When most of us think of agriculture in Canada we imagine cows, pigs, chickens, fields of grain or corn. Grapes, not so much. But vineyards are farms, with viticulture and wine making the delightful end game, and Canadian grape-growers and winemakers are racking up the wins at home and abroad.
The latest numbers from the Wine Council of Ontario (2015) show Canada has 548 wineries, with 29,980 acres of land under vine, and that ain’t chicken feed! So we thought it was high time to bring you some information about Canada’s wine scene.
Oh, but it’s not just wine Canadian agricultural entrepreneurs are making headlines with – micro-brews, designer hops, distilling sake and award-winning ryes, and yes, cannabis – crafty Canadians are doing it all, doing it well, and the world is taking note.
As food editor I just didn’t feel right tempting you with tasty recipes and not offering you a drink, so please meet my friend, Sommelier Rebecca Meïr. She’ll be sharing her discoveries and thoughts on the Canadian wine and spirits landscape, with profiles of winemakers making a difference, to suggestions for the best bubbles for special occasions and weeknight supper sippers. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about one of the most exciting sectors of Canadian agriculture pioneered by a brave few, with accolades hard-won, and an international reputation on the rise. Canadian viticulture and viniculture is something we can all raise a glass to.
Cheers! Signe Langford
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Canada’s Sparkling Personality
Sip beyond Prosecco and Champagne; toast the New Year with local bubbles
Every young wine region is faced with skepticism. Take Napa Valley for instance; 50 years ago, not many predicted it would become the powerhouse region it has. But it did, and what it comes down to is making a quality product, and a few bold individuals to stand behind the wines and the unproven region, tirelessly demanding attention for its unique expression of terroir.
Canada is an extremely young wine region. In Ontario, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Vitis Vinifera – the noble vines cultivated for centuries in the Old World for making dry wines – were planted in place of the sweeter, indigenous grape Vitis Labrusca, or Fox grape. I’m the first to admit that Canada, as a winemaking nation, has a long way to go. Our winemakers are still experimenting with the land, trying to figure out what grapes grow best in what plots, and how to treat each variety in the winery. It’s simply unfair and unrealistic to compare our wines with Champagne or Barolo. They’re blessed with multi-generational winemakers, hundreds of years of collective experience, and much older vines with deep, deep roots.
Canada’s youth as a wine region is cause for prejudice among many wine aficionados and even some sommeliers. However, my approach is, Canadian terroir and the wines it produces are uniquely our own, and when you buy Canadian wine you’re not only purchasing a tasty alcoholic beverage, you’re also buying into a philosophy, you’re supporting a worthy industry, and you’re helping hard-working Canadian winemakers. In essence, you become part of this great experiment!
One of the biggest challenges facing cool climate wine regions, such as Ontario, is that not all grapes, in every vintage, ripen enough to bring out sufficient fruitiness, especially in very cold Prince Edward County. Champagne, France, famous for its sparkling wine, shares the same climatic challenge, and therefore focuses on making great sparkling wines, where acidity and freshness is key.
Internationally we are mainly known for our Icewine, not bubbly, which is silly, since our cool climate is perfect for creating really good sparkling wines.
This New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to proudly celebrate our own achievements. I’m on a mission to prove to all the naysayers that Canadian wines are on the way to greatness!
Of countless local sparkling wines I tasted, here are six high-quality wines I found to be the most intriguing expression of Canadian terroir.
Henry of Pelham, Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut Ontario $29.95 LCBO#: 217505
Leaning on tradition in both name and wine making technique, this sparkler was named in memory of Catharine Smith, Henry’s wife, and family matriarch. Crafted in the traditional method – the same method used in Champagne – where a second fermentation is created in each bottle, it’s a cuvée or blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Aged for more than 24 months on its lees – that’s the dead yeast and particles left after fermentation – it’s bready and round. The bubbles are mousse-y, soft, and creamy in texture; on the palate you can find notes of raspberry, papaya, and lime. This is a complex and loveable wine!
2013 Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc de Blancs ‘Carte Blanche’ $44.95 VINTAGES#: 315200
This is a higher end choice, perfect for more serious celebrations. Made with carefully selected, estate-grown Chardonnay, from Short Hills Bench, it’s aged for more than 54 months on its lees after a second fermentation, which brings out lots of toastiness and yeasty notes. It’s very fresh, deep and complex, with a pleasant minerality, and good balance between notes of toasted bread and yellow fruit. This is just the beginning of vintage sparkling wine for Henry of Pelham; I can see great potential here.
Château des Charmes, Blanc De Blancs 2014 $34.95 LCBO #423111
To create the ultimate cuvée, this vintage sparkling wine is made solely from Chardonnay grapes harvested from four different vineyards. Crafted in the traditional method and aged on its lees for at least 24 months, there is lots of personality in this wine. Taste a boost of yellow fruit, lemon zest and lemon juice on the palate with very fresh, crisp bubbles; only slightly yeasty, with a pleasant olive pit bitterness on the finish. Unique and enjoyable!
KEW Vineyards Blanc de Noirs 2013, Niagara Peninsula, $29.95 https://store.kewvineyards.com/2013-blanc-de-noirs.html
A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, this Brut style wine, sharp and crisp, was aged on its lees for three years. It’s a robust, bold sparkling wine, yet very fresh, with mousse-y bubbles and notes of black cherry, citrus, and apple. Boasting great acidity and good dryness, this wine has beautiful depth, yeasty notes, and great length. Good with main courses such as duck or quail. One of the more serious local sparkling wines I’ve tasted!
KEW Vineyards, Rosalie, Niagara Peninsula 2015
Named in honour of their proprietor’s mother, Rosalie. This rosé is made from Pinot Noir grapes, and while some winemakers achieve colour in rosés by adding reserved Pinot Noir wine, Kew’s winemaker goes the extra mile and extracts the colour directly from the grapes’ skins resulting in this beautifully soft salmon colour. This is a fresh wine with notes of raspberry, wild strawberries, and lime. It’s very lively, elegant, and quite beautiful, with good balance between acidity and fruitiness. The more I sip this wine the more I feel its length and complexity. Delicious, and great with salads and cheese dishes.
Hinterland Whitecap, Ontario 2017 $22.25 LCBO#: 332809
A playful cuvée of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Vidal, made using the Charmat method, where a second fermentation is done in a stainless steel tank. Think of it as a beer-style sparkling wine; it’s light and fruity with notes of baked apple, pear, pineapple, combined with rose water, white flowers, and some honey. Not only loveable, cheerful and fun, this wine is interesting and unique, so if you’re up for trying something a little different this is it!
With over a decade of experience in some of Canada’s top dining rooms – Canoe, Luma, and Maple Leafs Sport & Entertainment – Rebecca, continues to hone and broaden her keen palate. Satisfying her thirst for wine knowledge is a never-ending quest, and that’s a good thing, as she’s frequently invited to wine regions around the world, to explore, taste and judge. Still, all roads lead her back home to Canada, one of her favourite wine regions. Along with partner, Chef Eyal Liebman, Rebecca is co-owner of Chef & Somm, Toronto’s only bespoke private dining and sommelier service.