It's Veterans Day today, the international day of remembrance originally established as Armistice Day (L'armistice de 14-18 in France), a time set aside to recall the sacrifices made by those who fought in World War I and in all the world's wars.
Marshal Ferdinand Foch, an Alsatian who lived from 1851 until 1929, served as Allied Supreme Commander of the British, French and American armies in France. He gave the lie to any notion of the French as weak in battle when he uttered the famous remark, "My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack." Less memorably, he is also remembered for having opined, "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
Foch isn't known for any direct involvement in wine, but in a burst of patriotic fervor after the war, the French grape scientists who bred the new variety named it after the aging general in favor of its original moniker, the rather academic "Kuhlmann 188.2."
Botanically, Foch is a wacky hybridization of native American red varieties (a ripara X rupestris hybrid) with Goldriesling, itself a strange modern cross of Riesling and Muscat. It's one of many French-American hybrid grapes that were developed, mostly, in the late years of the 19th century and early in the 20th, with the twin goals 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.
Although the French soon turned against the idea, outlawing the use of hybrid grapes in the country's higher-quality wines, French hybrids took hold in North America, where you'll find many of them still commercially produced by wineries in the East and, to some extent, in the Pacific Northwest. Most wine enthusiasts still consider them second-rate in comparison with the traditional European vitis vinifera grapes, but they still fill a niche and have their fanciers. This item, from Ontario's respected Malivoire Wine Company, enjoys a particularly good reputation, and based on my tasting, it's deserved: This is one hybrid that doesn't need to apologize for its status.
Long available only in Ontario, Malivoire's wines are just beginning to appear in the U.S., thanks to the New York-based importer
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Malivoire 2003 Ontario VQA Old Vines Foch (CDN$22)
Very dark garnet, clear edge. Bold red and black-cherry aromas dominate in the aroma, with a back note of something intriguingly like dark toast. Impressive flavor, big and bold, fresh plums cherries, a hint of oaky vanilla, with soft tannins and tart, almost piercing acidity. It bears some stylistic resemblance to a good but young Chianti Classico Riserva. U.S. importer: Bouquet du Vin, Manhasset, N.Y. (Oct. 21, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Noting its acidic, Chianti-like personality, I fashioned an Italian-style dinner to match, with bite-size bits of rare flatiron steak in a fresh tomato sauce over bucatini pasta.
VALUE: Justifies this Canadian price (comparable to the middle teens in U.S. dollars) on its own merits, with an extra incentive if you're looking for a benchmark example of this French-hybrid variety for your "life list."
WHEN TO DRINK: The winery reports that it's ageworthy through 2008, but it's certainly fine and approachable now.
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Friday, Nov. 11, 2005