A number of countries, including parts of Canada, provide consumers with a guide to assist with the selection of a quality wine. You have probably seen the black and gold VQA emblem on the label or neck of many wines produced in Ontario and British Columbia. VQA is the acronym for Vintners Quality Alliance.
The VQA is a provincial regulating body in Ontario and British Columbia. VQA oversees winemaking and labelling standards through origin verification, extensive laboratory testing and tasting by an independent expert panel, as well as comprehensive label reviews.
It is not required that all wines produced in these provinces adhere to the VQA standard. For those who choose to be VQA certified, the wines must consist of 100% fresh grapes – concentrates are not permitted. The grapes must meet a quality standard and no water can be added during the winemaking process. All wines, except sparkling wines, must be vintage dated and adhere to vintage requirements.
Once the vintner has determined the wine is ready for consumption it will be evaluated by an expert taste panel and a laboratory analysis, which must meet minimum quality standards before being released. Regulations dictate that the origin, style and type of wine must contain 95% of grapes originating from the specific region identified on the label, and 85% must come from the vintage stated on the label and be of the varietal indicated.
What is found on the wine label of a VQA wine:
- Producer’s name
- The year the grapes were produced, known as the Vintage Year
- Vineyard Designation (optional) – 100% of the wine came from this vineyard
- Varietal name, for example Riesling, Cabernet Franc, etc.
- The appellation where the grapes were grown, such as Niagara Peninsula, Okanagan Valley
product information (required by federal legislation) including:
- Alcohol strength (the percentage per volume)
- Country of origin
- Winery’s location
- Producer’s common name
Depending on the preference of the particular producer, they may choose to include the information on the front or back label of the bottle
What does this mean to you? The VQA designation does not guarantee that the wine will be to your liking, but it does stack the odds in your favour.
Non-VQA wines in Ontario and British Columbia are less likely to provide a consistent taste experience. This is because the wine may not contain the same composition of grapes from one batch to the next or one year to another. The grapes don’t even have to originate from the same country! As a result each bottle, even though it has the same label and even the same year, may provide a totally different experience. I guess you could think of it in the same manner that Forest Gump considered a box of chocolates … each one can be a new surprise.
Inconsistency doesn’t necessarily make non-VQA wines bad. One advantage that they sometimes do have is that the cost per bottle is usually less than a comparable VQA wine.
The second advantage is that producers of non-VQA wines are not as susceptible to poor growing seasons. For example, if there is an unusually cold and/or wet summer in Ontario resulting in reduced Cabernet Franc production, non-VQA producers can obtain suitable Cabernet Franc grapes from elsewhere in the world, thus making Cabernet Franc wine more readily available and at a relatively lower price.
All that being said, personally I still search out VQA wines. Unlike Forest, I am not a big fan of surprises, in either chocolate or wine.
Nova Scotia has chosen not to follow the VQA guidelines. Instead it has elected to follow the spirit of France’s Appellation d’Origine Controlee, which is the subject of an upcoming discussion. Nova Scotia is focused on encouraging their winemakers to produce a product with qualities and characteristics that will be uniquely identified to their region.
Nova Scotian wines are not always easy to obtain, depending on where you live, but in my travels to Nova Scotia I have had the pleasure of drinking some of these wines and found them to be most enjoyable.