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 !

Advertisements

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…)

Tasting Note: See Ya Later Ranch Ping 2006, Okanagan Valley VQA

Fruit, fruit, fruit, and also a bit more fruit. That was certainly my first impression of this Bordeaux blend made by See Ya Later Ranch, a Vincor-owned estate located about mid-way between Lake Okanagan and Lake Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley. Named after the estate’s historical owner’s way of signing off letters, the ranch was originally planted with grapes some 60 years ago, although its current vineyards and estate were established in 1995 by Harry McWatters, a virtual legend of BC’s wine industry.

There was all kinds of fruit in there, from strawberry jam to raspberries, cherries and blackberries, all very attractive. With 57% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc, this particular blend certainly had the means to be fruit-forward, although as it opened up, it did show more spice and vanilla (from 18 months in oak, no doubt), and eventually coffee notes, with a fair amount of tannins on the finish.

The alcohol level, however, (more…)

Canadian wines for all occasions

I was invited for a second time by CJAD host Sharman Yarnell to do a wine-related bit on her Saturday-morging show called Showtime. And since our little chat was to air soon after Canada Day (and Quebec City’s 400th anniversary, by the way), she thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the state of Canadian wines today – and also, at the state of Canadian wine availability in Quebec.

One great question she asked me was if Canadian wines can provide all the styles of wines you would want. I said yes, and after thinking about it, after taping the interview a few days ago, I’m even more convinced.

One of the wines I mentioned from the outset was Osoyoos Larose’s Le Grand Vin, a solid Bordeaux-style blend (merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot) produced in the Okanagan Valley, whose 2004 vintage sells for just above 40 dollars at SAQ. It’s a great example (more…)

Smoke gets in your wine

An article published on the Australia Broadcasting Corporation’s web site (rural section), reports that heavy smoke will affect the taste of grapes hanging on the vine and, in turn, the taste of wine produced from the grapes in question. I imagine the question is highly important for winemakers in a country subject to brush fires and, recently, record droughts.

Contrary to what the news item says, however, the study isn’t quite a first. With the intense forest fire season of 2003, the Okanagan Valley was (more…)