Canadian Wine blog

Writing on Canadian Wine by the MWC team Kurtis Kolt (BC), Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson (MB) Jake Skakun (ON), Michelle Bouffard (QB) and various national guest contributors.

My Wine Canada

  • Campfires, Barbecues & Tannat

    Hot nights, which have now arrived with consistency, cry for backyard wines: bottles to accompany a campfire or food cooked on a grill. We favour protein-heavy meals, flavours of char and smoke, and we tend to buy patio-friendly bottles that don't require much fuss. But what if you want to open something special?

    I recently tasted through the new release of Stratus' small-batched wines from the 2010 vintage, which includes Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, and Tannat (between 25 and 50 cases of each). I'm sometimes cynical about Niagara's affair with planting full-bodied red grapes, but Stratus is one winery that will gladly shake you free from your biases. The situation of the Stratus vineyard allows these grapes to ripen (seemingly) effortlessly.

    Of the flight, the glass I kept returning to was the Tannat. It is a pretty wine (violets, dark berry fruit and characters of iron), but at the same time brutish. The tannin is full, but softened with age and far from uncomfortably aggressive. It's obvious this wine won't shy from big flavours, and I can't help but imagine a barbecue spilling out smoke.

    Tannat comes from South West France and is the hero of the infamously tannic and chewy reds of Madiran. Stratus' Tannat wasn't the first from Canada I've tasted. The Okanagan's Moon Curser also makes an impressive blend called Dead of Night.

    So what will make Tannat sing? Something like this barbecued lamb recipe from Jamie Oliver or this grilled bison from the Globe and Mail. The tannins will sink into smoky, bold meats and the iron flavour will complement protein on the rarer side.

    For another Niagara red with similar chops, check out the Creekside Estate 2010 Laura's Red, a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cab.

    If you'd rather stick to a fuss-free backyard sipper, check out the Stratus 2013 Wildass Rosé. A kitchen-sink blend of deliciousness.

    Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.

  • Don’t Stop Believin’

    There are those varieties or wineries you can easily sway your friends towards. Let’s say your pal’s into big reds, and you’ve just discovered a big, juicy Napa take on the grape. Easy, right?

    The hurdles that pop up, though, are those that involve a less-popular grape variety or style. All of a sudden, you’re climbing uphill.

    I can’t tell you how many times my adoration of certain wines have been met by dismissive attitudes before fully hearing me out, never mind having a sip or two.

    The first few times I’d mentioned JoieFarm’s Muscat  to a couple colleagues, it was an effort to move the conversation further.

    “We don’t like sweet wines!” they’d say.

    IT’S NOT SWEET!” I’d retort.

    Nope, the aromatic take on the grape that the folks from JoieFarm take is certainly bone-dry, chock-full of green grape, lychee and a pluck of rosemary.

    Or, take something like the latest Syrah from Laughing Stock Vineyards. So many people have been drenched in high sugars and alcohol via Shiraz from abroad that they’re leery of the grape, whether it’s donning its Syrah or Shiraz name tag. Is Laughing Stock’s version a big, boozy fruit-bomb? Nope, far from it. Their take is akin to those from the Northern Rhône, light and dusty with black pepper, plums and fresh herbs throughout. In fact, there’s no way that anyone could mistake their bottling as anywhere near those juicy, hot styles.

    There are a myriad of examples of mistaken identities in the world of wine. Often, we find our newest favourites by suspending hard held beliefs and taking a leap of faith. Let’s look at these two examples as evidence of wine’s ability to constantly surprise and impress.

    Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.

  • A Virtual Visit to the Vineyard

    Many of us Canadians enjoy our close proximity to wine country. In the same way that we’re growing ever more conscious of where our food comes from, it’s always nice to visit the vineyards and wineries that are behind our favourite bottles and meet the people crafting them. However, even those of us who live close can’t get to wine country as often as we’d like, never mind those who live a healthy distance away.

    It’s because of this that I really appreciate how the popularity of Twitter allows us the ability to engage with wine principals across the country on an ongoing basis. Everyone from British Columbia’s Road 13 Vineyards (@Road13Vineyards) to Nova Scotia’s Luckett Vineyards (@LuckettVineyards) are on board, providing a peek behind-the-scenes of vintage, answering questions and sharing news.

    Better yet is the success of weekly wine country chats in our two biggest wine-producing provinces. Each Wednesday from 10-11 p.m. EDT, Ontario Wine Chat (#ONWineChat) hits Twitter with a slew of local winemakers, writers and enthusiasts tackling that week’s given theme. BC Wine Chat (#BCWineChat) follows at 8-9 p.m. PDT with a similar format. You’ll often see a crossover of folks discussing issues on both threads, connecting the great distance between the two regions.

    Wineries do enjoy hearing from you, so next time you’re enjoying a bottle of Canadian wine, by all means share your thoughts on Twitter and start a conversation! If you’re into a lengthier discussion, do join one or both of Canada’s weekly chats. You needn’t be an expert or authority, the chats are open to everyone and are a lot of fun. This Wednesday’s #BCWineChat is all about Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country, while #OnWineChat dives into the discussion of organic versus conventional viticulture.

    I’ll be logging on as well, and hope to see you there!

    Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.

  • Pair it Up! Cab Franc, meet Pho

    This is the kind of pairing I had never experimented with despite being an admirer of good pho. If I were to reach for a beverage to drink along side a big bowl of savoury broth, light cold beer is the first thing that comes to mind.

    Chatelaine's 'Easy Vietnamese beef pho' recipe is a bolder take on the dish. It would be inconvenient for most home cooks to parboil their beef bones for six hours and let the stock simmer over night. The 'easy' part comes from a quick integration of spices, onion and ginger into the soup. It is also a meatier dish—it uses seared beef rib as opposed to the lighter flavours you'd get from raw beef or beef balls without a sear.

    Pho is a fun dish to pour a flight of wines and experiment with, because many of your pairing assumptions don't work. It's an intense, savoury, meaty dish, with loads of spices and how you garnish it will play a role (level of heat and the herbal influence of basil). It's also notorious for being a salt-laden dish. In theory, salt accentuates tannin and alcohol, but I didn't find that was the case. In fact, the dish called for grippy tannin and a fuller-bodied wine. Where I thought the richness and exotic spice of an Alsatian-style wine would work nicely, it fell flat. The sweet Rieslings didn't complement the flavours and the sugar was accentuated. The flavours of lighter reds—Pinots and Gamays—were thrown off kilter by clove and star anise in the soup and their lack of tannin made them taste flabby. The dark pepper characters of Rhône red varieties worked great with the broth and the beef. Once I added the fresh herbs and the rest of the elements, Cabernet Franc shone.

    Ontario’s Tawse 2010 Cabernet Franc is a fuller, plush style. Of the dozen wines I tried next to a bowl of pho, it was by far the best. It has the deep blackberry notes of Cabernet with a woodsy finish. It matched the intensity of the spices in the broth and its tannin kept the flavours from getting washed away.

    Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.

  • Canadian Wine Roots

    Great wine in Canada comes from the roots.

    With Canada Day and #CdnWineDay both on the horizon, it’s a good time to kick back and reflect on the history of the Canadian wine industry, maybe even ponder its future.

    Too often though we zoom out too far, examining the macro-level trends with supporting statistical data en masse. A far more interesting perspective comes from peering into the hearts of those who are driving the industry, and in doing so we are also able to glean some insights into the future.

    Those running wineries across Canada are an amazingly diverse lot, but they share many characteristics and values that are also reflective of our general culture.

    They are passionate. You won’t find them waving flags and blowing their horns but there is an assuredness that comes from committing to a definitive path and a long term goal. Running a winery or becoming a winemaker is not a decision made on a whim. In most cases it’s driven from the heart, and for many it’s a family affair with all hands on deck working together to make their winery better. Take L’Acadie Vineyards in Nova Scotia where Bruce Ewert and his family have made a commitment to the Gaspereau community and to building a sustainable winery that offers some of the best sparkling wines in the country. Kudos to them.

    Amongst many Canadian wineries you’ll also find a respectful, mutually supportive sense of ambition. There is an understanding that the better the wines of their neighbour, the better the perceived quality of their region, which all serves to improve the Canadian wine industry. Creekside Estate Winery and 13th Street Winery in Niagara, Ontario are a good example of this. You could almost pop a sparkling wine cork between the two properties but they are friendly, often collaborative. Of course, it helps that they both have a good variety of award-winning wines to sample.

    An amazing work ethic is another thing you’ll find in common. Besides working long days, especially during harvest, the job description of a typical small-lot producer ranges from CEO to Chief Bottle Washer. But try the Pinot Noir from TH Wines in the Okanagan and you’ll be glad that winemaker (and Chief Bottle Washer) Tyler Harlton chose to wear all those hats. With about 700 wineries from coast to coast, there are many gems like TH Wines out there awaiting your discovery.

    As we head into #CdnWineDay and Canada Day, I feel confident about our industry. Sure, political factors seem to be improving and market forces are aligning nicely, but what gives me the most assurance comes from visiting the wineries themselves. In talking with the people who are driving the industry, as diverse as they are, they are just so wonderfully… Canadian.

  • Toasting #CdnWineDay

    This June 28th marks the second anniversary of Bill C-311 becoming law, which set wheels in motion to allow inter-provincial shipment of Canadian wine. It’s being marked and celebrated across the country as Canadian Wine Day, and that’s certainly something deserving of a toast.

    Now, the fact that you’re here on My Wine Canada’s platform means I probably don’t have to convince you that we indeed make worthy, quality wines in various parts of the country. The direction I’d like to sway you toward however, is away from your favourite wines, in favour of trying something that may just be out of your comfort zone. What better way to celebrate overcoming barriers and innovation than doing the same thing ourselves? Swap that Merlot for a Tempranillo! Ditch the Chardonnay and grab some Schönburger!

    A definite off-the-beaten path suggestion I’m gonna throw your way is a personal favourite. Elephant Island 2010 ‘The Little King’ is a traditional method (Champagne-style) sparkling wine hailing from British Columbia’s Naramata Bench, crafted from Granny Smith apples with a raspberry dosage. I know, I know, you’ve probably had some pretty dodgy fruit wines in the past, but I guarantee you the wines from Elephant Island are a game-changer.

    Indicative of their house style, the wine is quite dry with searing acidity that makes all of those crisp apples and tart raspberries sing. Bubbling with refreshing deliciousness, it’s a perfect match for artisan cheeses, salty snacks and (I can attest) a really good hammock. You can find it at private wine stores in BC, or all across the country via, yup, My Wine Canada!

    Whatever you have in your glass, enjoy Canadian Wine Day this Saturday, and don’t forget to use the #CdnWineDay hashtag on Twitter and Instagram!


    Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.

  • Spotlight on Chardonnay

    Of all of the vitis vinifera grapes — you know, the “noble” grapes most commonly used to make wines in the world — Chardonnay is arguably the easiest grape to pick on. More than any other grape, Chardonnay has been over-handled and over-made by winemakers, especially by those who were making wine in the New World in the 1990s. Overripe fruit and excessive malolactic fermentation aside, Chardonnay came to be defined by the barrel in which it was aged (and for how long) rather than interpretations of the grape’s true expressions.

    For a while, extensive oak treatment and loads of malolactic fermentation were the norm with Chard, turning many examples into vanilla and butterscotch-laden cream bombs. The grape’s core flavours of crisp red apple, peach, tropical fruit and citrus notes became obscured by too much time in new oak barrels.

    Thankfully, most producers today have backed off on overloading Chardonnay with new oak, and the wood now occupies a spot behind fresh fruit and bright acidity. Producers today (especially Canadian winemakers) recognize the potential Chardonnay imparts when made in a restrained, balanced style — both with and without oak aging.

    Naramata’s JoieFarm for example, makes two Chardonnays regularly: the En Famille Reserve Chardonnay, which sees modest time in oak barrels, and the Un-Oaked Chardonnay, which is a pure expression of the fruit. The former demonstrates an ideal balance between fruit and oak (15 per cent of the juice hits new French oak, while the rest ages in one-year-old or neutral French barrels), while the latter brings tank-sample freshness that’s come to be a JoieFarm trademark.

    Meyer Family Vineyards is another example of a B.C. winery making Chardonnay the right way — with careful balance and restraint. Focusing on Burgundian varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), the winery emphasizes fruit first rather than excessive barrel-aging and/or creaminess. Chardonnays from Meyer Family Vineyards vary based on place — be it the overarching, entry-level Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, the McLean Creek Vineyard bottling, or the Tribute Series Chardonnay.

    Of course, Ontario has its champions of crisp, cool-climate Chardonnay. 13th Street Winery, for example, ensures there’s a dash of lively acidity in its 2012 June’s Vineyard Chardonnay, which originates in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. The 2011 Sandstone Vineyard Chardonnay, meanwhile, sees more time in barrels but, like JoieFarm’s En Famille, only a small portion (20 per cent in this case) goes into new oak, and in both cases they’re French rather than American barrels.

    Anyone who has been in the habit of avoiding Chardonnay because of the abundance of big oak would be well-served (and pleasantly surprised) by revisiting the grape — especially those examples made right in our backyard.

    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.

  • Ortega in Nova Scotia

    Last summer I flew to Nova Scotia from the West Coast and was hounded by delayed flights along the way. I planned for a relaxing night in Halifax, a fresh seafood dinner with local wines, but I landed five hours late with few options on a Tuesday night in a sleepy city. I raced in a cab to Obladee Wine Bar just in time to catch last call. Asking for a glass of something local, the waiter poured me Luckett Vineyards' 2011 Ortega. He said that it was one of his favourite wines from anywhere. In that moment, after a day of frustrating travel, it was the perfect glass. It was delicious and uncomplicated and if I had a little more time, I would have finished the bottle. The wine came out of a cold fridge, cool enough to create condensation on the outside of the glass while I swirled it. Normally too cold for my tastes, especially if I were eating food, but it softened the sugar a touch and made it even more refreshing. When I left Halifax the next morning, I picked up a bottle for $19 to bring back to Toronto.

    If you aren't familiar with Ortegathat's okay, it isn't exactly a commercially exalted grape. It's almost always grown for practical purposes. It was created in Germany by crossing the grapes Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe and was named after a Spanish writer and philosopher. Ortega is grown modestly in places with freezing winters like Germany and Canada, because the vine is cold-hardy. It builds sugars quickly and is often dismissed because of its lower acidity. In marginal climates with short, cool growing seasons, sugar in the grape doesn't have a chance to get out of hand and my experience is that it can maintain acidity (Venturi Schulze on Vancouver Island makes a very racy Pinot Gris/Ortega blend called Sassi). Luckett Vineyards produces somewhere between 550 and 880 cases of Ortega per year. Also in Nova Scotia, Domaine de Grand Pré also makes an off-dry style Ortega, which I have yet to try.

    I doubt Ortega could ever make a wine with layers of complexity that you could sit around and talk about. But in the hands of a producer like Luckett, it makes a delicious wine that you could swap out for the situations and pairings where you would normally reach for a Riesling. Luckett's Ortega is off-dry with white floral, peach, grapefruit and orange rind. It has refreshing, balanced acidity and 11.5% alcohol.

    Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.

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