A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Marechal Foch - Finger Lakes, New York

I'll confess that I have a bit of a soft spot for hybrid grapes.  That's not the kind of admission that you can make in certain company, as the common consensus on hybrid grapes and the wine produced from them is that they are mostly forgettable curiosities made in places where people probably shouldn't bother trying to grow grapes at all.  But that's part of their charm for me.  I love that they allow people in unpleasant (or sometimes downright hostile) climates to grow grapes and make wine.  Sure, you can argue that these wines aren't ever going to blow your mind, but you can also say that about 99% of the wine being made today anyway.  Not every wine has to be  amazing, after all, and if a wine can't be amazing, then I'd prefer that it at least be interesting.  What I like about the hybrids is that even when the wine itself isn't all that interesting (and let's be honest, a lot of it really isn't), there's still a story behind it and how it came into existence.  I realize that that kind of thing may excite me more than most, but I've learned to live with it.

Marechal Foch belongs to a group of grapes that are informally referred to as the French Hybrids. We've taken a look at a few of these hybrids and I've written fairly extensively about their history in my post on the Chambourcin grape, which interested readers are invited to peruse at their leisure.  For those who are fanatical about the proper placement of diacritical marks, I do realize that the grape's proper French spelling is technically Maréchal Foch, but since the French have decided that they're too good for hybrid grapes, I've decided that the Americanized spelling is good enough for me.

Maréchal is the French word for "marshal" and the grape is named for a French general named Ferdinand Foch who was named Maréchal de France in 1918.  Foch was also the Allied Supreme Commander in charge of all French, British and American armies in France during World War I.  He was heavily involved in creating the armistice treaty that ended that war, though he was prescient enough to say at the time "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."  Foch himself didn't have anything to do with the creation of the grape that now bears his name. It was created in Alsace which, those of you who are up on your geography know, is located right on the border between France and Germany.  Alsace has gone back and forth between the two countries several times.  It was annexed by Germany in 1871 but France got it back after World War I (and later lost it prior to WWII, regaining it again after that war).  The grape's creator, Eugene Kuhlmann, named it for the great French general as an homage.

Unusually for a hybrid grape, Marechal Foch's parentage isn't precisely known.  Most hybrids are created in laboratory type conditions, so there is usually a lot of documentation for them, but, perhaps because of the precarious location of Alsace through World War II, the documentation for Marechal Foch isn't complete.  Some believe that it is a product of a grape called Goldriesling (itself a cross between Riesling and Courtillier Musqué) and an unidentified vine that was itself a crossing between a v. riparia and a v. rupestris vine.  Others believe that it is the offspring of Pinot Noir and a hybrid called Oberlin 595.  Whatever the case, the grape was commercially introduced in France in 1920 and in the US in 1951, having come over from Canada.  The vine yields small bunches of small grapes which are apparently virtually irresistible to birds.  It is grown to some extent in the Loire Valley, though those grapes cannot legally be used for any commercial wine production.  It does bud early and ripen fairly late, which you would think would make it unpopular in colder regions, but it is grown fairly successfully in Canada and in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

I picked up two wines made from the Marechal Foch grape while traveling in the Finger Lakes a few months back.  The first wine that I picked up was from the Prejean Winery on the western shore of Seneca Lake.  I bought their 2008 vintage Marechal Foch for about $12.  In the glass the wine was an inky, opaque black color with a very narrow purple rim.  The nose was moderately aromatic with juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit along with some smoky charcoal and chocolate and a touch of something meaty and savory.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acid and very low tannins.  There were flavors of tart cherry, cranberry and blackberry fruit with a touch of smoke and bittersweet chocolate.  The wine was really tart which was surprising given how rich and dark the nose was.  I've noticed with quite a few of these hybrid grape wines that I find their aromatics very appealing, but ultimately find the wines themselves to be sour and a little thin.  This wine definitely followed that pattern.  I have in my notes that this was "all treble and no bass" and that seems like a pretty succinct summary of it.  Even at a paltry $12, there isn't a lot in this wine to recommend it.

The second wine that I picked up was from Atwater Estates on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake.  I bought their 2008 Maréchal Foch, French spelling and all, at the winery for about $24.  In the glass the wine was a deep, inky purple ruby color.  The nose was nicely aromatic with blackberry, black plum and black cherry fruit. There was a distinct meaty, gamy aroma that was really interesting.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acid and soft tannins.  There were cherry and black plum fruit flavors with smoky, leather undertones.  There was a slightly tart, slightly bitter cherry pit kind of finish to it.  This wine was much deeper and darker than the Prejean and much more balanced overall.  The plush fruits were nicely balanced by the smoky, leathery earthy components.  The bitter finish was a bit too noticeable for my tastes, but overall I really enjoyed this wine.  It's a little expensive for what it is, but it was the best varietal Marechal Foch that I had while I was in the Finger Lakes.  This winery's tasting room is also a pleasure to visit and the pourer was funny and engaging.  It's definitely one of those places and those wines that I'll definitely revisit when I come back to that region.

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