by Rose Murray Brown MW
(Published in The Scotsman 23 November 2013 )
Icewine is Canada’s most famous vinous export. Yet many do not realize, unless they visit Ontario or British Columbia, that Canada actually has over 500 wineries with a prodigious range of styles - and their icewine forms only a tiny percentage of what they produce.
The snag for UK wine lovers is that we rarely see the wines over here – and if we do they are not cheap and are hard to find. I recently organized the UK’s first Canadian wine masterclass with almost every Canadian wine for sale in the UK - including sparkling wines, dry whites, reds - and of course icewine - from Canada’s four main wine regions: Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
By far the best known and biggest region is Ontario. With a history dating back to 1811, when a retired German corporal planted American labrusca vines near Toronto, but it is only since the 1970’s that winemakers have focused on quality wines here. Now vitis vinifera grapes, rather than hardy American labrusca series or winter resistant hybrids, are the norm. Today Ontario’s 130 wineries across Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County focus on producing quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.
Historically Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment, the strip of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, has been at the forefront. Benefiting from its semi-continental climate moderated by the lakes which store up summer sunshine and breezes reduce humidity: our top Chardonnay came from this region made by Thomas Bachelder (pictured).
Bachelder is a Canadian journalist/turned winemaker who trained in Burgundy: now making wine in Ontario, Burgundy and Oregon. “Niagara’s Vineland with its dolomitic limestone and continental climate offers all the conditions for making complex sinewy wines”, says Bachelder. “The dead giveaway for blind tasters assessing Ontario against other wines, is their floral notes on aroma and palate”, he says.
Our top Pinot Noir was also from Ontario, but it comes from a fascinating new region Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario now emerging with 30 wineries and 50 vineyards – and expanding fast. Ex-Toronto sommelier Norman Hardie plants Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on limestone soils here with incredible success against the odds. They have more snow to contend with in winter months and have to bury vines to protect them. Our tasters particularly loved his Pinot Noir, which shows such potential here.
British Columbia is now really starting to make a name for itself. Rapidly expanding, currently at 3,965 hectares and 227 wineries (267 if you also include fruit wines too), with many of the beautiful fruit orchards along Okanagan Valley string of lakes now being converted to vines. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Riesling amongst the whites, Merlot and Pinot Noir amongst the reds are showing great potential. As many of the wineries are boutique family-owned with a growing tourist focus, few need to export their tiny production.
Jak and Janice Meyer’s family vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in Okanagan were the only representative from BC in our tasting – but their single vineyard Reimer Pinot Noir showed extremely well against Ontario competition - we hope to see more from here in the future.
Quebec’s wine industry is much smaller, with just 30 wineries around Dunham with fresh whites from Seyval Blanc and Riesling. Climatic conditions are a challenge here, but global warming may mean a shift towards this cooler region. The last region Novia Scotia now has a growing number of wineries too, with exciting emerging sparkling wine production here too.
CANADA TASTE TEST:
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: PELLER ICE CUVEE SPARKLING
(£25.80 bt Luvians, Cupar; Great Western Wine, Bath; www.winedirect.co.uk)
Made using the same grapes as Champagne and same method for creating the sparkle – with an interesting twist to the finish with a dosage of Vidal icewine. Vidal has a currant luscious feel which gives this fizz an unusual textural smoothness and sweet hint to the finish.
Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario: BACHELDER THE WISMER WINFIELD CHARDONNAY 2010
(£46.99 bt Lockett Bros, N Berwick; Fine Wine Company, Musselburgh)
Clear favourite in our tasting: Bachelder’s Burgundian training has served him well. A wonderful combination of plush richness of fruit, tight fliny stony minerality, delicate floral notes and carefully judged oak. Subtlety is the key here. Not cheap, but really worth a taste to show the quality of Canadian Chardonnay: serve it alongside a Meursault to see just how good it is. STAR BUY
Prince Edward County, Ontario: NORMAN HARDIE PINOT NOIR 2011
(£19.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
From a newly developed region, this Pinot shows what potential there is in Prince Edward County. Our tasters loved the complex aromas, broad mid-palate and subtle oak notes. Not a bad price for Canada compared to the competition. STAR BUY
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia: MEYER FAMILY REIMER VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011
(@£20 Ellis of Richmond)
From a steep north west facing slope near Kelowna, tiny production so snap up what is currently available of this beautifully-made dense ripe lush, but supremely elegant, Okanagan Pinot Noir.
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: LE CLOS JORDANNE VILLAGE PINOT NOIR 2009
(£29.99 Fine Wine Company, Musselburgh; Ellies Cellars, Dollar & Auchterarder; Deeside Drinks Emporium, Banchory)
Deep rich red fruits, minerally - with a distinct Burgundian textural feel – hardly surprising as this is made from a joint venture between Burgundian producer Boisset and Canadian firm Vincor.
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: PELLER RIESLING ICEWINE 2007
(£38.56 hf bt Morrisons; Luvians; www.winedirect.co.uk)
Andrew Peller’s Riesling icewine showed very well in our tasting for its purity of fruit and balance. I was surprised to find it in Morrisons supermarkets!
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: INNISKILLEN RIESLING ICEWINE 2008
(£53 hf bt Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; www.drinksdirect.co.uk)
Favourite wine of the whole tasting was from icewine pioneer Inniskillen: superb balance of rich citric fruits, sweetness and beautifully balanced acidity. Hefty price tag – but a lovely Icewine. STAR BUY