|March 07, 2007|
|A toast to Canada's wine regions|
|Now, this is diversity we should celebrate|
With my colleague Janet Dorozynski, I recently gave a course on Canadian wine at the Vendange Institute here in Ottawa. We aimed to survey Canada's wine regions from Vancouver Island to the Maritimes, and taste wines from as many as possible. Each evening the 20 people in the class tasted 10 to 12 wines, and by the end of the three sessions I think we all had a better fix on what Canadian wine is.
The immediate conclusion was that Canadian wine is many things. We tasted wines from areas as diverse as Salt Spring Island, Okanagan Valley, Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, the north shore of the St. Lawrence and the South Shore of Nova Scotia, and other wine regions in between.
The range of styles was vast, from big, fruit-forward reds from Okanagan to more astringent and well-made reds and whites from Nova Scotia. There were sparkling wines, Late Harvest wines and Icewines. There's a sense in which Canada is quite blessed with this diversity of regions, each having distinct climatic conditions. It allows Canada to produce wines in a wide variety of styles.
That's why it's sometimes depressing to see the not-always-friendly rivalry between British Columbia and Ontario, specifically between Okanagan Valley and Niagara Peninsula. The Okanagan Valley (especially the southern end) is warm and produces wines that are quite New World in style. Niagara Peninsula is cool, and the wines tend to have higher acidity in the style of Europe.
Each produces quite different styles of wine, so that they're more complementary than competitive. Can you imagine competition between, say, Alsace and Languedoc, or Sicily and Piedmont?
Some of the wines we tasted during the course really stood out. There was the 2003 Osoyoos Larose from Okanagan, a red Bordeaux blend that has achieved very high standards. We tasted that alongside a top-tier 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from Colio Estate in Lake Erie North Shore. Both showed very well and demonstrated the potential of both those regions for making stellar reds.
There was also an attractive Cabernet Severnyi (the first time I'd tried this variety) from Carone Vignoble in Quebec.
We also contrasted a 1995 and 2005 Cabernet Franc from Niagara's Henry of Pelham, and found that the 1995 has held up quite well. Oh, and we tasted Baby Duck too (as part of the historical section). You know, it would go very well with spicy Asian food.
As we went through the regions and their wines, I kept thinking how nice it would be if there were a truly "Canadian" section in the LCBO. But there are real obstacles to that. First, British Columbians drink just about all the wine made in their province, and there's hardly any left for export to the east.
As far as wines from Quebec and Nova Scotia are concerned, there are other issues, especially wine laws that guarantee things like the provenance of the grapes, the percentage of the declared (on the label) grape variety in the bottle, and so on. These are important considerations, and the sooner we get a national wine law the better.
In the meantime, "Canadian wine" will remain just a concept for far too many wine lovers.
Turning Leaf Chardonnay 2004 This is a very reliable California Chardonnay, vintage after vintage. It's not too complicated and simply delivers good solid fruit (peach, tropical) in a medium-weight, food-friendly style. Pair it with grilled chicken breast or roast chicken. Alcohol 13.5 per cent, $12.15 (409805)
Cave Spring Gamay 2005 From one of Niagara's most reliable producers, an excellent food wine that delivers bright cherry and berry fruit flavours with light tannins. This pairs really well with vegetarian pizza with fresh tomatoes. Alcohol 12.5 per cent, $12.95 (228569)
Cave Spring Cabernet Merlot 2004 This is a really pretty wine with well-defined fruit flavours (cherry and red berries) accented with spiciness and a touch of mint. It's medium-bodied, dry, and goes very well with roast or grilled lamb. Alcohol 12.5 per cent, $15.95 (407270)
Concha y Toro "Trio" Cabernet:Sauvignon-Shiraz-Cabernet Franc 2004 This Chilean blend delivers power-packed fruit with plenty of complexity and heft. Look mainly for dark fruit flavours with spice and black pepper. Full-bodied and dry with light tannins, it's a great match for any grilled red meat dish. Alcohol 14.5 per cent, $15.25 (433912).
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