Taste Canada 2020

Taste Canada took place at Fare on Old Street this Monday. Westbury Communications laid on a tasting sponsored by the Government of Canada presenting many of the Canadian wines currently available in the UK along with a selection of producers looking for representation.

Having been out of the game, so to speak, for a couple of weeks due to a wonderful trip to Tromso followed by a less than wonderful cold, I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with Canadian wine. It’s a country I’m getting to know quite well now, and although the wines don’t get as much press as perhaps they ought to, there is no doubt that there’s plenty to get excited about. I think most (not all) of my fellow wine writers were off tasting the new Bollinger vintage, or Nyetimber, so perhaps you will at least find a few words to ponder over on a different, but no less deserving, part of the wine world here?

The line always goes that Canada’s wine regions, lying between thirty and fifty degrees of latitude north of the equator, find themselves geographically in the same zone as Europe’s vineyards. This has relatively little meaning when one considers the respective climates of the two continents, but perhaps this is no bad thing. Canada does have some unique terroirs, whether that be the Okanagan Valley in the west, or Niagara in the east. As Canadian wine develops there are plenty of new names we shall have to learn on top of these, currently just bubbling under the surface.

There have been good wines from Nova Scotia knocking around in the UK for a while, and to some extent Quebec as well (though Quebec may be better known for cider). Add into the mix Similkameen Valley (adjacent to Okanagan in BC), and Ontario’s Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County, and it becomes clear that Canada’s 30,000 hectares under vine produce an increasingly diverse array of flavours. The country currently boasts just over six hundred wineries, not a lot perhaps, but amongst that lot there’s plenty to get excited about. Twenty four of them are covered here.

A quick note about “VQA” might be in order. Canada has no uniform wine law, a job which has been left to individual provinces, and in the country itself many larger concerns bottle and sell imported wine on the local market. VQA is the broad equivalent of an AOP (appellation) in Europe, or AVA in the USA. As far as I am aware all Canadian wine imported into the EU is made from grapes grown in Canada. If you are visiting, then buying wine labelled from one of Canada’s VQA regions or sub-regions will ensure you are drinking wine made from Canadian grapes. Whether the situation might change in the UK in 2021 I have no idea. VQA is your guarantee.

I shall start with the seven unrepresented producers, all of which I think could find a place on the UK market. Then I’ll cover those who already have a foot in the door, some of whom will be known to a few readers. I only missed out one producer.

DOMAINE QUEYLUS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Champlain Charest is a famous Québécois restaurateur and noted wine collector, who started Queylus with other investors by planting an old apple orchard with vines on blue clay on Beamsville Bench, one of Niagara’s twelve sub-appellations denoted back in 2005. The winery is set back east of Silverdale, close to Fifteenmile Creek. Bordelais Alain Sutra is on board as viticulturalist, whilst dream team Thomas Bachelder and Kelly Mason make the wines. Queylus showed four of them.

I began with the Reserve Chardonnay 2017, a rich wine with 13.5% abv, an oak aged assemblage of the best barrels. Think weight and creaminess, but balanced by a nice, seemingly characteristic here, freshness. Next up Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017. We are used to tasting fabulous Cab Franc from BC, but this single site wine is fresh, mineral and fruity. It has pencil lead on the nose with blackcurrant fruit and a flinty crispness. Surely Cabernet Franc must become Canada’s signature red variety? There’s a splash of Merlot in the blend.

Grande Réserve Pinot Noir 2017 is above all perfumed. The fruit is mainly in the red spectrum with a darker undertone, and a mineral iron rich, perhaps ever so slightly meaty, seam beneath. The palate is velvet, doubtless made to age but very seductive. Finally we have the Grande Réserve Merlot 2017, off that Pomerol-like blue clay. There’s 14% Cabernet Franc in the mix, which perhaps adds the nice spice note. It’s mineral for Merlot but there’s plenty of rich plummy fruit (at 14% abv). I can’t really see these wines failing to be snapped up by a certain kind of importer. Classic wines.

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FLAT ROCK CELLARS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

This is a Twenty Mile Bench producer bang in the middle of the wider Niagara Escarpment at Jordan Station. Founded in 1999, the glass-encased hexagonal winery is a local landmark. Dave Sheppard, who trained at Inniskillin, came on board as winemaker for 2017, but the two wines shown here were older vintages.

Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2008 comes from the Twenty Mile Bench VQA. At 10.5% abv it shows citrus, pineapple and a touch of honey, with a mineral side as well. It has aged quite well (the current vintage is 2017). The same can be said of the Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013 from the same location.

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Hidden Bench Estate, founded in 2003, is on the Beamsville Bench close to the lake shore. The soils here are limestone/clay with glacial till, the latter adding a characteristic mineral edge to the wines.

The one wine shown was the relatively inexpensive Estate Chardonnay 2017 (£9.50 ex-cellars). Its bouquet was certainly more muted than the Queylus, but it showed nice, if quite simple and easy, varietal character. That comment is not meant to damn with faint praise. Some Canadian wines are ambitious, and ambitiously priced. Something affordable is not to be sniffed at if you are yet to get properly acquainted with these wines.

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LE CLOS JORDANNE (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

You may know the name. Jordanne was originally a collaborative venture between Burgundy’s Boisset and Canada’s Vincor. The project was shelved around 2012, but has been resurrected by Arterra (Vincor’s new incarnation), with 2017 being the first new vintage. Original winemaker Thomas Bachelder came back to make the wines in what Jordanne admit was a fairly wet and challenging vintage. He did pretty well.

Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017 comes from a vineyard just under the Escarpment at Jordan (labelled Beamsville Bench VQA). This has a little weight and real character, though I’d say it’s a little understated. That qualifies as elegance and class in this case. The fruit is definitely ripe, but the wine is more savoury than fruity, and is certainly textured. They call it their “Grand Cru”, from their best parcels. It’s a pretty impressive wine, yet only £11.33 (as listed) ex-cellars.

Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2017 has a vibrant colour and is a nice cool climate Pinot, elegant, quite long, and at a winning 12.5% abv it has bags of freshness and vivacity on the palate. On tasting these on Monday I get the impression that  Clos Jordanne is making a comeback at an advantageous price.

MEYER FAMILY VINEYARDS (Okanagan Falls, BC)

This is a new name to me. Situated in the south of the Okanagan Valley, yet north of the prime Golden Mile Bench, output is an artisanal 8,000 cases per year. They’ve been making wine here since 2006. The Old Main Road Chardonnay 2016 is from older vines, planted 1996, on the silt, loam and clay of the Naramata Bench. Viticulture is organic, and the wine is fermented in stainless steel before around eleven months ageing in oak (22% new). It tastes richly oaky, but retains freshness too. Balanced, but in the oak-influenced style. This “micro-cuvée” is part of the “Tribute Series”, in this case dedicated to Donovan Tildesley, a blind paralympic swimmer.

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UNSWORTH VINEYARDS  (Vancouver Island, BC)

Situated at Mill Bay in the Cowichan Valley, Tim and Colleen Turyk took over this small vineyard in 2009. Charme de L’Ile NV is the first wine I’ve tasted from Unsworth, and perhaps the first from Vancouver Island. It’s a simple Charmat Method sparkler made from Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignette, the latter also known as Epicure, a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and I’m not sure what else (because no one else seems to know definitively). It has a nice, if unusual, perfume and a simple, refreshing, linear acidity. If you like acidity, and maybe if you like the wines of La Garagista in Vermont, give this inexpensive wine a try. Assuming someone takes it on. They do also make a 100% Sauvignette (not shown).

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MARTIN’S LANE (Okanagan Valley, BC)

In the wilder northern half of the valley the soils are mostly volcanic and glacially eroded. Counter-intuitively, rainfall is very low. Winemaker Shane Munn describes this as winemaking on the edge, but from a terroir which yields intense fruit. Sime’s Vineyard Riesling 2015 comes from fruit grown around 425 metres asl. At 13% abv this strikes a bass note unusual for Riesling. It’s dry, rich and ripe. This despite the vineyard facing north on granite, but they do say that the Riesling is the last parcel to be picked each year.

Fritzi’s Vineyard Riesling 2015 is a single east-facing parcel at the foot of a dormant volcano with a lot of quartz in the soil, the vines being planted in 1990. There is an extra half gram of residual sugar (5.5g/l) and a whole extra per cent alcohol (14%). The nose is actually more classic Riesling than Sime’s, but the palate is richer and rounder, less mineral. Both wines see nine months on lees.

This pair of wines confuse me a little, but fascinate me in equal measure. They are difficult to judge on a sip or two and I’d be inclined to try them again. If imported I’d definitely give them a go. I think they have more to give. I’d say they are wines made outside of convention, outside of the box. Very interesting bottles.

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BACHELDER (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Thomas Bachelder’s own wines show the skills of one of Niagara’s best known winemakers. The second three wines here were described as a “tasting exclusive”, but the first is currently imported by Liberty Wines, David Gleave being known to enjoy giving us all the opportunity to try some of  the finest produce of his homeland.

Chardonnay 2017 was spontaneously fermented in oak barrels then aged for 18 months in the same. It’s a small lot wine, despite its general name, made from “old vines”. Smooth on the palate, yet with a crispness of acidity and texture as well.

Wismer Wingfield “Ouest” Chardonnay 2016, Twenty Mile Bench VQA is made from the latest ripening Chardonnay parcel which is furthest from the temperature-mitigating Lake Ontario. It also has the highest elevation and the longest hang time. The result in 2016 (a good vintage), depth, elegance and mineral texture. Tasty but will age.

Wismer Parke “Ouest Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2017, Twenty Mile Bench VQA comes off red soils on the Bench and is vinified and aged in neutral oak. The perfume really comes through, hauntingly beautiful. Another cool climate Pinot which is nicely judged. There’s a hint of tannin in there, but gentle fruit as well.

Niagara “Les Villages” Gamay 2017, Twenty Mile Bench VQA was both a surprise and a treat. You don’t see much Canadian Gamay, but when you do it is almost always very good. This is pale with ripe cherries smacking the nostrils. It’s Gamay with punch and a mineral texture as well. Something a little different, probably what drew me to it.

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BENJAMIN BRIDGE (Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia)

Benjamin Bridge is generally acknowledged as the leading producer of bottle fermented sparkling wines in Nova Scotia, where only a little over four hundred hectares are planted to vines. Although the province can be extremely cold, a wine reputation, especially for fizz, is being forged, in particular where the Bay of Fundy moderates those extremes. Benjamin Bridge does have some of the province’s favoured hybrids, but they are increasingly garnering success with the traditional Champagne varieties as well.

Brut NV blends L’Acadie, one of those widely planted hybrids, with Seyval Blanc (once beloved of English winemakers), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s bottle fermented, seeing three years on lees and dosed at 11g/litre. The tech sheet also suggests that you’ll find a decade of vintages in the blend. The bouquet is interesting, dominated by floral scents. It’s quite mouthfilling with a little weight (you’d guess a higher dosage than much Champagne), but it will make a nice aperitif.

Brut Reserve 2012 is based on 63% Chardonnay with 25% Pinot Noir and 12% Meunier. The must is mostly fermented in stainless steel, but 10% is fermented in old oak barrels. The wine spent four years on lees with blocked malolactic, and was dosed at 12g/l. High dosage and no malo makes an interesting combo. Fresh, direct, acids are prominent but thirst quenching and overall it is well balanced. This won’t be cheap retail but it is a lovely wine, again, especially if you are an acid hound.

Flint Wines is listed as importer, though this producer does not seem to appear on their web site at the moment.

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BURROWING OWL (Okanagan Valley, BC)

Another wholly new producer for me. This large looking winery is at Oliver, in the Valley’s southern reaches opposite Golden Mile Bench. It’s size can be accounted for by the attached restaurant and guest house. Completed in 1998, the vineyards are in a shrubby grassland known as “shrub-steppe”, a delicate ecosystem with a diverse wildlife (including bears, which are “discouraged” but never harmed). Some people call this part of the valley Canada’s only desert. The winery is state-of-the-art but is built with minimum intervention winemaking in mind.

I tasted two wines, both showing promise. Pinot Gris 2018 has a typical peardrop nose, clean and with a spicy finish, 13.5% alcohol adding a little richness. Pinot Noir 2015 was a step up for me. It has a deep, even moody, bouquet and is firmly in the savoury camp. It’s definitely balanced despite its 14.5% abv and has a good long finish. But you don’t always appreciate the effects of 14.5% when spitting.

Fairview Wines is the importer, an operation I’ve never come across before who appear to list thirteen wine agencies online.

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HENRY OF PELHAM (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

This is a fairly well known name based at the eastern end of the Niagara Escarpment and the two wines here might be described as an entry into Canadian wine. I’m guessing, from the labels, that the market might be restaurants and bars, for which they are well priced.

Sibling Rivalry White 2017 comprises 55% Riesling, 25% Chardonnay and 20% Gewurztraminer at a stated 11.8% abv. A lifted bouquet where you will notice a bit of “gewurz” spice gives way to a simple off-dry palate with a lick of acidity to balance. It’s well thought out in context. Sibling Rivalry Red 2017 is 65% Merlot with 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Gamay, fermented in stainless steel before seeing eight months ageing in American oak. It proclaims itself as “serious wine for the not so serious”. I’ll second the second claim, without comment on the first. It is well made, not complex, but there’s nothing at all negative in that observation. It was the most easy going red wine in the tasting, and it will have wide appeal. That’s good for Canada’s profile. I hope that Wine Rascals manages to sell lots of it.

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LE VIEUX PIN (Okanagan Valley, BC)

No, we’ve not switched to Saint-Emilion. Le Vieux Pin is another Okanagan producer based just south of Oliver in the Southern Okanagan. In fact the wines bear no resemblance to Saint-Emilion really. Ava 2018 is, well let’s say immediately, very nice indeed. 51% Roussanne, 36% Viognier and 13% Marsanne were aged seven months in a mix of  37% French oak barrels and puncheons (5% new), 38% stainless steel, and 27% in unlined concrete tulips. One of my favourite wines of the tasting, it has a savoury elegance but equally a bit of heft, especially at the finish. Twice-weekly batonnage has added a creamy smoothness and a touch of gras just short of oily. Herbal, but with yellow plum fruit, it is young now and I reckon could go five more years to a decade perhaps. About 1,700 cases made.

Petit Rouge 2018 is made from mostly Syrah and Merlot, with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, aged seven months in used French oak barrels and vats, and concrete tank. It’s smooth but savoury, will also go several years, but appears attractive from the off. About 1,100 cases.

Another Canadian import from Southeast London’s Flint Wines.

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OKANAGAN CRUSH PAD (Okanagan Valley, BC)

You all know my love of OCP’s wines (I write about, and certainly drink, them perhaps more than any other Canadian producer), and how I’m full of admiration for their minimal intervention winemaking. They have been leading the way in sustainability in Canada, but Christine and Steve, along with winemaker Matt Dumayne, don’t rest on their laurels and are always trying to do better. One wine which seems to get better every year is Haywire The Bub.

The Bub 2016 is actually named after one of several nicknames for Alison, Steve and Christine’s daughter. Later harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (a 50:50 blend) are sourced from Secrest Mountain, and from Summerland on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Fermented in concrete and stainless steel, lees ageing is very short and bottling takes place with no dosage added. This is dry, crisp, even austere, sparkling wine but with a floating lightness from the mousse. Made for oysters.

Haywire Waters & Banks Sauvignon Blanc 2016 also comes from the Summerland Vineyard and is whole bunch pressed into concrete tank, spending five months left undisturbed on lees. It has that characteristic OCP freshness, but with less acidity than many SB (and 13.5% abv), so that there’s also a rich fruitiness here too.

Haywire Gamay 2016 is the current vintage of one of my favourite OCP wines and has been for a long time. The grapes are sourced from two high elevation vineyards on Secrest Mountain farmed by Duncan Billing. The regime which winemaker Matt Dumayne employs here is gentle destemming, with whole bunches placed in both open top and sealed concrete fermenters. Ageing is in closed concrete Nico Velo tanks. Vibrant raspberry fruit has a plush velvet feel. The really interesting part comes on the finish, as texture and bite, a contrast to that fruit. I think Gamay fans should track this down whilst there’s still some 2016 around (with bottle age).

Graft Wine imports OCP.

PAINTED ROCK (Okanagan Valley, BC)

There was only one wine on show from this member of The Wine Treasury‘s portfolio, Estate Syrah 2015. It’s aged for 18 months in oak (30% new, 80% French and 20% American). They are aiming high in terms of ambition and price. The bouquet is herbal and peppery, with violets coursing through. It still tastes youthful, though certainly fruity. That mouthfilling fruit is underpinned by a whopping 14.5% abv (stated on label, the info sheet says 15%). That does worry me a little, but then I don’t habitually drink Napa Cabernet or Southern Californian Zinfandel. Those that do will take this in their stride, and to be fair one or two mostly North American writers have been pretty ecstatic about this (“spectacular” said Canadian Natalie MacLean). So don’t let me put you off.

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PELLER ESTATES (Niagara Peninsula)

Peller is always a good bet for quality sparkling wines with a bit of a twist to add interest. Ice Cuvée NV blends a classic 70% Chardonnay with 30% Pinot Noir which sees 30 months on lees before disgorging. The twist here is that the high dosage of 23g/l comes from 110ml of Icewine. The result is a cleansingly fresh wine, not extremely sweet despite the dosage because, as with German sweet wines, acidity keeps it in balance. It’s basically a frisky wine which hides a slightly voluptuous middle.

Ice Cuvée Rosé NV is based on a similar idea. The initial mix is 70% Pinot Noir, 26.5% Chardonnay and 3.5% Gamay. 10% of Cabernet Franc is added prior to tirage, with the wine spending just over a year on lees. This time a blend of Cabernet Franc and Vidal Icewine is added in place of a standard liqueur, leaving a residual sugar level of around 21g/l. Very pale pink, oddly this wine comes across to me as slightly sweeter than the white version (red fruits, which abound, I’m guessing as the reason), but it is still rapier sharp (perhaps its appeal to me lies in that tension between fruit and acid here). I find this quite thrilling in a hedonistic way and if you are looking for something different head over to Enotria Wines who is the importer.

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QUAIL’S GATE (Okanagan Valley, BC)

Three generations of the Stewart family are behind this winery, close to Westbank on Okanagan Lake’s west central shoreline. The Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2016 is barrel-fermented in a mix of used and new oak, but it’s not an especially oaky wine despite a chewy texture and toast. But there is a certain seriousness which goes with the restraint, a wine to age I’m guessing. You don’t always find elegance like this at 13.5% abv outside of Burgundy.

Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 has a profound nose, quite Burgundian, dare I say it. It is fermented in stainless steel, but sees eleven months ageing in French oak, a quite high 40% being new wood. The wine does push forward a bit, sort of in your face to start with, probably the 14% alcohol in part. On the palate you get smooth fruit, plus tongue-coating tannins. It’s another serious wine which I’m guessing may retail in the £50-£60 range. But for your money you’ll doubtless get something very promising once aged a few years in bottle.

Berkmann is the agent.

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STRATUS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Stratus is located at Virgil, towards the eastern end of the peninsula, and they presented two dry wines (and one Icewine, see below). Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016 is stainless steel fermented, coming out at 10.5% abv and with 22g/l residual sugar. From a dry, warm, vintage this blends tropical fruits, pineapple and lemon/lime citrus. It’s rich but the residual sugar is balanced by the acids, a wine to see out a decade at a guess.

Cabernet Franc 2016 is proof that Ontario can match BC for Cab Franc freshness. There’s an awful lot going on in the glass here. Violets, red and dark (cherry) fruits, deeper mocha and an ethereal leafinesse (sic) which wafts in, gently. It might not have the bite/acidity of some Okanagan CF, but it does have genuine depth.

Imported by Bibendum.

TAWSE WINERY (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Moray Tawse is pretty big on the Peninsula. As well as 200 acres of Tawse vineyards he has also started another project on the Escarpment, Redstone, along with a joint venture with Pascal Marchand (Marchand-Tawse) in Burgundy. Tawse Winery itself has been voted Canadian Winery of the Year four times in the past decade. The good thing about these wines is that they are quite competitively priced right now for the quality. The listed importer is H2Vin (most of these wines will be available by March this year), but a couple (along with the Burgundy wines) have been available through retailer Oddbins at £20. The wines are nicely packaged for the price.

Spark Tawse Blend 2016 is a traditional method sparkling wine which spent 12 months on cork, dosed at 11g/l. The blend is somewhat unusual, dominated by 44% Pinot Gris with 31% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. The PG adds a little weight and makes a genuine point of difference here. The bouquet is all honeysuckle freshness and I’d recommend this should be drunk now, not aged. About 4,000 bottles only.

Estate Chardonnay 2016 is only 12.5% abv. It comes from three biodynamically farmed blocks and indeed Tawse is one of Canada’s few actually certified biodynamic producers. This has a clean citrus nose without too much of the oak it was fermented and aged in coming through (presumably used oak?). As you let it sit on the palate some peach and lemon comes out. It’s a smooth wine with a little texture to add interest. You finish with a lick of salinity.

This isn’t earth shattering stuff, but boy, for twenty quid in Oddbins it would have been good. Oddbins was selling older vintages and I’m sure the price will have to have gone up a bit now via H2Vin, not least because of currency fluctuation. Oddbins seems to be currently listing the 2013 (can we trust their web site vintages?) and I’d be drinking this 2016, tasted on Monday, over the next twelve to twenty four months myself. But if I spot a 2013 I shall give it a go to discover whether it has the potential to age, as the 2016’s tech sheet suggests.

Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2017 is another wine peaking at just 12.5% abv. Black cherry, plum, a touch of spice…none of these wines are intended for long ageing, but to enjoy now. I think you will enjoy them.

WESTCOTT VINEYARDS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

This is another Chardonnay and Pinot Noir pair from the Vinemount Ridge sub-region (set back behind Beamsville Bench). Westcott is a small winery making six wines from two varieties. Estate Chardonnay 2018 (they also make a step up Reserve of each variety) saw eleven months in oak and came out at just 12.5% abv. Smooth, quite rich surprisingly, this is an attractive wine at an attractive price, perhaps closer to what Tawse used to cost. Quince, baked apple, cinnamon spice, it’s not your straight fruity number.

It is partnered in Daniel Lambert‘s portfolio with the Estate Pinot Noir 2016, a cherry fruited pale Pinot, perfumed with a savoury lightness, but it isn’t lacking in substance. The lighter side sits on a firm foundation underpinned with a little grip. Again, plenty of flavour in here.

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THE ICEWINES

It’s always a treat at the end of a Canadian tasting to linger through the ice wine category, what used to be Canada’s signature wines in the distant past. The problem is that whilst I always enjoy tasting them, I almost never buy them. This is a problem because importers admit to me that they are not easy to sell. As one said recently, there’s a reason they come in halves. They are not cheap and at the entry-level most people taste, they are not that complex either. That said, they are unquestionably lovely wines, though my own palate prefers (oddly) the reds, usually made from Cabernet Franc, or those with more acidity. Perhaps it’s because I am more used to the higher prädikat wines from Germany?

INNISKILLIN has always been the big name in Niagara for this style. We begin with the Gold Vidal Icewine 2017, made from the hybrid crossing of Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano Toscano) with Seibel 4986. Aptly described as a winter-hardy variety it can take the low temperatures required for ice wine whilst still amassing plenty of sugar. This is sweet and unctuous, yet hardly complex. But it is a classic, and if not cheap, at least priced as a way into the genre. Abv is 9.5%.

Their Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017 is more expensive (over £50/375ml to trade) but it adds another layer of balance. Less voluptuous, less purely hedonistic, it’s more elegant and ultimately way more interesting for me. I’d even go as far as to say exciting!

Contact Liberty Wines.

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PELEE ISLAND WINERY is further south in Ontario, on Lake Erie, and part of the South Islands VQA. It’s warmer down there than Niagara (all relative in winter here) thanks once more to the Lake effect. Their Vidal Icewine 2016 has an extra year in bottle over the Inniskillin, half a degree more alcohol, and less sugar (230 g/l as opposed to 256 g). That gives a hint more acidity but a touch less richness, so it depends on what you prefer. My own preference…

Contact Hallgarten.

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PELLER ESTATE (yes, lots of Canadian estates, especially producers of Icewine, seem to begin with a “P”) takes us back to the Niagara Peninsula. Their Vidal Icewine also takes us back to 2017, but with a sugar level lower than the previous pair of Vidals (210 g/l). Deep pineapple and peach aromas charm. It’s still pretty sweet, a sweetness which seems almost tactile because there’s a bit of texture evident on an otherwise pure honey and lemon palate.

Peller also showed a Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017. It has a slightly higher abv (11.5%) and just 206 g/l r/s. Whilst 90% of the juice was fermented in stainless steel, 10% neutral French oak perhaps adds an extra dimension. Whatever the case, this is a nice wine, much to my taste. Pure and vibrant, but with a lighter sweetness than the Vidals, it makes for a genuinely lovely wine. But at £40/half bottle trade price, it’s out of my league, I’m afraid. No wonder these wines are less well known than they deserve. The significant fall in the value of sterling cannot help.

Our first Riesling Icewine (2017) has a very interesting bouquet and I’d not necessarily guess Riesling. It has the same rich smoothness as the Peller Vidal, but with a little more structure/spine. The finish has a pleasant lingering bite which I’ve not experienced with Vidal wines.

Enotria is the importer.

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REBEL PI is unusual. First, it’s from Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, which is not a source for very much Icewine, and secondly it is made from Roussanne. I wrote more extensively about this wine at 2019’s Canada House Tasting (see here). It is a private label owned by Janet Fast, but made at Pentâge (yet another P) south of Penticton at the southern end of Okanagan Lake, one Okanagan winery which is noted for its Icewines. Last year I tasted the same vintage so I don’t know whether Janet has created another vintage since, but this remains interesting, if priced with tremendous ambition (£55/half bottle, trade price). You can read more detail by following the link above, but it is nicely made with fresh tropical fruit flavours dominant. I think retail you may be looking at £140/half bottle.

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STRATUS made our final Icewine. Their Riesling Icewine 2017 carries through the quality of their dry wines (tasted earlier). From Niagara-on-the-Lake (which isn’t exactly “on the lake”, the Niagara Lakeshore sub-region intervening between), it comes out at 12% abv and only 121 g/l r/s (a notably less sweet profile). The wine has more of a line and spine, and definitely less fat, than some of its cousins. For Icewine, I’d even call it refreshing, to a degree. At least there’s something more than just sweetness. Perhaps it is just sweetness that true lovers of Icewine look for? But for me, this is a plus point.

Bibendum is the agent for Stratus.

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CONCLUSIONS

With approaching fifty wines mentioned here, you don’t want any lengthy analysis to drag this out longer, but I hope you enjoyed reading my cursory notes as much as I enjoyed tasting the wines. There were plenty I’d buy. I know, some will say that too many are in the so-called classic mould. I think Canada is at the beginning of her wine journey and in this respect it is good to see a wider range of styles than some other young wine producing countries might throw out. We do have biodynamics, we do have minimum intervention, and most wineries are thinking about sustainability. Low intervention winemaking is becoming a buzz phrase, whatever that actually means.

We are also seeing more regions making good wine. Perhaps this tasting, with a focus mostly on Okanagan and Niagara, does not wholly illustrate this. But it is clear that if Niagara lagged behind British Columbia for dry wine once, that is hardly the case now. In fact I’ve seen Niagara stealing the “freshness” descriptor from Okanagan, where Cabernet Franc can be unbeatably fresh.

The tasting also shows a wider range of varieties being trialled, even if there’s a tendency to think Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the ones to capture the market. The aforesaid Cabernet Franc can be world class, but Gamay is also interesting. Producers should note the renaissance in Beaujolais’ fortunes when looking at what to plant. And Riesling? It may not be as popular as Chardonnay, but it’s certainly as good when planted on these glacial cool climate terroirs.

We really ought to be taking a closer look at Canada. The wines do have the disadvantage of being a little pricey, perhaps, but you have to pay for quality. If we are unlucky enough to see tariffs imposed on wines from Europe in 2021, then they may begin to look better value. But whilst the best are without doubt expensive, this tasting surely proved that not all Canadian wines are beyond the pocket of ordinary vinous explorers. There are bottles here that could provide a nice entry into Canadian wine.

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About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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1 Response to Taste Canada 2020

  1. Mark Carrington says:

    I really like the Haywire SB ’16.
    I shared a bottle with a Canadian winemaker in Burgundy (no, not the really famous one). Mischievously, it was served blind. No one identified the country.
    Tucked away is their Pinot Noir ’16, which may be used in a similar way.
    As for Canadian Icewine……the prices have become toppy.

    Liked by 1 person

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