Syrah or Shiraz?

Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape with two different names.  Syrah is the original name while Shiraz is how it became known in Australia and the Americas.  The terms have become associated with a particular style of wine.

Syrah is the term that is associated with the Old-World expressions found throughout Europe.  It is lighter in body and alcohol, with finer tannins. Shiraz, on the other hand, refers to New World, intense wines, which are generally richer, with riper aromas and fuller in both body and alcohol.

The distinct styles first emerged as a natural consequence of the different growing conditions and microclimates.  The grapes in Australia have the potential of having higher levels of alcohol and more aromas than their European counterparts.

The varietal is believed to have originated in the Rhône region of France.  Some winegrowers in the northern Rhône distinguish between a small-berried, more concentrated version of Syrah, referred to as Petite Syrah, and the larger-berried Grosse Syrah. 

Until the 1970s, French Syrah plantings were mostly concentrated in and around the vineyards of the northern Rhône valley. Since then Syrah has had an extraordinary surge in popularity throughout southern France and has become France’s third most planted red wine.

Australia’s history with the grape began in the 1830s.  It flourished and was quickly adopted by New South Wales and from there to the whole country, eventually becoming Australia’s most planted variety.  The country makes a range of styles, the most recognisable is the distinctively rich, ripe styles from both traditional Barossa Valley and newer Heathcote regions.

There is now a growing trend towards more subtle, elegant, cool-grown Rhône style wines that are less concentrated and have a lighter touch. These are often labelled as Syrah instead of Shiraz. These wines are most likely to be found in the Adelaide Hills region.

The grape was introduced to California in the 1990s.  A group of vintners, known as the “Rhône Rangers”, eagerly promoted the grape as being equally suited to California as Cabernet Sauvignon. Californian winemakers consistently produce very vibrant, refined wine.

In addition to California, Washington State also produces Syrah.  Further afield, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay are producing interesting varieties. It is worth noting that some of those who make the finest South African examples label them Syrah.

There are some noteworthy Syrahs found in Italy, the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain and the Alentejo region of Portugal. Another unexpectedly successful site for mature, concentrated Syrah is the Valais in Switzerland, particularly around the upper reaches of the Rhône valley.

Some Canadian wine makers are growing the Syrah grape as well, though the cool climate limits the growing season and thus the intensity of the flavour. Some winemakers label their offering as Syrah while others choose Shiraz.  While some would argue that British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has a long, hot growing season that supports the Shiraz style of wine, most of Canada’s wine regions cannot.  Wines made in the majority of the country only truly support the Syrah style of wine. 

One of my pet peeves is to see an Ontario winemaker labelling their wine as Shiraz and not Syrah.  I pity the unexpecting consumer who purchases a Shiraz, expecting the bold peppery flavour of a true Shiraz.  Unfortunately, the wine will not live up to its name.

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Wine From the Canary Islands

Wine is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the Canary Islands.  The Islands are a popular European tourist destination but they also have a thriving wine industry.

Photo credit: foodandwine.com

Wine production has a long history in the Canary Islands, but the modern era didn’t start until about the mid 1980’s. Since then wine exports have been increasing as more people discover these wines.

The Canary Islands are in the Atlantic Ocean about 100 kilometres west of Morocco. The main islands, from largest to smallest, are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa. They are a popular tourist destination because of their subtropical climate.  However, it is the distinctive volcanic wines that have been gaining global attention and critical acclaim over the past 3 decades.

Six of the eight islands, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera produce wine.  The soils vary from island to island, formed by volcanic eruptions, landslides and erosion.  The soil ranges from light stone to very heavy basalt rock.

The climate also varies across the archipelago. The eastern islands consist of older geological formations with lower, more uniform altitude and a dry, desert-like climate. The western islands are higher, steeper and have a greater variation of microclimates.

There are 20 unique grape varieties found in the Islands along with more than 20 new varieties that are currently being studied.  Listán Blanco (aka Palomino) and Listán Negro are the most widely planted grapes on the Islands. Others include white wine grapes Malvasía Volcánica, Malvasía Aromática and Albillo Criollo, along with red wine grapes Negramoll, Vijariego Negro and Baboso Negro. There are a few plantings of international varieties, such as Syrah.  Each of the Islands has its own specialities.

Dry, high-acid whites and light, fruity reds are typical of the Islands but richer, oak-aged options exist as well.

The wine industry is very focused on gaining international recognition based on the unique and ancient grape varieties grown. The aim is for these wines to reach markets where they can gain more exposure and have the opportunity to grow in popularity.

In 2020, around 15 million gallons of wine (51% red and 49% white) were produced in the Canary Islands.

Some of the grapes from the Canary Islands can be found in South America. They were brought there by Spanish settlers in the 16th century.  One of the varieties was Listán Prieto, which can now be found in California (known as Mission), Chile (País) and Argentina (Criolla Chica).

Wine from the Canary Islands is occasionally available in the specialty section of wine stores in Canada.  These wines will be included with the other wines from Spain.

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An Italian Region Revival

The ancient Italian wine region of Basilicata is undergoing a revival thanks to a new generation of wine makers. Although wine has been commercially produced there for over a century it is not well known, but that may be about to change.

Photo credit: winefolly.com

Basilicata is a mountainous region located in the south, stretching north from the arch of Italy’s boot.  Its climate is dominated by the Alps of the north rather than the warmer climate of the south.  The region’s wineries are scattered around the extinct Monte Vulture volcano.

The region is primarily a red grape growing region predominately consisting of:

  • 42% Aglianico del Vulture
  • 8% Sangiovese
  • 5% Aglianico
  • 4% Primitivo
  • 3% Montepulciano
  • 3% Italica
  • 2% Malvasia
  • 2% Trebbiano Giallo
  • 1% each of
    • Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata
    • Barbera
    • Malvasia Nera di Brindisi
    • Moscato Giallo
    • Merlot
    • Cabernet Sauvignon

Basilicata has two major wines: Aglianico del Vulture Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), established in 1971, and the Superiore Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), which was established in 2010.  In total there are only four DOC wines and one DOCG wine produced in the region.

If you are interested in trying the wines of Basilicata, keep an eye for any of these though they are often difficult to come by:

  • Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG
  • Aglianico del Vulture DOC
  • Matera DOC
  • Grottino di Roccanova
  • Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC

You are more apt to find these wines in the specialty section of your wine store as they will not be available on a day-to-day basis.  Happy hunting!

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2021 & the B.C. Wine Industry

2021 presented lots of challenges for British Columbia’s vintners.  The spring was one of the driest on record with very little rain from late May to the end of June. Temperatures in June climbed up to 47 degrees Celsius.  The combination of these things resulted in the grapes maturing faster and earlier than normal.  The grape yields were low but the quality was good, producing small, very ripe fruit bursting with flavour.  It is hoped that this high concentration of flavour will translate into an excellent, though a low yield vintage.

Photo credit: TourismKelowna.com

The wild fires also wreaked havoc on the harvest in some areas, particularly the Thompson and Okanagan Valleys.  Fortunately, the worst of the smoke exposure occurred before the grapes began to ripen so the impact is believed to be minimal.

The recent flooding in B.C. has affected all residents either directly or indirectly.  With major transportation routes being blocked or damaged, supply chains and mobility have been severely restricted.  At this point it is still too early to know what additional burden will be felt by B.C.’s wine industry as a whole because of the flooding.

This year was without a doubt a season with its challenges because of the smoke, heat and floods.  However, early indications suggest that the 2021 vintage of British Columbia wines will be very flavourful.  Unfortunately for consumers the prices will most likely be higher due to the smaller than normal yields produced.  These are some things to keep in mind when the 2021 B. C. vintages begin hitting the store shelves in a year or two.

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British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards

Over 800 of B.C.’s finest wines from more than 120 B.C. wineries were judged by a panel of 15 judges at the 2021 B.C. Lieutenant Governor Wine Awards.  The results were released earlier this month.

The top honour went to the Tantalus Vineyards’ 2018 Old Vines Riesling. The wine was produced from Riesling grape vines first planted in 1978. The vineyards and winery are situated on the eastern shores of Lake Okanagan overlooking the lake and the City of Kelowna.

Below I have listed the Platinum and gold winners from this year’s completion.  The complete list of winners can be found at http://www.thewinefestivals.com/awards/results/8/1/

Platinum Award Winners

  • Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Winery, 2018 Estate Riesling Icewine
  • Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, 2019 Syrah
  • Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, 2018 Reserve Syrah
  • Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, 2020 Original Vines Sémillon
  • Silkscarf winery, 2017 Syrah-Viognier
  • Three Sisters Winery, 2019 Rebecca
  • Tantalus Vineyards, 2018 Chardonnay
  • Enrico Winery, 2020 Shining Armour Pinot Gris
  • Maan Farms Estate Winery, 2020 Raspberry Table Wine
  • Arrowleaf, 2019 Riesling
  • Silhouette Estate Winery, Boyd Classic Cuvée
  • SpearHead Winery, 2019 Pinot Noir Saddle Block
  • SpearHead Winery, 2019 Pinot Noir Golden Retreat
  • SpearHead Winery, 2019 Pinot Noir Cuvée
  • Chain Reaction Winery, 2019 Tailwind Pinot Gris
  • Liquidity Wines, 2020 Rosé
  • Kismet Estate Winery, 2018 Cabernet Franc Reserve
  • Mission Hill Family Estate,  2019 Perpetua
  • Mission Hill Family Estate, 2019 Terroir Collection Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc
  • CedarCreek Estate Winery, 2020 Platinum Home Block Rosé

Gold Award Winners

  • Moon Curser Vineyards, 2020 Arneis
  • Moon Curser Vineyards, 2017 Tannat
  • Moon Curser Vineyards, 2019 Touriga Nacional
  • Lakeside Cellars, 2017 Provenir
  • Lakeside Cellars, 2020 Portage White
  • 50th Parallel Estate Winery, 2020 Pinot Noir Rosé
  • 50th Parallel Estate Winery, 2019 Pinot Noir
  • 50th Parallel Estate Winery, 2019 Unparalleled Pinot Noir
  • 50th Parallel Estate Winery, 2018 Blanc De Noir
  • La Frenz Estate Winery, 2019 Reserve Pinot Noir
  • Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery, 2018 Reserve Riesling Icewine
  • Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery, 2018 Grand Reserve Merlot
  • Wild Goose Vineyards, 2019 Pinot Noir Sumac Slope
  • Wild Goose Vineyards, 2020 Pinot Gris
  • Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Winery, 2019 Discovery Series Chenin Blanc
  • Black Sage Vineyards, 2018 Cabernet Franc
  • St Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery, 2019 St Hubertus Vineyard Riesling
  • Stag’s Hollow Winery, 2018 Renaissance Merlot
  • Stag’s Hollow Winery, 2018 Syrah
  • Tightrope Winery, 2019 Riesling
  • Tightrope Winery, 2020 Pinot Gris
  • Tightrope Winery, 2019 Chardonnay
  • Wayne Gretzky Estates Okanagan, 2020 Rosé
  • Four Shadows Winery, 2019 Merlot Reserve
  • Four Shadows Winery, 2020 Riesling Dry
  • Four Shadows Winery, 2020 Riesling Classic
  • Nk’Mip Cellars, 2019 Qwam Qwmt Syrah
  • Nk’Mip Cellars, 2020 Winemaker’s Pinot Blanc
  • Bordertown Vineyard & Estate Winery, 2017 Living Desert Red
  • Rust Wine Co., 2018 GMB Syrah
  • Blasted Church Vineyards, 2019 Cabernet Franc
  • Blasted Church Vineyards, 2016 OMG
  • Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, 2015 Seven Stars Sirius
  • Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, 2018 NBO
  • Three Sisters Winery, 2019 Tempranillo
  • Bonamici Cellars, 2019 Reserve Merlot
  • Moraine Estate Winery, 2019 Syrah
  • Black Hills, 2020 Alibi
  • Gray Monk, 2018 Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Upper Bench Estate Winery, 2019 Chardonnay
  • Upper Bench Estate Winery, 2019 Estate Chardonnay
  • Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery, 2019 Pinot Noir Terraces
  • Fort Berens Estate Winery, 2019 Cabernet Franc
  • Deep Roots, 2019 Parentage Red
  • Blue Grouse Estate Winery, 2019 Estate Pinot Noir
  • Blue Grouse Estate Winery, 2020 Estate Pinot Gris
  • Enrico Winery, 2020 Rosé Red Dragon
  • Hester Creek Estate Winery, 2020 Sémillon
  • Monte Creek Winery, 2020 Living Land Sparkling Rosé
  • Clos du Soleil Winery, 2020 Winemaker’s Series Pinot Blanc
  • Arrowleaf, 2020 Summerstorm
  • Silhouette Estate Winery, 2018 Boyd Blanc De Blanc
  • SpearHead Winery, 2019 Riesling
  • Chaberton Estate Winery, 2018 Reserve Cabernet Franc
  • Frind Estate Winery, 2019 Riesling
  • Lake Breeze Vineyards, 2019 Pinot Blanc
  • Lake Breeze Vineyards, 2019 Cellar Series Alize (Roussanne)
  • Lake Breeze Vineyards, 2017 Cellar Series Mistral (Syrah)
  • Liquidity Wines, Brut Reserve
  • Liquidity Wines, 2019 Reserve Pinot Noir
  • Peak Cellars, 2020 Skin Kissed Pinot Gris
  • Time Family of Wines, 2018 TIME Syrah
  • Kismet Estate Winery, 2017 Malbec Reserve
  • Meadow Vista Honey Wines, 2021 Bliss Sparkling Blueberry Haskap Mead
  • Ex Nihilo Vineyards, 2019 Merlot
  • Mission Hill Family Estate, 2020 Terroir Collection Border Vista Rosé
  • Mission Hill Family Estate, 2019 Terroir Collection Jagged Rock Vineyard Syrah
  • Mission Hill Family Estate, 2020 Reserve Rosé
  • Mission Hill Family Estate, 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Mission Hill Family Estate, 2020 Reserve Riesling
  • Plot Wines, 2018 Neighbour
  • Plot Wines, 2019 Merlot
  • CedarCreek Estate Winery, 2019 Estate Syrah
  • CedarCreek Estate Winery, 2019 Estate Chardonnay
  • CedarCreek Estate Winery, 2020 Estate Riesling
  • CedarCreek Estate Winery, 2019 Platinum Block 3 Riesling
  • CedarCreek Estate Winery, 2019 Platinum Cabernet Franc
  • Church & State Wines, 2019 Marsanne
  • Church & State Wines, 2019 Trebella

Unfortunately from what I can tell, none of this year’s winners are presently available outside of British Columbia.  I have indicated in green those wineries that do have products that are occasionally found east of the Rockies. Even though the winners may never travel beyond B.C., other wines from these vineyards would be well worth trying.

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New York State Wines

New York is the third largest wine producer in the United States, following California and Washington. New York produces roughly 3.5% of the U.S.’s wine production compared to California at over 84% and Washington at slightly over 5%.

There are eleven designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA).  An AVA is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States as identified by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and the United States Department of the Treasury. The AVAs are Champlain Valley, Long Island, North Fork of Long Island, The Hamptons Long Island; Hudson River Region; Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake; Niagara Escarpment , Upper Hudson and Lake Erie.

Wine production began in New York in the 17th century with Dutch and Huguenot plantings in the Hudson Valley. Today the two dominant wine regions are the Finger Lakes and Long Island.  In 1976 the Finger Lakes and Long Island regions had 19 wineries. By 1985 this number increased to 63 wineries.

The climate differs amongst the eleven regions because of regional influences, such as the Atlantic Gulf Stream and the numerous bodies of water and mountainous regions around the state. The annual precipitation ranges from 76 cm to 127 cm. The growing season in the Lake Erie and Finger Lakes regions ranges from 180 to 200 days a year, while on Long Island the season extends to 220 days.

Today there are over 450 wineries throughout the state.

Riesling grapes consist of less than 10% of New York’s wine production but are used to make some of the highest quality wines. Other varietals include French hybrids, American hybrids and Vitis Labrusca, which are vines native to eastern North America.

American hybrids grown include Catawba, Delaware, Niagara, Elvira, Ives and Isabella. French hybrids consist of Aurore, Baco Noir, De Chaunac, Seyval Blanc, Cayuga, Vidal and Vignoles, which is used to make late harvest wines and ice wines.

I find it interesting that even though I can see New York State from a Muskoka chair in my yard I can very seldom find New York wine in my local liquor store.  On the other hand I can find California, Washington and even Oregon (ranked 5th in U.S. production at only 1.5%) wines all the time.  Especially in the case of Oregon, I am left to think that either Oregon wines are superior in quality and flavour to New York wines or they have a much more aggressive marketing plan, or both.  I can vouch for the quality of Oregon wine but have not had the opportunity to do the same for New York wine.

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Red Varietals Grown in Canada

Photo credit: WinesInNiagara.com

This week I conclude my review of the grape varietals grown in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.  The focus is on red wine grapes grown in these 3 provinces.

Baco Noir

Baco Noir is a hybrid red wine grape variety created by Francois Baco.  In 1951 the variety was brought to the cooler viticulture regions of North America, such as British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New York, Michigan, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the major black grape varieties worldwide. It is principally grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style, but can also be vinified alone. In addition to being used in blends and produced as a varietal in all 3 Canadian provinces and the United States, it is sometimes made into ice wine in these regions.

Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon making a bright, pale red wine that contributes finesse and lends a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on the growing region and style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper, cassis, and violets.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. It became internationally recognized through its prominence in Bordeaux wines where it is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. From France and Spain, the grape spread across Europe and to the New World where it found new homes in places like California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso Robles, Napa Valley, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Chile, British Columbia and Ontario.

The classic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a full-bodied wine with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine’s aging potential. In cooler climates like Canada, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to produce wines with blackcurrant notes that can be accompanied by green bell pepper notes, mint and cedar which will all become more pronounced as the wine ages.   In more moderate climates the blackcurrant notes are often seen with black cherry and black olive notes while in very hot climates the currant flavours can veer towards the over-ripe and “jammy” side.

Castel

The grape was created in 1953 by Ollie A. Bradt, at what is now the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Today the grape is widely planted in Nova Scotia with some plantings in Ontario. The grape is hardy, early-ripening and disease resistant.

De Chaunac

De Chaunac is a French-American hybrid wine grape variety used to make red wines. The grape was named after Adhemar de Chaunac, a pioneer in the Ontario wine industry.

De Chaunac is known to have a very vigorous growth habit and good resistance to mildew. It is grown in varying amounts for wine production across northeastern North America, especially in the winegrowing regions of New York, Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Michigan and Ohio.

Gamay

Gamay is a purple-coloured grape variety used to make red wines, most notably grown in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley of France.  It has often been cultivated because it makes for abundant production.  It is grown in all 3 of the Canadian wine provinces.

Leon Millot

Léon Millot is a red variety of hybrid grape used for wine. The variety was named after the winemaker and tree nursery owner Léon Millot.  The grapes are grown in Nova Scotia.

Lucie Kuhlmann

This is a Kuhlmann hybrid variety, with growing and ripening characteristics similar to Leon Millot and Marechal Foch, though less widely grown. The wine, like Leon Millot, is capable of deep colour with a pronounced berry-like fruitiness. Wines made from Lucie Kuhlmann tend to have a slightly firmer tannic structure compared to Leon Millot.  These grapes are grown in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Malbec

Malbec is a purple grape variety that creates a dark red intense wine with robust tannins.  In addition to being bottled on its own it is also commonly blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux blend or is blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Other wine regions use the grape to produce Bordeaux-style blends.

In addition to France, Malbec has become an Argentine varietal but is also becoming popular in British Columbia and Ontario.

Marechal Foch

Marechal Foch is a hybrid French red wine grape variety. It was originally known as Kuhlmann 188-2.  The vines were imported to North America in the mid 1940s, where it was subsequently renamed Marechal Foch in honour of Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.

Marechal Foch ripens early and it is cold-hardy and resistant to fungal diseases. The quality of wine produced is dependent on the age of the vines, and the flavour profile associated with many new-world hybrid varietals is much reduced in comparison to wine made from older vines.

Today Marechal Foch is grown in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Marquette

Marquette is a blue/black-berried variety introduced in 2006 by the University of Minnesota in the United States. Marquette is the cousin of Frontenac, a well-known French-American hybrid.

Marquette is promising for cold-climate producers in North America, and a number of plantings have been established in Minnesota, Vermont, New York and Nova Scotia.

The grape has high sugar levels and moderate acidity. Marquette wines are typically medium bodied, with aromas of cherries, blackcurrants and blackberries. In some cases more complex aromas such as tobacco and leather may also be exhibited, with spicy pepper notes on the finish.

Merlot

Merlot is a dark blue wine grape variety that is used by itself, as well as a blending grape and for varietal wines. Its softness and fleshiness, combined with its earlier ripening, makes it a popular grape for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin.

Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine, and it is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietals.

While Merlot is made around the world, there tends to be two main styles.  There is the International style that produces inky, purple coloured wines that are full in body with high alcohol and lush, velvety tannins with intense, plum and blackberry fruit.  The second style is the Bordeaux style where the harvesting of the grapes takes place earlier to maintain acidity. This style produces more medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels that have fresh, red fruit flavours of raspberries and strawberries.

In Canada Merlot is grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Mischurnitz

This vine is from Eastern Europe but is now being grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. In 1983 a wine from Nova Scotia was voted the ‘best wine of Canada’ in a blind competition to supply the Canadian Embassies around the world. More recently two other Nova Scotia wineries, Jost Vineyards and Sainte Famille, are making notable wines with Michurinetz.

This extremely cold-hardy and vigorous vine typically produces red wines with tannic strength. The grapes also typically have extremely high natural acidity, and low sugar levels.

Petit Verdot

Petit Verdot is a variety of red wine grape that is mainly used in classic Bordeaux blends. It adds tannin, colour and flavour, in small amounts, to the blend. Petit Verdot has attracted attention among winemakers in the New World, where it ripens more reliably and has been made into a single varietal wine. It is also useful in ‘stiffening’ the mid palate of Cabernet Sauvignon blends.  It is grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a red wine grape that is grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates.  It is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot noir is now used to make red wines around the world. Regions that have gained a reputation for red Pinot Noir wines include Oregon, California, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the wine regions of Canada.

When young, wines made from Pinot Noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, there is the potential to develop more vegetal and barnyard aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.

Syrah

Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce red wine.

The style and flavour profile of Syrah wines are influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown.  Moderate climates tend to produce medium to full-bodied wines with medium-plus to high levels of tannins and notes of blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hot climates, Syrah is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of licorice and earthy leather.

Syrah is used as a single varietal, as well as in blends. It can be found all over the world from France to Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, California, Washington, British Columbia and Ontario.

Zweigelt

Widely planted in Austria, Zweigelt vines have made inroads in Washington and the Canadian wine regions of Ontario and British Columbia.  There are some plantings in Hungary. In the Czech Republic it is known as Zweigeltrebe and is the third-most widely planted red-grape variety, comprising approximately 4.7% of total vineyards. It grows in most of the wine regions in Slovakia and now in Belgian and Polish vineyards.

Sláinte mhaith

White Varietals Grown in Canada

Photo credit: WinesInNiagara.com

In Canada, the two main commercial grape-growing areas are southern Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and British Columbia’s Okanagan and neighbouring Similkameen valleys.   Smaller industries have been established in the other eastern provinces, most notably Nova Scotia and Québec.

For the purposes of this article and the following one next week I will focus solely on British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

This week the focus will be on white wine grapes grown in these 3 provinces.

Bacchus

The Bacchus is a white wine grape that was created by the Geilweilerhof Institute for Grape Breeding in Siebeldingen, Germany in 1933.   In Canada it is grown in British Columbia.

Bacchus wines can have powerful flavours and character.  It is low in acidity, which does not always make it very well suited for varietal wines under typical German growing conditions. Bacchus is often used for blending with other varietals.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is said to be the world’s favourite white wine.  It can be produced in a youthful, fruity style that’s ready for to be drunk soon after bottling, or as a complex, barrel-fermented wine capable of aging for years.

Chardonnay wines are medium to full-bodied and pair with a range of simple or complex foods.

In France, Chardonnay is labelled by the region in which it is grown, like Chablis. It is also a key variety in Champagne.

Chardonnay is native to the Burgundy region of France but is now grown in all 3 of Canada’s wine provinces.

Chasselas

Chasselas or Chasselas blanc is a wine grape variety grown mainly in Switzerland, France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary, Romania, New Zealand and Chile.  In Canada it is grown in British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Chasselas is usually used to make a full, dry and fruity white wine. However, it is also suitable as a table grape.  It is grown in Turkey and Hungary for this purpose.

Ehrenfelser

Ehrenfelser is a white wine grape variety of German origin. Outside Germany, Ehrenfelser has found some success mainly in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. B.C. wineries including Cedar Creek, Lake Breeze, Gray Monk, Gehringer Brothers, Mount Boucherie, Quails’ Gate and Summerhill make both still and ice wine styles using this grape.

Geisenheim

The Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute was founded in 1872 and is located in the town of Geisenheim, Germany. In 1876 Swiss-born professor Hermann Müller joined the institute, where he developed his namesake grape variety, Müller-Thurgau, which became Germany’s most-planted grape variety in the 1970s.

In Canada Geisenheim is grown in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer is an aromatic wine grape variety used in white wines and performs best in cooler climates.

Gewürztraminer is a variety with a pink to red skin colour, which makes it a white wine grape as opposed to the blue to black-skinned varieties commonly referred to as red wine grapes. It has a high amount of natural sugar.  The wines are usually off-dry.

In Canada, Gewürztraminer is grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Kerner

The Kerner grape is an aromatic white grape variety.  It is the 8th most planted variety in Germany.  Kerner is most commonly planted in Germany but it is also grown in Austria, Switzerland, the island of Hokkaido in Japan and Italy.  It is now grown in Ontario.

L’Acadie Blanc

L’Acadie Blanc is a white Canadian wine grape variety that is a hybrid crossing of Cascade and Seyve-Villard. The grape was created in 1953 in Niagara, Ontario at what is now the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Today the grape is widely planted in Nova Scotia, with some plantings in Ontario. It is considered to be Nova Scotia’s equivalent to Chardonnay.

Muscat Ottonel

Muscat Ottonel was created in Loir, France.  It is a white grape that is easier to cultivate in cooler climates than the other Muscats, as it ripens early and produces more delicate wines than Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains or Muscat of Alexandria.

It is popular in Alsace, France, Austria, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Hungary and Ontario.

New York Muscat

These grapes are used in dry wines and Icewines. Bold and exotic, New York Muscat produces aromatic but dry, full-bodied white wines with intense aromas of roses, grapefruit and exotic fruit.  These grapes are grown in Nova Scotia.

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc is a versatile white-wine grape variety that is used in the production of still, sparkling and sweet dessert wines.  It is grown in all 3 wine provinces.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio or Grauburgunder is a white wine grape variety. It normally has a grayish-blue fruit, but the grapes can have a brownish pink to black, and even white appearance. The wines produced from this grape also vary in colour from a deep golden yellow to copper and even a light shade of pink.

Pinot Gris is grown around the world including in all 3 of the Canadian provinces.

Riesling

Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling white wines. It is one of the top three white wine varieties along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

It is grown in all 3 Canadian wine provinces.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety that originates from the Bordeaux region of France. Sauvignon Blanc is planted in many of the world’s wine regions, producing a crisp, dry, and refreshing white varietal wine. The grape is also a component of the famous dessert wines. Sauvignon Blanc is widely cultivated in France, Chile, Romania, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Bulgaria, the states of Washington and California and the 3 Canadian wine regions.

Depending on the climate, the flavour can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. In cooler climates, the grape has a tendency to produce wines with noticeable acidity and the flavour of green grass, green bell peppers and nettles with some tropical fruit and floral notes. In warmer climates, it can develop more tropical fruit notes.

Sémillon

Sémillon is a golden-skinned grape used to make dry and sweet white wines, mostly in France and Australia. However, it is also grown in British Columbia and Ontario.

Seyval Blanc

Seyval Blanc is a hybrid wine grape variety used to make white wines. It is grown mainly in England, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Oregon, as well as, to a lesser extent in Nova Scotia.

Seyverni (NS)

Seyverni is the name of a Russian red-grape variety. The variety has been imported to the Finger Lakes area of New York as well as Nova Scotia.  The grape is very resistant to frost.

Vidal

Vidal is a white hybrid grape variety. It is a very winter-hardy variety that manages to produce high sugar levels in cold climates with moderate to high acidity.  Due to its winter hardiness, this grape variety is cultivated most extensively in the Canadian wine regions of Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia where it is often used for ice wine production.

The wine produced from Vidal tends to be very fruity, with aroma notes of grapefruit and pineapple. Due to its high acidity and sugar potential, it is particularly suited to sweeter, dessert wines. In particular, because of the tough outer skin of the fruit, it is well adapted for the production of ice wine.

Viogner (BC, ON)

Viognier is a white wine grape variety. It is the only permitted grape for the French wine Condrieu in the Rhône Valley. Outside of the Rhône, Viognier can be found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, the United States, British Columbia and Ontario.

Viognier has the potential to produce full-bodied wines with a lush, soft character. It has aromatics that include notes of peach, pears, violets and minerals.

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The Annapolis Valley

Grapes have been grown in Nova Scotia since the 1600s, and wine has been an evolving, increasingly sophisticated part of the cultural landscape for almost 25 years. The soils and climate of the Annapolis Valley encourage wines with a strong sense of provenance, and as winemakers continue to gain a greater understanding of their land, the wines are only going to get better and better.

Though Chardonnay and Riesling are grown there, the warm, short growing season, combined with the direct cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the severe winters, have necessitated the cultivation of winter-hardy grapes. Hybrid varieties such as L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Lucie Kuhlmann and New York Muscat form the backbone of this region’s aromatic, fresh, characterful white wines. Pinot Noir is grown too, for use in the expressive sparkling wines for which Nova Scotia is becoming increasingly well-known.

Nova Scotia has one appellation, which is called Tidal Bay. It was initiated in 2012 and there are now 70 grape growers and more than 800 acres of grape vines.  Though each winery may develop their own unique take, strict rules of production and a rigorous evaluation process ensure that Tidal Bay wines reflect a distinct Nova Scotian aromatic character and a consistent flavour profile.

The Wineries of the Annapolis Valley

Below I have profiled the larger producers in the Annapolis Valley but there are a handful of others that I have not included here.

Avondale Sky Winery

Avondale Sky’s objective is to grow the best grapes possible in Nova Scotia.  They have one of the oldest vineyards in the province, but the winery itself is one of the newest.

Their retail shop is a restored 180-year-old former church that was transported 40 kilometres over the highest tides in the world.  They produce small lots of wine that are crafted with care.

Varietals

White: 

  • Geisenheim
  • L’Acadie
  • New York Muscat
  • Petite Milo
  • Vidal Blanc
  • Ontario Chardonnay and Riesling grapes are used in some of the wines

Red:

  • Baco Noir
  • Castel
  • DeChaunac
  • Léon Millot
  • Lucie Kuhlman
  • Maréchal Foch
  • Marquette
  • Pinot Noir

Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

Benjamin Bridge is Canada’s most acclaimed sparkling wine house, situated in Nova Scotia’s picturesque Gaspereau Valley. Its cool climate is moderated by the Bay of Fundy, promoting natural acidities and the ability for the grapes to remain on the vine for an extended period of time.  This is required for the classic Champagne varietals, which are critical to producing sparkling wines of richness, structure, and finesse.  The climate has a close resemblance to France’s Champagne region.

Benjamin Bridge is primarily a traditional method sparkling wine producer.  Their portfolio is also comprised of brisk, aromatic whites – wines that take full advantage of the same, unique climatic traits that produce world-class sparkling wines. Nova 7, coined “Nova Scotia’s iconic wine,” pioneered an effervescent, off-dry style in the province, crafted on a foundation of quintessential freshness.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • Geisenheim
  • L’Acadie
  • Muscat
  • Ortega
  • Riesling
  • Seyval
  • Vidal

Red

  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir

Blomidon Estate Winery

Blomidon is a boutique winery that crafts small lots of 100% Nova Scotian wines from estate-grown grapes.   They have won numerous national and international awards and acclaim for their wines

They are located in a scenic 10-hectare setting on the edge of the Minas Basin near Canning, a unique micro-climate for grape-growing.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • L’Acadie Blanc
  •  Seyval Blanc
  • New York Muscat
  • Riesling

Red:

  • Baco Noir
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir

Gaspereau Vineyards

Gaspereau Vineyards is a boutique winery best known for outstanding Rieslings and elegant white and robust red wines. They have had award-winning, premium, estate-grown wines.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • New York Muscat
  • Riesling
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Vidal Blanc

Red:

  • Lucie Kuhlmann

Awards

  • Silver at 2018 The National Wine Awards of Canada
  • Double Gold at 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships
  • Silver at 2017 The National Wine Awards of Canada
  • Best in Class for Tidal Bays at 2017 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards
  • Silver at 2015 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards
  • Top Scoring for Tidal Bay at 2014 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards
  • Silver at  2014 Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada

Domaine de Grand Pré Winery

Domaine de Grand Pré is the oldest farm winery in Atlantic Canada. The Swiss-born Stutz family re-opened the doors to the public in 2000 displaying a European sensibility for quality and a passion for wine.

They grow specialty grapes that are developed for Nova Scotia’s specific climate and landscape. The result is an array of award-winning vintages.

Varietals

White:

  • L’Acadie Blanc
  • New York Muscat
  • Ortega
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Vidal Blanc

Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Lightfoot & Wolfville is a 4th generation family-farm.  They are certified organic (Ecocert) and biodynamic (Demeter).  Their focus is on classic Burgundian-inspired Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Rieslings and other German-styled white wines, as well as traditional method prestige cuvée sparkling wines.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Geisenheim-318
  • L’Acadie Blanc
  • Ortega
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Siegerrebe
  • Vidal

Red:

  • Frontenac Noir
  • Léon Millot
  • Marquette
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir
  • Petite Pearl

Luckett Vineyards

Luckett Vineyards aims to capture the magic of Nova Scotia’s distinctive character through their wines. They are situated by the Bay of Fundy where they produce unique white wines.

Varietals

White:

  • L’Acadie
  • Osceola Muscat
  • Traminette
  • Ortega
  • Seyval
  • Vidal

Mercator Vineyards

Mercator Vineyards is distinctive for its authentic heritage and its timeless, relaxed and simple focus on old-world style wines.

Located just east of the town of Wolfville and adjacent to the Grand-Pré National Historic site, the vineyards are located on a bluff overlooking the historic Acadian dykelands where the Cornwallis River enters the tidal bay of the Minas Basin.

The winery is devoted entirely to growing exceptional grapes and making extraordinary limited-edition wines.

Varietals

White:

  • Chardonnay
  • L’Acadie
  • Léon Millot
  • Seyval
  • New York Muscat
  • Petite Milo

Red:

  • Marquette

Planters Ridge Winery

Planters Ridge is situated in a unique microclimate where it is bordered in the north by the basalt and granite of the North Mountain that rises from the shores of the Bay of Fundy. To the south it is sheltered from the cooler air of the Atlantic Ocean by South Mountain and Wolfville Ridge.

Planters Ridge is housed in a renovated 156-year-old timber frame barn that combines historical features with modern flourishes. This artisanal winery has invested in state-of-the-art equipment, producing highly acclaimed wines. With a focus on blends, they have developed a reputation for crafting aromatic whites and well-balanced, silky-smooth reds.

Varietals

White:

  • Frontenac Blanc
  • Frontenac Gris
  • L’Acadie
  • Muscat Ottonel
  • New York  Muscat
  • Seyval

Red:

  • Castel
  • Lucie Kuhlmann
  • Marquette
  • Pinot Noir

Sainte-Famille Wines

Sainte Famille Wines Ltd. is a small family owned vineyard and winery located on an original Acadian Village site known as “La Paroisse Sainte-Famille De Pisiquit” which was settled around 1685.  It has one of the warmest vineyard sites in Nova Scotia. The result is rich full bodied reds such as their premium Old Vines Marechal Foch, produced from the oldest vines in Nova Scotia. They have also produced whites of exceptional character such as the 2004 L’Acadie Blanc, which was chosen Best of Appellation.

Varietals

White:

  • Geisenheim #318
  • L’Acadie
  • Muscat
  • Riesling
  • Seyval
  • Siegfried

Red:

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Marechal Foch.

Even though the Annapolis Valley produces more native grapes than Ontario and British Columbia, who produce more European varietals, the wines of Nova Scotia should not be discounted when considering quality and taste.  The vintners of Nova Scotia have made the most out of the harsher grape growing climate and produce some excellent wines.

If you ever travel to the Annapolis Valley, taking the time to explore some of these wineries would be well worth the time.

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BC’s Okanagan Valley Wine Region

Viticulture began in British Columbia around 1859, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that a quality-focused approach saw the emergence of consistent, comprehensive excellence in their wines. The Okanagan Valley is situated in the rain shadow of the Coast and Monashee mountain ranges, which protect the valley from rain and help create ideal conditions for over 60 grape varieties to flourish.

The valley stretches over 250 kilometres, experiencing a temperature differential of about 5°C from north to south which, along with numerous site-specific mesoclimates, has a significant impact on the style and type of wines produced.

With 84% of the province’s vineyard acreage, the valley stretches over 250 kilometres, across four sub-regions, each with distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing a range of varietals from sun-ripened reds to lively, fresh and often crisp whites.  The four sub-regions are Golden Mile Bench, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls and Skaha Bench.

With both quiet family-run boutique vineyards and world-class operations, the Okanagan Valley wineries are rich in tradition and character, consistently ranking among the world’s best at international competitions.  Nearly every style of wine is produced across the whole spectrum of sweetness levels that include still, sparkling, fortified and dessert wines—most notably ice wines.

The more than 60 grape varieties grown in the Okanagan include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Auxerrois Blanc, Marechal Foch and Cabernet Franc. Additionally many German varieties are still found throughout the Okanagan including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Bacchus, Optima, Ehrenfelser, Kerner and Siegerebe.

Recently, growers have been planting warmer climate varieties typically not associated with the Canadian wine industry. These varietals include Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Trebbiano, Pinotage, Malbec, Barbera and Zinfandel.

The Okanagan Valley is on my bucket-list of places I would like to visit once we reach the post-COVID-19 era.  The valley provides not only great wines but is a hiker’s and biker’s dream, with awe-inspiring vistas, theatre, music, boating, art galleries, craft breweries, boutiques, artisanal bakeries and great restaurants.

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