As a wine columnist living right in the middle of Canada — and whose province’s VQA sales are split 50-50 between BC and Ontario wine — I taste a fair number of Canadian wines from both the country’s main wine-producing regions.
This year, however, I’ve probably tasted more Canadian wine than any of the 16ish years I’ve been in the biz. Judging at both WineAlign’s National Wine Awards of Canada as well as the BC Wine Awards provided a chance to visit both regions this year.
What I’ve tasted so far this year has surprised me somewhat and pleased me considerably.
Starting in BC, I was thrilled to taste the true diversity of the province’s wine-producing regions. From the wide range of Similkameen Valley reds and whites to crisp, relatively delicate wines from in and around Kelowna to bigger, brawnier wines coming from south of Penticton, BC wineries really seem to have honed in on what they do best.
In terms of BC wines, it’s really too bad many producers tore out their Chenin Blanc vines some years back, as those that remain produce fantastic fruit that results in stunning wines. The elegant Quails Gate 2012 Chenin Blanc, for example, was a gold medalist at the BC Wine Awards. Oliver’s Road 13 Vineyards, meanwhile, is clearly doing many things right with their old-vines Chenin Blanc program. Their still Chenin Blanc is consistently a fantastic wine, while the Road 13 2010 Sparkling Chenin Blanc took top honours in the bubbly category for its crisp, focused red apple, bread dough and toasty notes, bringing Champagne style at a fraction of the price.
While I was pleased with the Pinot Noir coming out of Ontario, it was the weightier Cabernet Franc — both on its own and as the dominant grape in red blends — that really charmed me. Producers managed to balance ripe fruit with light herbal/vegetal notes and earthier components. The Fielding 2010 Cabernet-Merlot for example, delivers ripe dark berry notes, with ash and leafy components and soft, fine tannin — it’s drinking so well right now.
As producers continue expanding their lines to make wines from specific regions within Niagara Peninsula (Short Hills Bench, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Twenty Mile Bench and so on) their regional diversity will continue to make itself known.
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.