors with home-grown goods from the greater tri-state area. But in wine, there were few wine shops in the city that had any sizeable stock of local wines (except Vintage New York, of course). While there is admittedly a lot of plonk produced locally, I found it sad that more shopkeepers weren’t willing to taste through to cherry-pick. With such an emphasis on rebuilding local economy post-9/11, it’s remarkable that many business leaders missed the obvious opportunities to support their own.

Up here in Buffalo, however, the attitude is much different.
There’s fierce loyalty to wines from the Finger Lakes, the Niagara Escarpment, and from the Canadian region of Niagara-on-the-Lake just across the border. What’s so interesting to me about the local wines is that several uncommon grapes are found here, like experimental hybrids from the turn of the last century. Even more commonly known varieties create wines that are unlike their European or Californian incarnations, which only stands to reason since the climate and soil are different. My favorite producers are those who embrace those differences and make no attempt to mimic famous styles; instead, they create wines that best represent their very own terroir.

I recently tasted through some wines from three wineries at Niagara-on-the-Lake. I’d been in search of a Cabernet Franc at the time because it tends to do well up here. Instead, I was captivated by a Baco Noir from Peller Estates. Baco Noir is an example of the French hybrids that have long since been abandoned in France, only to find a happy home in the Northeastern corner of the American continent where they continue to flourish. Baco Noir — named for its creator, the viniferal alchemist Francois Baco — is a hybrid of Folle Blance and Vitis riparia. It’s characterized by deep, dark color and smoky brawn. I’ve tasted some that have been less than appealing at best, but when done well, Baco Noir can produce wines with an intriguing combination of sweetly spiced fruit and smoky-barnyard qualities that make the brain spin with possible pairings. And this, you surely have guessed, is exactly what happened.

Now, I’m not one to come up with completely ridiculous aroma and taste descriptions; really, I’ve never tasted old shoe leather, so how can I claim a wine has notes of that? And there are other descriptors that have long eluded me; it was only recently that “pencil lead” was evident to me and that had to be teased out amongst other flavors upon which I’d honed. And, before the Baco Noir, I’d never experienced the whole “bacon fat” thing before. Sure, I got funky scents and flavors a-plenty, but they were always a lot more carnal than bacon cooking in a heavy iron skillet. But you want bacon fat? Pellers Baco smelled like walking past a good ol’ fashioned bacon-n-eggs breakfast. It was that pungent. Fruit was there, underlining the hamminess, but it was only a subtext. I had to sip. Thankfully, the wine didn’t taste like bacon — instead, there was plenty of dark sweet blackberry and black cherry juice intermingling with cinnamon and clove spiciness. The smokiness came back on the finish, blowing along and lingering well after I’d swallowed. It was truly unlike anything I’d tasted before, which is irresistible for a Wine Chick.

The pairing was simple because I wanted to stick with a French-inspired dish made with local goods, much like the wine. I went with a classic Quiche Lorraine, using local cheese and ham.

I had to dig around a bit, but I found Sahlens honey-baked ham from right here in Buffalo, along with Cuba cheddar and Bergenost from Yancy’s Fancy. Cuba cheddar is famous in the area and folks drive miles to get it. Its white and sharp, but not biting enough to overpower the smoky ham or Baco Noir. Bergenost is a Norwegian-style cheese with a creamier texture that made it perfect for melting smoothly into the body of the quiche. To add a bit of greens, I also made a spinach and radish salad with a mustard vinaigrette. It was a wonderful tastbud experiment to alternate between the pungent mustard, which allowed the blackberry fruit of the Baco Noir to come forward, and the salty-smoke of the ham and cheese in the quiche, which enhanced the similar qualities of the wine.

This has, of course, heightened my drive to explore more wines from my area, and to continue supporting my Long Island home team. Until I can get down to LI to taste again, I’ll soothe my soul with Lenndevours blog and samples of wines from Niagara and the Finger Lakes.

Our tourism board will be happy to know that I truly do love New York.

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Reader Comments

Admittedly, I’m fairly new at this wine thing, but last year’s vacation to Seneca Lake and Niagara-on-the-Lake was one of my favorites. Turns out, we went to the wrong side of Seneca Lake. Still, we really enjoyed Fox Run Vineyards and they had a wine we hadn’t come across - Lemberger. Last night, my husband came across an article stating that upstate NY had more terroir right now than any other region in the US (obviously a disputed opinion, but a nice compliment to NY). I can’t wait to read more about your wine explorations in your new home.

Michelle, I hesitate to make the claim that there’s more “terroir” here, since terroir is unique to every region. Perhaps there’s more varried terrain and microclimates that offers, in turn, more varied winemaking, in an area in which a stunning assortment of grape varieties are vinified. I’m very exicited about the possibilities too, and one of my tasting groups is focusing on only local next month. Fun!

Michelle…Lemberger in the U.S. is the same as Blaufrankisch in Austria or Franconia in Italy.

Jay…thanks for bringing some western NY wines to the forefront. I hope you introduce us to more of them. I have some samples from Warm Lake on the escarpment…pinot noir…They are in tiny little glass bottles (like lab samples) because the wines sell out as futures and the guy didn’t want to send me full bottles. Haven’t tasted them yet…but your post reminded me to do so.

Hey this is great reading since I am on my way to the Niagara region. I grew up in the area, and Peller is near and dear to my heart (actually celebrated my 21st birthday in their cellar with a group of my friends) but despite all that I can’t recall tasting much Baco Noir. Like you a dig around for the their finest Cabernet Franc. And while I know a lot of local wineries produce Bacpo, I’ve just been ignoring (unjustly). Seems like a drink young varietal, yes? By the way, your pairings are inspiring me too.

GO Sabres!

Marcus, not growing up in a land where hockey is sacred, I’m in awe. They games are being shown at the store and everything stops so folks can watch.
As far as Baco - I would think yes, drink young. I don’t know how age-worthy the grape is, but I suspect that, if vinified properly, there’d be a bit of life there. I’d be very interested in finding out!

Actually I saw this on at

“The wines are capable of moderate to long term aging and in many cases require some time in the cellar in order to soften the wines aggressive acidity.”

Perhaps they’re a bit like today’s Madirans — able to hang around but cellaring is less and less mandatory.

Go Sabres!