In Vino Veritas LXVII – Baco The Other Noir

For fans of the Old World flights and all other types of wine purists, a fledgling North American hybrid varietal is probably not top of mind. Even though putting the spotlight on Baco Noir affords me the chance to boast about yet another form of vinicultural innovation happening right in my own backyard here in Ontario, that’s hardly enough to warrant the rest of the globe’s attention.

Rather, a short anecdote about Baco Noir that I fondly remember demonstrates two critical factors when selling wine at a restaurant. While a basic understanding of viticulture and an appreciation for this beverage’s endlessly diverse range of flavors is all but a prerequisite for my social circle, occasionally there are exceptions. On one instance whereupon I was hosting a dinner party, a friend with very limited wine knowledge brought over a bottle of what he gleefully touted as a ‘Black Bacon Wine’ that came recommended by the stock clerk at the local liquor store.

As a Canadian (a bilingual country), he definitely should have known that ‘Baco’ is not the word for bacon in French, although I can see why he was deceived as the actual translation is ‘le bacon’, and he did get the ‘Noir’ part right. In any case, once the novelty of a lardon-flavored wine was verbally debunked, he begrudgingly responded with something quite profound. “Well, I only really know Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. I guess I should just stick to what I know.”

Grasping the underlying sentiment here reveals two key observations about your customers. And these two lessons pertain not only to your liquor sales but they also have applications for your entire F&B slate as well as how you position all other facets of a hotel property.

First is that the average person probably does not know a whole lot about wine nor are they passionate about continuing the learning in earnest, and if you take this basal level of enlightenment for granted then you risk alienated the consumer. People don’t dine out for a lecture series; they want to be entertained. That is, you might risk losing an upsell on a more expensive bottle or the sale itself. Feeding patrons with too many confounding facts about the menu or too many choices all at once may result in someone who was about to purchase an entire bottle reverting to wine by the glass, ultimately spending far less overall.

Secondly, you must always fall back upon the mantra of giving your customers exactly what they want. Despite what the average person thinks about his or her own sense of adventurism, sometimes we are all traditionalists by craving what we already know. After a long day in the office or dealing with the stressors of airport-to-airport travel, often we just want a taste of the familiar to fade our still-lambent minds. While we are all likely guilty in one way or another of attempting to transform our wine lists into a shelter for the niche and esoteric producers out there, such wild exploration left unchecked may in fact turn away some guests who are only in the mood for a jug of cheap merlot or shiraz.

So, how you invite guests into the vast and verdure world of wine without simultaneously rendering it inaccessible to neophytes? For one, keep it simple. By limiting choice, you prevent the onset of decision fatigue. Next, always leave one or two ‘staple options’ on the menu for these intractable novices and put them close to the top for easy readability. Third is a slight retraining of your team, whereby they must learn to express their wine knowledge through a digestible narrative and not simply through the mechanical sputtering of facts or other jargon.

Now as for the varietal itself, Baco Noir is an aromatic, woodsy-yet-fruity and slightly smoky dark red. It was named after Francois Baco who successfully hybridized it during the turn of the century in response to the phylloxera blight that had just swept through Europe. As a cross between the European Vitis vinifera and the North American Vitis riparia strains, it was resistant to the fungus but still no match for the former vines in terms of prestige and complexity.

Today, it is more commonly planted in burgeoning production regions throughout the Northeast where it is perfectly suited to the harsher American and Canadian climates. Due to its rustic qualities, it pairs nicely with any grilled or barbecued meats. And on any given night out, it makes for a perfectly satisfactory and reasonably affordable drop. It’s definitely worth a try to see if it might fit on your wine list; just don’t expect any sowbelly tasting notes.