The snag for UK wine lovers is that we rarely see the wines over here – and if we do, they are hard to find and they’re not cheap. I recently organised the UK’s first Canadian wine masterclass with almost every Canadian wine for sale in the UK – including sparkling, dry white, red and icewine – from Canada’s four main wine regions: Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
The best known and biggest region is Ontario. It’s wine history dates back to 1811, when a retired German corporal planted American labrusca vines near Toronto, but it is only since the 1970s that winemakers have focused on quality wines here. Now vitis vinifera grapes, rather than the hardy American labrusca series or winter resistant hybrids, are the norm. Today Ontario’s 130 wineries across Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County focus on producing quality chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc.
Historically Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment, the strip of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, has been at the forefront of wine production, benefiting as it does from a semi-continental climate. Our top chardonnay came from this region, made by Thomas Bachelder.
Our top pinot noir was from Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario, which with 30 wineries and 50 vineyards, is expanding fast. Growers have to contend with snow in the winter months and must bury vines to protect them.
British Columbia, with 2,800 hectares and 98 wineries, is making a name for itself. It’s also expanding, with many of the fruit orchards along the Okanagan Valley becoming vineyards. The white grapes to watch include chardonnay, pinot gris, viognier, and riesling, while merlot and pinot noir are amongst the reds with promise. As many of the wineries are boutique family-owned businesses, few export their tiny production.
Jak and Janice Meyer, whose family make chardonnays and pinot noirs in Okanagan, were the only representatives from BC in our tasting – but their single vineyard Reimer Pinot Noir showed extremely well against the Ontario competition.
Quebec’s wine industry, meanwhile, is much smaller, with just 30 wineries around Dunham with fresh whites from seyval blanc and riesling. Climatic conditions are a challenge here, but global warming may mean a shift towards this cooler region. Novia Scotia has just six wineries, with the exciting news here being the emergence of sparkling wine production.
• Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: PELLER ICE CUVÉE SPARKLING
(£25.80, Luvians, Cupar; www.winedirect.co.uk)
Made using the same grapes as champagne, this has a luscious feel which gives this fizz an unusual textural smoothness and sweet hint to the finish.
• Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario: BACHELDER THE WISMER WINFIELD CHARDONNAY 2010
(£46.99, Lockett Bros, N Berwick; Fine Wine Company, Musselburgh)
This was the clear favourite in our tasting: a wonderful combination of plush richness of fruit, tight flinty, stony minerality, delicate floral notes and carefully judged oak. Subtlety is the key here. Not cheap, but really worth a taste to show the quality of Canadian chardonnay. STAR BUY
• Prince Edward County, Ontario: NORMAN HARDIE PINOT NOIR 2011
(£19.50, The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com)
From a newly developed region, this pinot shows what potential there is in Prince Edward County. Our tasters loved the complex aromas, broad mid-palate and subtle oak notes. STAR BUY
• Okanagan Valley, British Columbia: MEYER FAMILY REIMER VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011
(Around £20, Ellis of Richmond, www.ellisofrichmond.co.uk)
From a steep north-west facing slope near Kelowna, this is a tiny production, so snap up what is currently available of this beautifully-made dense, ripe, lush, elegant, Okanagan pinot noir.
• Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: LE CLOS JORDANNE VILLAGE PINOT NOIR 2009
(£29.99, Fine Wine Company, Musselburgh; Ellies Cellars, Dollar & Auchterarder; Deeside Drinks Emporium, Banchory)
Deep, rich, red fruits, minerally – with a distinct Burgundian textural feel.
• Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: PELLER RIESLING ICEWINE 2007
(£38.56 hf bt, Morrisons; Luvians; www.winedirect.co.uk)
Andrew Peller’s riesling icewine showed very well in our tasting for its purity of fruit and balance.
• Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: INNISKILLEN RIESLING ICEWINE 2008
(£53 hf bt, Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; www.drinksdirect.co.uk)
Our favourite was from icewine pioneer Inniskillen. There was a superb balance of rich, citric fruits, sweetness and beautifully balanced acidity. Expensive, but it’s a lovely icewine. STAR BUY
• Join Rose’s Amarone Masterclass on 18 February at 28 Queen Street, Edinburgh, £40, [email protected]