Honing In On Terroir

Last month I attended VieVinum in Vienna – it’s Austria’s big annual wine show, bringing together hundreds of producers from throughout the country’s four main wine-producing regions. Set in the breathtaking Hofburg Palace – the official residence of the president of Austria and former home to the Habsburg empire – I was fortunate to taste through some stunning wines, both white and red.

One of the most impressive styles to me was the Gemischter Satz wines produced in Wien, the region surrounding Vienna. Gemischter Satz isn’t a grape – rather, it’s a style of wine made from a blend of grapes that is meant to reflect Viennese life.

There are some rules around Gemischter Satz. There must be at least three different grape varieties in the wine (but up to 20 different varieties can be used), and no one grape can make up more than 50 per cent of the blend. Grapes must all be grown in the same vineyard, and have to be pressed/fermented together.

Here in Canada, there’s somewhat of a comparable: Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay wines. These wines aren’t meant to reflect the “joie de vivre” of life in Nova Scotia per se, but are made in a lighter, food-friendly style (lobster, anyone?) that is meant to reflect the region’s terroir.

Tidal Bay wines are typically made from a combination of approved grape varieties, are lower in alcohol (no more than 11 per cent), and pass the palates of a tasting panel to receive the Tidal Bay designation. It’s a brilliant way for Nova Scotia wines to establish themselves on the national and international market – focus on the strengths of the region by making wines that best reflect that region.

Which leads me to a question that’s been on my mind since I got back: would it be possible to make a similar “signature” type wine in BC or Ontario? Would it be white or red? And what would those wines look (and, more importantly, taste) like? Would it be worth it, or are these regions doing a good enough job carving out corners for themselves in the market that are distinctly BC or Ontario?

While we’re on regionally unique wines, I recently tried the Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2013 Ehrenfelser from the Okanagan Valley, and was pretty impressed. Ripe pear, spice, fresh-cut flowers, red apple and lemon drop candy notes showed nicely on the nose. It's a light-bodied white that's just beyond off-dry in terms of sweetness, and fleshes out with bruised red apple, perfectly ripe pear, spice, apricot, and peach flavours. The wine’s very light acidity works well with the residual sugar here, and the perfume-y, marmalade notes that linger on the palate are certainly intriguing. It would work very nicely with grilled shrimp, medium-spiced Thai fare or crisp, citrus-driven salads.

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson paid his way through school hucking cases at wine shops. He's now the weekly wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press, and judges at wine competitions across the country. He Tweets & Instagrams @bensigurdson.

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