Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow


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Canada’s wine business is booming. To what do we owe this present day Renaissance of pleasant surprise and coast to coast quality? Passionate industry professionals for sure. We can thank the winemakers, marketing specialists, expatriate wine pros arriving in droves and especially the expert farmers and growers. A sea of grape-driven humanity, forging a template of success but also working together, towards a common goal.

Above all else, the rainbow’s fulcrum is the “somewhereness” of Canada’s wine regions. Terroir is the great catch word for wine. A vine’s home determines its potential, its structure, its sense of place. Micro-climates, soil, geology, altitude, slope and vegetation all contribute to the make-up of a wine forged from that specific parcel, lot or locale. If you are from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria or anywhere else where wine has been made for centuries, well then there is nothing new or revelatory about this train of thought. If you are from Nova Scotia, British Columbia or Ontario, the discussion exudes relevance.

Thanks to Robert Bell’s Wines in Canada, we have a great understanding of our vinous roots across the country. Johann Schiller, a German who served with the 29th Regiment of Foot in Quebec in 1784, is considered to be the father of the Canadian Wine Industry. Some of the first grape vines in Canada were planted in Nova Scotia in the 1600s. Today the maritime climate of the Gaspereau Valley is the catalyst behind a host of terrific Sparkling wines. In B.C. the Okanagan Valley is king. Defining geology and terroir in its sub-appellations is neither easy nor much discussed (as compared to Ontario), yet the wines of the sun-drenched shelf of land on the eastern slopes of Lake Okanagan’s Naramata Bench are surely ready to explode onto the scene.

It was nothing less than fortuitous for me to taste a Naramata Bench gem at the hands of a generous dinner guest. Without the tie of an unobstructed coast to coast railway carrying wine to and fro, Canadians are mostly shut out from their out-of province wine brethren and sistren. The most glaring unifying obstacle is the issue of guarded provincial borders. Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek in B.C. shouts this out loud:

Ontario’s scene is bursting with kinetic and frenetic energy. If you are a disbeliever just check out Ontario Wine Chat or, or better yet, head on down to Cuvée 2013 this coming weekend. For a comprehensive look at our province, make sure you read A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines by Konrad Ejbich. The discourse concerning somewhereness in Ontario is in full swing. In October of 2012 I wrote, “Character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. The future looks very bright for Ontario [wines].”

Reds from significantly warmer sub-appellations on the Niagara Peninsula, specifically Niagara River, Four Mile Creek & St David’s Bench, speak of their cozy abodes. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, varietals that benefit from extra hang time, are not only showing promise but excellence, especially in optimum climatic years like 2007, 2010 and waiting in barrel, 2012. Forgive me for waxing neo-nostalgic but welcome to the golden age. Here are four currently available Canadian wines to look for.

From left to right: Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2010; Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011; Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009; Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2009

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: H of P has been working this Burgundian grape in so many styles, from so many vineyards

The lowdown: From another up and coming Niagara appellation, the Short Hills Bench

The food match: Grilled Halibut, olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme, lemon emulsion drizzle

Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2010 (268342, $19.95) is the best one yet. Some A16 but in a breezy, over the falls, misty wash. Like Riesling in a way, especially considering the Bench minerality. Sweet, creamy palate. Good stuff.  88

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: From the team of Grape King Curtis Fielding and winemaker Richie Roberts, 100% Niagara Peninsula grown grapes including fruit harvested from the estate vineyards

The lowdown: The Five Rows (Lowery) Vineyard is fast becoming THE go to terroir for the best possible red grapes in all of the Niagara Peninsula

The food match: Grilled Dry-Rub Butterflied Chicken, bbq sauce glaze

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011 (Approx. $21) has to be the best yet from @RichieWine. From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. 90  @FieldingWinery

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Prince Edward County’s iconoclast. Norman Hardie is “possessed of a will to hunt down the object of his life.”

The lowdown: French vines, limestone soils, unmistakable kiss from Mr. Hardie

The food match: Shrimp and Coconut Étouffée, peas, kale

Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009 (184432, $35, SAQ, 11638501, $38.75) rocket launches spatially atomic as a bound, caryopsis hurtling of mineral schist, tangy stone fruit and smoking kernel. Angles to a vanishing point, laser perspective. Will realize a unique and defined vinous exegesis. Cosmic expression of Chardonnay out of Prince Edward County. 91  @normhardie

The grape: Syrah

The history: Alex Nichol was the first to commercially plant Syrah in the Okanagan in 1989

The lowdown: From a Naramata Bench vineyard owned by Ross Hackwith on a pocket of land tucked against steep, heat-radiating red granite cliffs

The food match: Braised Beef Short Ribs, coffee infused demi-glace

Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2009 ($35) is unquestionably the heftiest 12% you will ever experience. Cool climate Syrah, Northern Rhône meets Victoria (Oz) dare I say, nidorous, smokey, a quenched fire. Dark chocolate covered black olives. Stonking resolve, Naramata nerve, stirring. Oh.  91  @nicholvineyard

Good to go!

One comment on “Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow

  1. […] 2013 I wrote about Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow. “Above all else, the rainbow’s fulcrum is the “somewhereness” of Canada’s wine […]

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