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Oh, Canada!

With Canada Day just around the corner, let’s talk Canadian wine. Practically speaking, we are limited to Ontario, as little else is available here. In the case of B.C.
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With Canada Day just around the corner, let’s talk Canadian wine. Practically speaking, we are limited to Ontario, as little else is available here.

In the case of B.C., this is unfortunate, as their thriving industry, centered in the Okanagan Valley, produces some excellent wines. Inter-provincial trade in wine is discouraged, as provinces protect not only their own wine industries, but also their profits.

The Federal government is finally acting to allow the inter-provincial purchase of wine. It intends that anyone in one province can purchase wine from another province and have it delivered to them. The provinces are taking the stance that this new legislation allows individuals to “carry” up to a case of wine from one province to another. This doesn’t allow for shipping. Fat lot of good this does for us, unless we just happen to drive by B.C. when we’re out for groceries…

I believe the provincial governments are fighting a losing battle. Wineries in B.C. will ship to Ontario now, and it will be interesting to see if any legal challenges succeed. .

Currently there are few B.C. wines on the general list in town. Jackson-Triggs has an Okanagan Valley Merlot at $16. Mission Hill’s 5 Vineyard wines feature a Sauvignon Blanc for $14.95 and a Pinot Noir for $16.45. These wines are moderately priced, but in the absence of an independent review, I leave it to you if you want to try them.

Mission Hill is the one B.C. winery well represented in Ontario. Also available in the vintages section on Great Northern Road are the Reserve versions of their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. They range in price from $19.95 to $23.95.

I have enjoyed the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. They demonstrate why B.C. wines have such a good reputation, and why they win so many Canadian wine awards.

For all practical purposes, when we talk Canadian wine, we talk Ontario. Our wines are what they call “Cool Climate”. They resemble European wines more than those from California or Australia.

Consider Angel’s Gate Gewürztraminer. At $!3.95, this is a great match for Asian dishes. We served it recently with a chicken satay and peanut sauce, and it was really pleasing. This Gewurz’ is just off-dry, but aromatic with spice, peach and “lychee nut” on the palate – lychee being a benchmark descriptor for this wine.

Angel’s Gate tries to express the true character of the grape in its wines. In style, it resembles the wines of Alsace, where Gewurztraminer puts its best foot forward. In contrast, California’s Fetzer Gewurztraminer, $11.95, is much sweeter, with 32 grams of sugar per litre compared with 6 for Angel’s Gate. My preference is for the home-grown wine.

Cool climate” impacts on the wine produced in several ways. There is a long, slow, ripening period which is great for flavour development, with lower alcohol and more acidity. There are often more herbaceous flavours, more earthy, mineral characteristics. It’s a fresher style, perhaps more elegant, more balanced.

A trade-off in Ontario is that sometimes the grapes don’t ripen to the degree desired. Some varieties like Shiraz, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon can be tricky here. Conversely, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay do well.

Ironically, although Shiraz is a warm-climate varietal, the top 2011 Shiraz in Australia was a cool climate example from Tasmania. Likewise, late-ripening Malbec, a French grape from the area near Bordeaux, really gives its best performance in Argentina where the growing season is longer and altitude offsets the heat.

Niagara hosts the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration from July 20 to 22 this summer, with 50 producers from all over the globe participating. There will be lots of seminars and lots of good wine. Check out the options at coolchardonnay.org.

Niagara is the main growing region in Ontario, though there are a few wineries – most prominently Pelee Island Winery - along Lake Erie east of Windsor. Prince Edward County at the eastern end of Lake Ontario has seen significant development in the last decade.

At one time, a big percentage of Ontario wines were made from Hybrid grapes, crosses between the noble grapes of Europe and the native North American vines. Over the last couple of decades the great European varieties have dominated, but some distinctive types are still grown.

Baco Noir is quirky but appealing. With jolts of acidity and notes of cedar, leather, and sour cherry, it is a refreshing red, well matched for pasta dishes with red meat sauces as well as roasts and steaks.

There are three good, inexpensive Bacos in all our stores – Henry of Pelham from Niagara at $13.95, Sandbanks from Prince Edward County at $14.95, and the Pelee Island version for $10.95. They are refreshing like Gamay, but have a tarter, more rustic flavour. I say try them all.

In checking out Ontario wines, you’ll notice many labeled VQA. This refers to the Vintners’ Quality Alliance. If the capsule on the neck of the bottle is black with gold lettering, the wine was made entirely from Ontario grapes. If the capsule is gold with black lettering, then the grapes were grown exclusively by the producer.

You can find a great whack of “Canadian” wines labeled “International Blends”. These wines contain a small percentage of Canadian wine, blended with wine purchased in bulk from abroad.

About 10 years ago, a deadly winter in Niagara damaged the vines heavily. With little hope for significant production, wineries were allowed to create these international blends. Reif, which makes excellent Rieslings, went so far as to contract with producers in Germany to grow the grapes to their specifications to ensure consistency with what they produced normally.

Currently there are 80 wineries in the Niagara Region with many of them represented on the shelves in our stores.

Among the wines I like is “Simply White” from Stoney Ridge, a tasty $12.95 blend from the same winery that offers the great value Stoney Ridge Warren Classic Chardonnay at $16.95.

Wild Ass White, $19.95, is an intriguing mix of Semillon, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and late-harvest Riesling. “Wild Ass” is a second label from Stratus, one of Ontario’s premium wineries. There, they follow the process of Assemblage in creating the blend each year for their flagship wines. Having tasted blind dozens and dozens of possible combinations, they settle on what will be the Stratus Red and Stratus White for that vintage.

Those wines retail fro $44.20. Expensive, but the price is justified with a wine of exceptional quality and depth in the classic European style. Often, some really good wine doesn’t make it into the blend for that year. Such is the case with the Stratus Merlot, $42.20. A beauty of a wine, this will age well for the next 10 years.

Other wines surplus to the blend are used in creating “Wild Ass” with the distinctive result mentioned above. The Wild Ass Red, also $19.95, using 6 of the classic grapes of France in the blend, is a very good wine for the price.

We’re just scratching the surface here, but that just means there will be more to consider in the future. Ontario makes good wines. Try them.