For some, Canada is not necessarily the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of buying a bottle of wine. Countries like France, Italy and Spain have long-standing histories for making world-class wines. But, the grass is often greener on the other side. During his last visit to Montreal, I chatted with Jean-Pierre Colas, the winemaker of 13th Street Winery, about what inspired him to leave the highly regarded wine region of Chablis to make wine in Canada.
Colas revealed, “I had been making wine at Domaine Laroche for 10 years. In 1998 my Grand Cru Les Clos 1996 was named white wine of the year by Wine Spectator Magazine. Even though I was successful, I needed a new challenge and I believed in the potential of the Niagara Peninsula.” Colas’ experience isn’t limited to working with Chardonnay in Chablis, he has worked in many different countries including Chile (Carmen Vineyards), New-Zealand (Oyster Bay) and Argentina (Bodegas Chandon). However, despite these exotic destinations, Canada was the country that he had his heart set on. Before joining 13th Street in 2009, Colas made wine at Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery in Beamsville for 9 years.
Tasting the line-up of wine with Jean-Pierre, you can sense his Burgundian background. The cool marginal climate of Chablis obliges winemakers to adopt a non-interventionist philosophy: the wines are delicate, and any over-manipulation will overpower the delicacy and the subtlety of the wines. This is exactly what you experience when you try the wines of 13th Street. Pure, restrained and true to themselves are the words that immediately come to mind. Nothing is overdone, and – as cliché as it sounds – the wines evoke the site where they were grown.
Traditionally, 13th Street Winery made its reputation on Gamay and sparkling wine - and for good reason. Fresh and juicy, with vibrant crunchy cherry and cranberry notes, the Gamay 2012 works like a charm with roasted chicken or a charcuterie and cheese board. Chill slightly for the best experience. The sparkling rosé has a nice creamy texture and tons of character. It's also on special right now! Expect a slightly tannic structure with bursting aromas of strawberries. It is a great aperitif and a delicious match with smoked salmon. I was especially impressed by both the regular 2011 Pinot Noir and the higher-end cuvée “Essence.” Although the Essence has more complexity and depth, they both display elegance and balance.
13th Street Winery isn’t a recent discovery for me, I have been enjoying their wines for over a decade. What surprises me is how much the quality continues to improve from year to year, and how affordable the wines remain. Santé, Mr. Colas!
Michelle Bouffard is a wine educator and journalist who splits her time between Montréal & Vancouver. She co-owns the Vancouver-based company ‘house wine’ and is the president of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. She Tweets @michellebwine and Instagrams @michellebouffard.