Maréchal Foch: Big Reds from Cool Climates

© Paul Bulas

Maréchal Foch, often referred to simply as Foch, is one of my all-time favourite wine grapes. Part of the reason for this is that this small, purple-skinned French hybrid grape, with its deep inky purple-coloured juice, reliably produces sturdy, flavourful and ageworthy reds in cool-climate growing regions. Its wines are without fail acid-driven, making them naturally food-friendly. Tannin levels are minimal, which makes varietal Foch easy to enjoy young, although the strong acidic backbone can lend some respectable ageing potential. As a vine, Foch is winter-hardy and its fruit is early-ripening; like many varieties with North American parentage, it has good disease resistance.

Depending on the style in which it is made, the aromatic and flavour profile of Foch can vary somewhat, although there are some key descriptors that I have taken note of over the years that recur rather predictably (I will concentrate my remarks on VQA Foch produced in Ontario, as I am most familiar with these local offerings). It can be said that the majority of varietal Foch produced in Ontario is made in a dry, extracted, oaked style. Generally, American oak is used, and it does add an extra aromatic dimension to the nose of the wine.

Upon opening, a young Foch will typically display a reserved, spicy black cherry aroma, which may be backed up by an underlying charred-buckwheat aroma. At times, I have also seen the wines displaying a remarkable amount of earthiness, as well as a gamy, plummy spiciness. Although some folks whose wine experience has centered on vinifera varieties may not immediately take to these aromas, I personally enjoy their rustic nature and find it to be a pleasant change.

Just like Baco Noir, Foch has what I see as a delightful tendency to produce wines that are completely lacking in "greenness" in difficult or poor vintages. While the acidity can be palpably higher in a weak vintage and the colour may not be inky and saturated as in warmer vintages, the fruit component of Foch will usually come through as bright, high-toned red berries rather than any sort of underripeness, and the mouthfeel will be tart and alive.

Here are some of my favourites:

1996 Cilento Maréchal Foch (VQA Ontario)
Medium ruby colour with a slight amber glint. Pigmentation is noticeably lighter than in warmer years. Whiffs of burnt meat, smoky buckwheat and delicate, tart wild strawberries. Pleasantly tart, clean mouthfeel. Some velvety tannins emerge towards the finish, with noticeable oak from start to finish. The structure as such shows no signs of rain-inspired dilution. This is quite impressive given the general weakness of the 1996 vintage.

1997 De Sousa Maréchal Foch (VQA Ontario)
Clear dark purple with a ruby centre. Tart blackcurrants and plums on the nose. Clean and lean acid-driven wine, with a bright, tart blackcurrant attack that spreads across the palate. Bright, palate-cleansing mouthfeel with little perceptible tannin.

1997 Lakeview Cellars Maréchal Foch (VQA Ontario)
Opaque black-purple. Tart, gamey-beetroot nose. Secondary black raspberry and blackberry notes with a strong earthy/mineral note. Firm acidity with a touch of sweetness, followed by a tarry, restrained, oaky finish. Develops a lovely smoky mulberry, coffee-like note as it warms in the glass.

1998 D'Angelo Old Vines Foch Reserve (VQA Ontario)
Very dark ruby-garnet at the core; ruby with a tinge of purple at the edges. Dark and brooding; sweet aromas of ripe black cherries and vanillin oak, framed by Foch's signature smoky, burnt earth and redcurrant notes as well as a hint of game. Not entirely unlike a Barbera, but much darker and wilder. Laser-like acid attack, followed by juicy redcurrants, sweetish hints of raisins and a creamy smokiness on the midpalate. Very little tannin. Just a dab of bitterness on the finish. Extremely well-integrated oak throughout the tasting profile.

1998 Malivoire Old Vines Foch (VQA Ontario)
Impenetrable hazy black-purple colour with ruby highlights. Concentrated aromas of tart blackcurrant, with smoky black buckwheat, tar, brambly fruit and vanillin oak lurking behind. Typical of Foch, it has a firm and assertive acid attack with concentrated flavours consistent with the nose. Plenty of American oak on the midpalate, a bit disjointed at this point, lasting well into the finish. Long, smoky buckwheat finish.

1999 Malivoire Old Vines Foch (VQA Ontario)
Saturated black-purple with crimson highlights. Smoky blackcurrant and cherry aromas amid game and cedar. Sweetish texture on the entry, with a midpalate of dark bramble and huge new American oak/pencil shavings. Long, full-flavoured and full-textured finish; tannic and disjointed. In need of aging.

1999 Harrow Estates Maréchal Foch (VQA Ontario)
Clear medium ruby-scarlet colour. Tart red berries, sour beetroot, charred meat and hints of bramble -- all framed by a very forward aroma of American oak. Tingling acidity on the attack fans out warmly on the midpalate, carrying the noticeable oak with it into the clean, nearly tannin-devoid finish. Simple and lighter-bodied style.

1999 Thomas & Vaughan Maréchal Foch "Old Vine" (VQA Ontario)
Deep crimson colour at the core turning to scarlet at the rim; plenty of crimson-violet tears with the slightest swirling of the glass. Nose of bitter black cherries, earthy bramble and spicy oak, with a charry note and hints of wild grass (this is the rustic side of Foch showing through). Excellent balance is evident right on the entry, with the cohesion of acidity, oak and varietal flavours, as well as an integrated touch of sweetness, being particularly notable. Elegant structure on the midpalate, with an expansive, warming, drawn-out finish accented by powerful oak and a tinge of black cherry bitterness.

In conclusion, I'm very happy to have discovered Foch, and hope that others who live in areas where Foch is grown will discover it too!

November 2001

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