The Wine Passport to Canada: Tasting my way from East Coast to West Coast

Wine Event Poster 2016 03 25 3x5The word’s out: Canada makes more than just good Icewine. In fact, Canada makes lovely sparkling wines, beautiful table wines that range from powerful and bold reds, sexy roses, complex and elegant whites, dry, off-dry, sweet and even fortified wines. Have you heard that they’re even making wine in Nova Scotia? Believe it, Canadian wine is a thing and it’s here to stay. In fact, some Canadian wines are making quite a splash in the wine world. But try telling this to the average Canadian wine consumer because when I mentioned I was going to a Canadian wine tasting, I was met with some rather hesitant and suspicious stares. I was told to “be nice with our wines, they are nothing like European wines.”

Disappointing reaction, I will admit, but somewhat expected. As Canadians we ooh-and-aah about Italian, French, California or Argentine wines, and fork out a pretty penny at that too, but somehow Canadian wines just don’t make the cut. In fact, we’ve come to believe that Canadian wines are just, well, “nice” (a very politically correct Canadian response). It’s nice to see them on the liquor store shelf, nice to know that some restaurants and wine bars carry them, and nice to visit Niagara or PEC region every now and then (the countryside is beautiful this time of year, they say). And while we appreciate our fellow Canucks who are out planting, pruning, harvesting and making wine in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec or Nova Scotia – unbeknownst of the extreme conditions it comes to making these wines – well, they’re just not nice enough to buy. We are, in fact, wine snobs. Looking out instead of in.

In such a massive country as this one, it’s easier to score a Hungarian wine at the liquor store than it is from Nova Scotia (we can add to this mix restrictive provincial liquor laws that make this even more difficult). So when you’re given the opportunity to taste your way through Canada, I say, bring it on. Once again, I hit the road. A beautiful summer day but a busy drive from Toronto to Picton, ON I was quite happy to trek it all the way out to the county for The Wine Passport to Canada tasting.

The Wine Passport to Canada, held this past Saturday July 16, 2016 in Picton, Ontario, was the opportunity to explore the Canadian wine scene. With over 700 wines, ciders and meads from 200 different wineries it was a wine lovers delight. The wines were sourced from the All Canadian Wine Championship, explained Bev Carnahan, Director of the ACWC and Wine Passport to Canada organizer, and it was the perfect opportunity to try some wines that aren’t easily accessible in Ontario. With an entry of $30 for 10 tasting samples, with proceeds going to the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation and the Rotary Club of Picton, it was a win-win situation for any wine lover. Held at the Crystal Palace from 4pm to 8pm, 22 tables set up through the building had over 15 to 20 different wines to sample. In attempts to get equal attention to all regions and provinces wines were set up randomly at each table. As such, you could explore Canadian wines, from the East to West coast and everything in between, all in one table. Lovely Rotary Club volunteers were also there to pour, discuss and recommend wines if you were looking for one particular style, region or award-wining wine. With a huge selection such as this one it was great snapshot of what’s happening in the far corners of this country. Furthermore, the range of styles and grape varieties showed a clear commitment by Canadian wine producers to make top-quality wines. Innovation, investment, skill, labour, knowledge, experimentation, and of course, passion were all present at the event. While there were some misses, which is to be expected at any tasting, and some curiosities such as a raspberry/blackberry wine from New Brunswick, there were also some spectacular gems. I sampled some lovely whites from Nova Scotia, elegant sparkling wines from Quebec and Ontario, luscious and rich Icewines from Ontario and BC, but by and large, I was quite fascinated with the selection and quality of BC table wines. Below you can find some tasting notes of the wines that stood out for me.

At its second year running The Wine Passport to Canada had a good turnout and made for a pleasant trip through beautiful Prince Edward County. However, I was little surprised that people weren’t smashing windows and bursting through the Crystal Palace doors to get it and get some of that Canadian wine. Maybe next year.

For more information on the Wine Passport to Canada, here is link to their website: http://www.winepassporttocanada.com/

Some of my favourites:

Huff Estates Cuvée Peter F Huff 2011 Sparkling Wine, Méthode Traditionnelle, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Very impressed with this elegant sparkling wine. Subtle yet lively aromas of red apple, citrus and yeast escape the glass. Bright, fresh acidity that balances out the smooth, creamy texture. The palate has less fruit and more yeasty character with lots of toastiness on the finish. Really great. 12.5% abv

L’Orpailleur Brut Sparkling Wine, Méthode Traditionnelle, Quebec

A blend of Seyval Blanc and Vidal grapes, this sparkling wine is lively, fresh and elegant. Pale lemon colour with fine bubbles. The nose is of green apples, lemon and minerality. The palate is refreshing with delicate bubbles, citrus and minerality with some yeasty flavour. 12% abv

Domaine St Jacques Pinot Gris 2015 Quebec

Pale lemon colour. Nose showing red and green apples, stone-fruit and some floral. The palate is dry with crisp acidity and fresh stone-fruit character. 13% abv

Jost Vineyards Tidal Bay 2014, Nova Scotia

White blend of L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval, Vidal and some Geisenheim, it has pale straw colour.  Quite the aromatic nose floral at the forefront and undertones of peaches and citrus. On the palate there was more floral flavour with some minerality, light bodied with good acidity, hint of sweetness and nice long finish. I quite liked this. Very good.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars Viognier 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Lots going on with this Viognier, which makes it exciting. Aromatic nose that is smooth and not overpowering. Ripe stone fruit, some tropical fruit too, slightly floral and even a bit of stoneyness. The palate is dry with good weight and body. Delivers lots of fruit with tangy, spicyness and slight bitterness (in a good way) at the end. 13.5% abv

Tightrope Winery Pinot Gris 2015, Naramata Bench, BC

Lovely nose on this Pinot Gris: peach, pear and some apple. The palate is off-dry, round with fresh acidity, same fruit as the nose and the slight sweet finish. Very good.

Lunessence Sauvignon Blanc Muscat 2015 BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Mmm, so very nice! Light straw yellow color, elegant nose of peach, white flowers and slightly sweet aroma. The palate is dry, round and smooth. Lovely flavours of grapefruit, green apple, peach and some grass on the finish. 13% abv

The View Gewurztraminer 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

This was so lovely. Pale peach colour with a seductive nose of white flowers, peaches, sweetness and sandy aromas. The palate is off-dry with roses and tropical fruit playing together quite beautifully.  Good acidity from start to finish, medium-bodied and finish that keeps you wanting to go back for more. Beautiful Gewurztraminer 14% a.b.v.

Domaine St Jacques Pinot Noir 2014, Quebec

Pale, bright ruby colour. Spicy and toasty notes are perceptible immediately and then the red cherry comes to the forefront. A slight hint of matchstick, which keeps things interesting. On the palate, fruit-forward with red cherry and licorice. Tannins are smooth and finish is bit short. I felt like this one requires another tasting.

Tightrope Winery Pinot Noir 2014, Naramata Bench, BC

Nice pale ruby-red colour. The nose is lovely and playful with red cherry, strawberry, vanilla, and oak aromas. The palate is spicy, medium bodied, licorice, strawberry, dark cherry flavours present. Firm but integrated tannins. 12.8% abv

Ciao Bella Pinot Nero 2014, Okanagan Valley, BC

A very pale cherry red colour. The nose is warm and has inviting aromas of red cherry, pepper and oak. Initially the palate has a bit of bite and power, but once it mellows out the red fruit and spice come to the front and wood notes linger at the back. Smooth, velvety tannins add to a lovely ashy, smoky finish. 13.9% abv

Anthony Buchanan Wines Pinot Noir 2014 Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Medium ruby colour, quite deep for a Pinot Noir. The nose is wonderful: black and red cherry, raspberry,  and smokiness. The palate has good structure with firm tannins, medium body, well-balance between fruit, spice and wood flavours with lingering tannins at the end. Really quite nice.

Robin Ridge Cabernet Franc 2013, Similkameen Valley, BC

Medium to deep cherry-red colour. The nose is bursting with aromas of blackberries, black cherries, coffee and sweet spice. Soft but noticeable tannins on the palate with blackberry, licorice and some herbal notes. Medium bodied with balanced acidity. Very good.

Black Widow Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, BC

The nose has juicy raspberry and blackcurrant aromas with some spice. On the palate, cocoa, raspberry flavours with lingering earthy, herbal tones. Bold, powerful and good structure with muscular tannins. Still quite young and would be great to age this a bit more.

Poplar Grove Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Really enjoyed this one. Deep cherry red colour with a nose that offers beautiful ripe red fruit, black plums and spice. The palate is powerful with great complexity, red and black fruit complimented by black pepper, vanilla and some waxy tones. Medium acidity with tannins that are noticeable but give structure and add to a wonderful finish. Great depth and good one to age 13.5% abv

Cedar Creek Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Deep beautiful purple-ruby. The nose is as intense as the colour with black and red berries, ripe red fruit, black pepper, and slight meatiness. Bold dark fruit flavours on the palate, full-bodied with firm tannins. Still young but lots of ageing potential here.

Magnotta G. Marquis The Silver Line Vidal Icewine 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Seductive aromas of pear, peach and a bit of waxiness. Palate shows the same fruit but slightly more candied and honeyed. Quite sweet but with good acidity to balance it out. Good finish 9.7% abv

Le Flanc Nord Verger & Cidrerie, QC 2012 CIDRE DE GLACE

A cider from Quebec, medium golden in colour. The nose is exciting and enticing: ripe red apple with sweet spice and cinnamon oozing from the glass. The palate is rich and quite sweet but with enough acidity to avoid cloying sweetness. Very smooth finish.

Lunessence Riesling Icewine 2014, Okanagan Valley

Another beautiful wine by Lunessence Winery, this Icewine is rich but focused and balanced.  Nose of orange, apricots, some honey and I even detected herbal/medicinal notes in the background. High acidity balances out the sweetness and flavours of honey, nuts and fruit dance together in a long pleasant finish. 9% abv

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