EnRoute in the vineyards of Canada

Since last spring, I had been impatiently waiting for the publication of an article on Canadian wines in EnRoute, Air Canada’s on-board magazine. I had reason enough to be impatient, since I started working on that project all the way back in January.

The article showcases six Canadian winemakers (plus five tasting notes of wines from other producers) from Coast to Coast : two from British Columbia, two from Ontario, one from Quebec and one from Nova Scotia. Selecting those producers from some 400 active wineries was far from easy – another list could probably have been just as valid. The selection provides a good portrait of the diversity of Canadian wine: there really is something for everyone.

Researching the piece allowed me to discover an unexpected level of diversity, and some little-known treasures of canadian viticulture. Like the sparkling wines of Nova Scotia – the closest thing to champagne I’ve tasted outside of Champagne. Or the pinots and chardonnays of Prince Edward County, the fastest growing vineyard in Canada, located southwest of Kingston, on the shores of Lake Ontario. Although I already had a good idea of the potential of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley or Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula – and had started taking a closer look at the best estates in Quebec, I was happy to discover just how much wine production keeps progressing all over Canada.

All this just encouraged me to keep going, and so in the last few weeks, I went to visit vineyards in Prince Edward County and Niagara, tasting over 200 wines in a few days through the cellars and vineyards. I’m hoping that I’ll also make it to British Columbia and Nova Scotia in the near future.

I found those visits even more encouraging. Prince Edward County, though its production is uneven – like in any emerging wine region – is already showing some distinctive character, and the best wines show remarkable finesse, elegance and mineral character. In the Niagara, I found solid, distinctive wines all over the place, with serious exploration of terroir at vineyards like Tawse, Hidden Bench and Le Clos Jordanne, creative exploration of winemaking and varieties at Creekside, Ravine, 13th Street, A Foreign Affair or Malivoire, precise, elegant work at Lailey and Southbrook, to name only these few. Beyond cabs, merlots, chardonnays, rieslings and pinots, I also tasted melon de bourgogne, chardonnay musqué, zweigelt, shiraz and even a bit of savagnin. There is less cookie-cutter winemaking, and more and more specific character and quality available.

I’ll write about that in more detail over the coming days. But at least one thing is clear : it isn’t all icewine, and it sure ain’t Baby Duck no more !

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Dan Aykroyd is coming to Montreal. Does his wine taste funny?

If I was in Montreal, I’d be tempted to go. Dan Aykroyd, the famous Canadian actor of Saturday Night Live fame will be touring Montreal, today and tomorrow (June 25 and 26), to present the line of wines that bear his name. He’ll be visiting three SAQ stores (see the list here) over the two days, to give the drinking public a taste of what’s bottled for him by Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits, the company behind Lakeview Cellar Wines, East Dell and 20 Bees, among other things.

If I could go, I’d certainly ask him what the deal is with all the celebrity wines appearing on the scene, this past couple of years. Like the Madonna, Kiss and Streisand wines from Celebrity Cellars. Or the Mike Weir and Wayne Gretzky wines made by Creekside Wines. Or the icewines and Napa Cab made for the Rolling Stones by Ex Nihilo Vineyards.

I’d ask him if he sees a difference between having a line of wines made by someone else, with your name on it, from various vineyards from here and there (Dan Aykroyd’s wines are sometimes VQA, sometimes not, sometimes from Canada, sometimes from Sonoma…), and actually owning your vineyards. Like Sting’s Il Palagio Sumner Family wines from Tuscany, Gérard Depardieu in the Loire, David and Victoria Beckham in California, Sam Neill in New Zealand, or even Francis Ford Coppola in California – although that last case definitely has more winemaking tradition in it than just celebrity trendiness.

Wine is certainly fashionable, if celebrities enjoy having their names on labels. It equates with luxury, health, pleasure, the good life. A good association if there ever was one. And you can even make a noble statement about biodiversity, the environment, and farming tradition – as the Sumners do in their biodynamic estate in Italy.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve had one of the Dan Aykroyd Discovery Series wines, before. The chardonnay, on a summer trip in Ontario. And no, it didn’t taste funny, despite my attempt at humor in the title. It wasn’t memorable, but it was simple and easy-drinking. In other words, it was fun.

Canadian Icewine: Quality and Diversity from Coast to Coast

I used to love Canadian Icewine and its less expensive, but often quite as tasty counterpart, the late harvest. And then, for some odd reason, I practically stopped having it.

Over the last few months, however, I drank icewines from Ontario, British Columbia, Québec and Nova Scotia. And baby, I’m back.

Those were fine, fine wines, with all the apricot, honey and floral aromas and flavors you’d want, the acidity needed to balance out the concentrated sweetness. What struck me the most, however, was the diversity of styles – a much greater range than I would have expected.

Let me give you an idea of this range of styles by giving tasting notes from West to East. (more…)

TasteCamp in Long Island: I AM drinking merlot

I can say one thing about last weekend’s TasteCamp East, organized by Lenn Thompson for a group of about 15 bloggers (see the whole list here, with very personal notes from Dale Cruse) who enthusiastically went around the vineyards of Long Island. I’ve never had so much merlot in so little time.

Actually, I can say two things about TasteCamp East: I’ve never had so much merlot, and never before had I enjoyed it that much.

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Bud break on a merlot vine at Shinn Estate Vineyards

It’s not that I’ve never had good merlot – or at least, good merlot-based blends. For instance, I’ve enjoyed many good and some great Pomerols or Saint-Émilions where merlot was playing a leading role. But I tend to find more to please me in the Médoc, with cabernet sauvignon in the forefront. And years of being disappointed again and again by flabby or imprecise or just undistinguished varietal bottlings from the likes of California and Chile just brought my enthusiasm for merlot very close to ground level. 

So what was I doing in Long Island, where merlot is king? (more…)

TasteCamp East: adventures in Long Island wines

Well, here I am at The Greenporter Hotel in Greenport, NY, on the Eastern end of Long Island, for a meeting of wine bloggers called TasteCamp East.

The event is organized by Lenn Thompson, one of the top wine bloggers and an expert on the wines of New York and, more specifically, Long Island, where he lives – and obviously, drinks. (more…)

Quebec City hosts its first ever Salon des vins

Tomorrow, Quebec City’s very first Salon des vins et spiritueux (site in French only) will open, providing wine lovers and professionals from the region (and beyond) with a first event of this scale. Organizers have managed to get a lot of people on board, showcasing a higher number of industry participants than the Montreal Salon, which was, up to now, the only one in Quebec.

Of course, it remains to be seen if (more…)

Breeding cabernet for the cold winters of North America

With all the great wine already made from grapes that are admirably adapted to their soil and climate, why would anyone want to invent a new kind of grape? Shouldn’t we just let nature be?

Fact is, having great pinot from Burgundy (okay, and Oregon, and Sonoma Coast…),  solid cabernets from Bordeaux (and California, and Chile, and…) or amazing sangiovese from Tuscany (and… that’s pretty much it), isn’t a natural thing. It’s the result of centuries of active work in the vineyard to pick the grape varieties that work best in a certain climate, on a certain soil, etc. A lot of nurture to get nature where humans want it to go.

Even more active, in that respect, (more…)

Celebrate Quebec City. By blogging about it.

In 2008, Quebec City has been celebrating its 400th anniversary. Major shows, exhibits and events of all kinds took place throughout the year.

It’s not too late to be a part of it too. By blogging about the city, and what it means to you. Had a great meal there? Saw a good concert? Grew up there or – why not – never visited but are drawn to the city? Fantasized about the place or its people? Share that with the world – and a whole bunch of bloggers on December 31st, at the closing of the year’s festivities.

By doing so, you’ll be joining dozens and dozens of bloggers taking part (more…)

Published in: on December 29, 2008 at 7:03 am  Comments (1)  
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Regional Wine Week: Quebec wine, now ready to drink

In the same that California is no longer exclusively synonymous with wine in the United States, Niagara is no longer the only game in town for Canadian wine. Not that either place is losing its importance. Rather, it’s the growth of viticulture all over North America that is truly remarkable. After all, if Poland can get into the winemaking game, why not Poland, ME – or for that matter, why not Quebec?

That’s what the Regional Wine Week, the kickoff to the Regional Wine Writing Project, brainchild of Dave McIntyre and Jeff Siegel, is all about: getting the word out about all the great wine being produced in lesser-known areas of our continent. A web site, DrinkLocalWine.com, has been set up, and connects you to close to thirty wine writers, bloggers and/or journalists who have come on board.

I found out about the initiative on (more…)

The great closure debate: Corked wines? What corked wines?

A little while a go, I worte about how Decanter had moved into the debate about corks and screwcaps by siding with the screwy side of the argument. If corked wines are a huge problem – up to 12% of wines are corked, according to some wildly flung statements -, then it is time to take a stand.

But again, where do those percentages, like the 12% stated on some web sites, actually come from? Hard to tell. Nobody mentions any clear statistics, and those that have taken a personal sample of their tastings, for several hundred bottles a year, come out at much lower levels.

So is cork taint actually such a huge, wine-world-shattering problem?

Check these figures out. (more…)