O Canada!

On this day that we celebrate much about our country and reflect on the many things we still need to improve for many people who live here, I offer up a very Canadian, quiet and humble shout out to some of the things we do well in the world of wine.


Cool Climate Wines

I have written about our place in the group of cool climate wine regions before (The Importance of Being Cool) and although it may be difficult to reconcile that label with this hot and steamy summer we are in, we are indeed a cool climate when compared to many other wine regions in the world. What does this mean? Grapes grown in cooler climates get the benefit of ripening more slowly over the growing season and thus develop more flavours and complexity. Cool climate wines also have higher acidity, which makes them more balanced and better food pairing wines.

For fans of Chardonnay, a grape that expresses beautifully in cool climates, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (or I4C) takes place in Niagara every summer (2020 excepted). It is a great event at which you can try many Ontario Chardonnays alongside those from France, New Zealand and other cool climate regions around the globe. This year you can check out the virtual activities online at https://www.coolchardonnay.org/, and hopefully you can go to Niagara in summer 2021 to learn about our amazing Chardonnay.

If Chardonnay is not your thing, fear not, we also make other cool climate wines super well: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and rosé wines from the latter three red grapes!


East Coast Bubbles

Great sparkling wine is made in even cooler climates. In fact, these wines are best from areas that have really marginal climates and where grapes actually struggle to ripen. The reason for this? Sparkling wine made in the traditional or Champagne method (in which wines are aged on spent yeast from the fermentation process) actually gets all its flavour from the winemaking process and not the grapes. When a wine ages on the yeast (called lees) it develops brioche and baked biscuit aromas and flavours as well as a creamy texture. The longer the aging process, the more complex and delicious the wine becomes.

The Champagne region of France is one such marginal climate made famous for its sparkling wine. In Canada the province of Nova Scotia is the premier place for bubbles. One of my favourite wineries is Benjamin Bridge (https://www.benjaminbridge.com/), sometimes available in the LCBO. The wine industry in Nova Scotia is young but quickly developing a reputation for sparkling and other cool climate wines.


Napa Valley North (but better)

The Okanagan Valley is anything but cool. Hot, however, is great when you want to make bold and luscious wines. The region has dry, almost desert-like conditions and summers can be extremely hot with long days due to its northern position -  an ideal spot for ripening many grape varieties. There is some cooling from Lake Okanagan, which results in good balance in the wines. You can grow almost anything here, from cooler climate Germanic varieties like Riesling in the north to Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and Southern Rhone grapes (Viognier and Marsanne, Syrah and Grenache) further south in the valley. Sadly we don't see a lot of these wines in our market yet, but if you are a fan of powerful, high octane red wines or ripe, full bodied white wines, buy BC wines when you see them.



Can we talk about Canadian wine without mentioning Icewine? Absolutely not. Icewine is our greatest export and is a wine made in a such a painstaking way that only crazy people like Canadians would do it (Germans do it is too but they might be equally crazy). :)

Icewine is produced from grapes that have been left on the vine after the fall harvest. When temperatures dip to -8ºC (or lower) the frozen grapes are handpicked (usually in the middle of the night in January - BRRRR) and pressed immediately, while still frozen, to produce a wine highly concentrated in natural sugars and acidity.

Icewine is known all over the world today, but its international breakthrough came in 1991, when Inniskillin's 1989 Vidal Icewine won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo (one of the largest exhibitions for global wine and spirits, held in Bordeaux in uneven years). Icewine commands a high price because of the amount of effort it takes to produce a tiny quantity. But if you like sweet, this is the sweetest treat out there. Icewine is made from Riesling, Vidal and sometimes you can find red versions from Cabernet Franc. Niagara-on-the-Lake's Icewine Festival in January is a great opportunity to try offerings from many wineries and feel really Canadian as you freeze solid, drinking in the great outdoors.


Until next time, stay safe and healthy and enjoy your wine.