Just like there are many types of apples, there are thousands of different grape varieties. Each of them belongs to a vine species. Most of the grapes used for the production of the world’s best wine i.e the grapes you know, come from the vitis vinifera species. They are praised for their flavours and the quality of wine they produce. In Canada, we have a longer history with hybrids than we do with vitis vinifera. What’s a hybrid? It is a grape that is created by crossing two grapes from two different species. In regions with harsh climates (O Canada), vitis vinifera can struggle to survive in the winter. Many hybrids were created with a desire to keep the flavours that grapes from vitis vinifera produce but also gain the resistance to winter freeze from other species. Hence why many Canadian winemakers originally planted hybrids.
While hybrids are less important in some Canadian wine regions than they used to be, they are still quite popular in other regions. Described as ‘foxy’, the aromas of the wines made from them are often criticized. Let’s say that it’s not the horse most people would bet on in a race. Here are four examples that will make you vote for the underdog.
1. 2014 Allegro from Unsworth Vineyards, Vancouver Island $20
If you’re skeptical about the decision to choose hybrids over vitis vinifera, Chris Turyk from Unsworth Vineyards might change your mind. “In Vancouver Island, we have a lot of success with hybrids and I do believe that we have better results than with vitis vinifera”. “They are better suited for our climate and the wines just taste better,” he adds. Hard to argue when you try Allegro. A blend of Petite Milo and Sauvignette, it has delicate pear and floral notes with a saline quality on the finish. Embrace the searing acidity and serve with salads or seafood.
2. 2013 NOVA 7 from Benjamin Bridge, Nova Scotia $26.95
Benjamin Bridge is without a doubt the reference in Nova Scotia. Even though they have some vitis vinifera, they champion hybrids. A blend of Acadie Blanc, Muscat and Perle de Csaba grown along the Bay of Fundy, NOVA 7 is a great aperitif. Delicate with pretty notes of orange blossom, red apple and white peaches. Works well with spicy dishes or with brunch.
3. 2013 Saint Pépin from Coteau Rougemont, Québec $18
With their harsh climate, Quebec no doubt favours hybrids. Saint-Pépin is popular amongst producers. Drinkers who love aromatic and fruity whites will be quenched. Perfect as an apéritif with a piece of Oka cheese.
4. 2014 Tragically Vidal from Stag’s Hollow Winery, Okanagan Valley, BC $19
Stag’s Hollow does a fantastic tribute to Vidal with this wine. Juicy with concentrated notes of orange, lemon and spice. Chinese food please.
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Michelle Bouffard is a wine educator and journalist who splits her time between Montréal & Vancouver. She is the president of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. She Tweets @michellebwine and Instagrams @michellebouffard.