Become a Wine Expert.
Since wine grapevines grow best between 30–50° north and 30–50° south of the equator, it's surprising that Canada produces some fine quality wine with much of its land lying above 50° north latitude. It does so by taking advantage of more moderate microclimates. The major areas under vine include the Niagara region of Ontario and the Okanogan Valley of British Columbia, which are the two areas making the country's best quality wine, though smaller wine producing plots exist in almost every other province.
Canada has been making fine wine for less than fifty years. Inniskillin pioneered truly good quality wine in Ontario about thirty years ago. Compared with places in Europe that have been making it for centuries, Canada is still in its infancy.
Some major forces converged in the past few decades to improve the quality of Canadian wine. The 1988 Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and the removal of protective laws favoring domestic wineries forced Canada to compete directly with American wineries. The most recent push for quality came with the creation of the Vintners Quality Alliance that set quality standards for Canadian wine. Ontario created VQA standards in 1988; British Columbia followed suit in 1990; and then VQA Canada was established in 1999. Almost all exported wine is VQA certified.
Recent improvements to Canadian wine stirred demand from other countries. In 2004, CAN$16 million worth of Canadian wine was exported; up from just CAN$6 million five years earlier. The most important export market by far is the United States, but Asia also buys a fair amount of Canadian wine.
When buying wine from Canada, make sure it is labeled VQA. It is the only way you can be sure it is made from 100 percent Canadiangrown grapes. If it is not labeled VQA, it may actually contain foreign juice and water.
Be wary of Ontario wine not labeled VQA from the 2005 vintage. In 2005, such wine could be made from as little as 1 percent Ontario-grown grapes, and have water added. The Ontario government laid down similar labeling law changes for the 2003 and 1993 vintages to off-set crop shortages. This situation is unfortunate for the Canadian consumer simply because this lesser quality wine is usually sold on shelves with other Canadian wines, including those which are VQA certified, which can be misleading.
One of Canada's best wineries is Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, which is VQA certified. Its most expensive wine, named Meritage, sells for Can$40 at the winery, and is a red blend of Bordeaux grape varieties. The 2003 vintage is delicious now, but will be even better in five years. Sweet red cherries, white pepper, blueberries, vanilla, milky chocolate, and a long black cherry finish. Fine tannins make the wine feel quite plush in the mouth.
St. Hubertus Estate Winery from British Columbia's Okanogan Valley produces some extraordinary white VQA wines, all of which are made from grapes grown with minimal use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides— always a plus in my book.
The 2005 Riesling from St. Hubertus Estates is an eloquent wine that could easily be confused with an Alsacean gem. It starts with a slowly enticing nose of flowers and candied lime, and leads to shifting flavors of delicate lilacs and white flowers, fresh limes, a certain steeliness, and a firm seam of minerality. It finishes bone dry and is huge fun to drink.Well done, Canada.
St. Hubertus Estate's 2005 Chasselas is a Canadian wine that would be a perfect outdoor aperitif. The sumptuous apricot aromas lead to a clean palate of ripe peaches and cream. Rich and concentrated, yet refreshing and tart. Good balance. Long and lovely.
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