“It is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs, laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing… it even tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.”
― Homer, The Odyssey
Late last summer I took a road trip from Washington State to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada to share with my son his first wine tasting experience and discover some new Canadian wines.
What once was a huge glacier, the Okanagan Valley is comprised of soils that are mostly sandy, with white clay-silt on top of a gravelly sand made up of limestone, granite and other forms of ancient volcanic gravels. This soil combination is ideal for generating some intensely aromatic wines with layers of mineral flavors and a subtle level of tannins. Being in the 50th parallel, the Okanagon Valley has a short growing season and is most commonly known for its production of Ice Wine. Although the climate during the growing season is hot, dry and sunny, it is still quite short. To help ripen the red grapes the additional daylight hours in the summer months work in the Okanagan Valley’s favor.
Agriculture has a long history in this region, also known for growing apples, peaches, and cherries, the Valley is now becoming recognized for growing the grapes that produce the regions authentic wines. The wines of the Okanagan are more extensive than would be expected, to include Syrah, Bordeaux Blends, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Chardonnay to name a few. There is one varietal that I want to focus on from this wine region, Maréchal Foch.
I was introduced to the Maréchal Foch grape during a wine tasting at one of the first wineries that I visited in Kelowna, Quails’ Gate Winery. Quails’ Gate is a check off your list destination with a beautiful winery and impressive vineyards that overlooks the immense Okanagan Lake. Maréchal Foch is a hybrid grape variety that is grown in parts of the United States and in Canada. Cold hardy and disease resistant, the Foch grape was first developed in France in the 1910s by Eugene Kuhlmann, who crossed GoldRiesling and a native American Vitis riparia-rupestris to create what was then named Kuhlmann 188-2. In 1946 Maréchel Foch arrived in the U.S., where it was subsequently renamed, Maréchal Foch in honor of Marshall Ferdinand Foch, a distinguished French General in World War I. There is a rumor that this name was given to the grape do to the extensive casualties sustained by Foch’s troops, as Maréchal Foch wines are distinctly noted for their deep, blood-like color.
2015 Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch
The grapes for this wine are sourced from 37-year old vines planted in a southern most vineyard located in Osoyoos, B.C.
2015 Old Vines Foch, this wine opens with rich aromas of cherry, tobacco and hints of coffee. On the palate you experience smooth dry tannins and notes of tart juicy cherries, dark chocolate, and a lingering smokey vanilla undertone. Decanting this wine for an hour or two before serving will enhance your tasting experience. For pairing try this Old Vines Foch with roasted beef, blue cheese or a sausage and mushrooms pizza.
Foch is a quirky hybridization of native American red varieties (a ripara X rupestris hybrid) with Goldriesling, which is itself an unusual modern cross of Riesling and Muscat. Once commonly grown in the Loire, today the Maréchal Foch grape is limited to a small number of hectares in Europe, it is restricted by European Union regulations because it is a hybrid variety. It’s one of a number of French-American hybrid grapes that were developed, mostly, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the dual purpose of creating new varieties that would be resistant to the phylloxera scourge in France and that would grow well and produce quality table wines in the relatively harsh climates of the Eastern U.S. and Canada.
Little Straw Vineyards-Family Estate Winery in Kelowna, BC
Little Straw Vineyard 2014 Single Vineyard Maréchel Foch
My last tasting was in Kelowna at the Little Straw Vineyard, a wonderful estate winery flanked by vineyards. Little Straw is a family owned established winery which strives to provide the customer with a true Okanogan wine tastng experience. The highlight of the winery was the last tasting of our trip, a 2014 Maréchal Foch. I knew instantly that I needed to bring home multiple bottles for myself and to give as gifts to friends.
This vintage Maréchal Foch has an incredible silky-texture and is deliciously fruit-forward. Jammy notes of blackberry, sour cherry and black currant greet the nose and palate, with subtle hints of smoke and coffee lingering on the finish. This wine is wonderful enjoyed on its own or paired with moderate curries, red meats, or strong cheeses.
Light and easy to drink the nature of the Maréchal Foch grape is what compelled me to share more about this wine grape. Musky with aromas of dark fruits and vanilla, the wines produced with this hybrid “forbidden fruit” would be a compliment to any wine collection.
Having now discovered the hidden treasure in the Okanagan Valley Wine Country, I am looking forward to another trip to visit wineries not yet explored and tasting wines exclusive to this wonderful region. I hope that you get the opportunity to explore this fantastic Wine region for yourself someday.
Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.