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.
Pinot grapes come in a great variety and not only are they related, many varieties are quite closely connected through DNA.
However, before getting too far in this discussion it is important to point out that Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are in fact the same grape. Confusion sometimes arises from there being two names. Pinot Gris is what the grape is called in France, while the term Pinot Grigio originates in Italy.
There are some noticeable differences in characteristics between the two, due to climate, soil and production techniques. Pinot Gris tends to be a bit softer, with touches of honey and a smooth feel, while Italian Pinot Grigio is a bit more acidic with bitter almond undertones. Technically, there is also American Pinot Grigio which is most similar to Italian Pinot Grigio, but tends to be a bit less tart and more fruit-forward.
Similarly, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Bianco are one and the same as well; Pinot Bianco is the Italian name. Just as with Pinot Gris and Grigio, French Pinot Blanc and Italian Pinot Bianco produce markedly different wines.
The French versions from Alsace are musky and creamy-textured whereas those from Italy have livelier acidity, with pear or even soft citrus flavours. American Pinot Blancs are usually made in the French style, as the name suggests. Pinot Blancs pairs well with cheese-based dishes; Pinot Bianco goes nicely with light foods like chicken breasts or flaky white fish in a simple sauce.
Both the red and white grape are referred to as Pinot because the grape clusters resemble the shape of pine cones. The latter half of their name refers to the colour of the grapes. Pinot Noir is a rather dark skinned grape, Pinot Gris are considered to have a gray coloured skin, and Pinot Blanc is considered to be is often a mix of bronze, green and pink grapes within the same bunch.
Pinot Blanc/Bianco and Pinot Gris/Grigio are colour mutations from Pinot Noir in which they lack pigment, producing the lighter grapes and fruitier wines. Pinot Blanc/Bianco has the least amount of anthocyanin.
The juices of all the Pinots are clear, but Pinot Noir is allowed to remain with its skin for a period of time which gives it its red colour. Pinot Blanc/Bianco and Pinot Gris/Grigio on the other hand are not left with the skin, therefore creating a white wine.
With respect to taste, Pinot Grigio is noted for pronounced, often quite high, crisp and bold acidity. Pinot Gris and American Pinot Grigio have softer, medium levels of acidity but it is still very present.
Aged, Pinot Gris/Grigio will tend to showcase a bit more acidity and structure than Pinot Blanc/Bianco. Pinot Blanc has a rounder expression. It’s actually among the regular, daily whites consumed in Alsace. Unlike the often brighter fruit flavours found in some Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc can tend towards apple and even some smoky flavours; it can also be oaked for a bit more richness.
Pinot Blanc is very versatile. It is used in still wines, sweet, and sparkling wine. In northwestern Italy, Pinot Bianco is also used in Franciacorta, which is an Italian sparkling wine. It’s also a major component in Crémant d’Alsace.
Pinot Noir is semi-acidic, though because it is a red wine, the acidity is a bit less noticeable. It is a light bodied red wine with flavour notes of red berries, cherries, and vanilla. When aged there may be hints of vanilla and caramel accents. Clove, licorice, and even smokier tobacco are present in some varieties.
When pairing with food, Pinot Noir compliments light meats such as chicken and fattier fish like salmon. Most Pinot Gris wines have a medium body and crispness, allowing them to pair well with light seafood dishes.
Tannins provide an astringent, drying sensation and also add texture to the wine. For red wine, Pinot Noir is rather light in tannins, and being white wine, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are inherently low in tannins.
Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio tend to be produced as dry wines. Pinot Gris, due to light touches of honey notes, tends to have a touch of sweetness, which can even be considered as slightly off-dry. Pinot Blanc has its own taste spectrum, either rich (when oaked) or lighter and more neutral in the Pinot Grigio way, but usually with more fleshiness and lower acidity.
In summary, when compared, there are a number of differences, but also a few similarities between Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris/Grigio or Pinot Blanc/Bianca. They all tend to be light; refreshing wines with distinct acidity, but can also be more complex and smoother, depending on climate.
I have put together my 2021 list of British Columbia wineries to watch for. Not all of these wines will be available at your local wine store; some are available in British Columbia wine stores, but most may be purchased online or directly from the winery.
My selections are based on my interpretation of recent trends, the wineries successes and the quality of their wine, their wine-making practices and what makes them stand out above their competitors at the present time. My list is presented in no particular order.
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, West Kelowna
Mission Hill uses sustainable organic farming practices with the use of modern technology. Their wines are carefully aged with new and Old World techniques. They employ the use of bees, falcons, and chickens in lieu of pesticides and insecticides. Cover crops, earthworms, and compost are used in place of chemical fertilizers.
Their winemakers’ practices are fundamentally rooted in Old World techniques that are supported with modern technology. Drones provide a high-level view of the vineyard’s health. Soil science pinpoints the areas where best to plant the vines.
The winemaking team strives to be continually innovative, combining fermentation and maturation vessel traditions with future trends. The equipment and processes are designed to best serve the wines.
Mission Hill has 3 collections of wines: the Reserve Collection, Terroir Collection and the Legacy Collection.
The Reserve Collection expresses hand-selected blocks of grapes, extreme viticulture management, longer barrel time, and increased lees stirring, which is a process to handle the yeast during the fermentation process.
Only the top 3% of all of the winery’s fruit is hand-selected for these wines and each individual lot is carefully tasted throughout the winemaking process to ensure its quality level before the final blend.
The grapes are hand-harvested and hand-sorted, consisting of the top 1% of the harvest from all of their vineyards. They benefit from extended barrel aging which is followed by a 24-month period in-bottle prior to release.
These wines are small lot and limited production collectibles. Cellar-worthy, they may be aged for decades. The collection includes Compendium, Quatrain, Prospectus, Perpetua and their flagship wine, Oculus.
Covert Farms Family Estate, Oliver
Covert Farms Family Estate practices organic farming with minimal intervention winemaking. Regenerative agriculture offers many benefits to the farming ecosystem such as increasing soil organic matter, greater water holding capacity, improved nutrient cycling, pest and disease suppression through enhanced soil biology, and ultimately higher nutrient density in the vines.
They hope to introduce Dry Farming to the vineyards within the next few years which would provide such benefits as enhanced resiliency to climate change and potential increase in wine quality attributes.
They practice regenerative farming, which is based on five principles that need to be implemented together: no-till or minimal tillage, keeping the ground covered, species diversity, keeping living roots in the soil as much as possible and integrating livestock.
Regenerative agriculture offers many benefits to the ecosystem such as increasing soil organic matter, carbon capture, greater water holding capacity, improved nutrient cycling, pest and disease control through enhanced soil biology, and ultimately higher nutrient density within their crops.
Minimizing tillage is challenging in organic agriculture as this is one of the only means to manage weeds. They have been adapting their systems and processes and have had good success in the vineyards. Interestingly, the longer the soil is undisturbed, the fewer weeds there are.
Tantalus Vineyards, Kelowna
Tantalus Vineyards put incredible care into everything they do, from farming to winemaking and including the winery being Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. It is also LIVE certified. LIVE has independently certified the sustainable practices of winegrowers in the Pacific Northwest, using the latest in university research and internationally accredited standards.
Riesling is the major focus at Tantalus; it is an Okanagan icon. However, their Pinot Noir is very good as well.
Obviously these are far more than just 3 good wineries in British Columbia. In fact I have purposely excluded some of my personal favourites from this list as they were not what I consider as the innovative leaders this year. Included in that list would be Osoyoos Larose, Quails Gate and Gray Monk.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will find many of the wines produced by these wineries outside of British Columbia. However, lucky for us many of the wineries offer online ordering.
With COVID-19 finally starting to loosen its grip over the country and the hopes that people will be able to begin moving more freely again, I have put together my 2021 list of wines to watch for. Not all of these wines will be available at your local wine store; some can only be purchased online or directly from the winery.
One significant indicator of which wineries are making an impact is usually the Ontario Wine Awards. However, COVID-19 caused the 2021 awards to be cancelled. The 2020 awards were conducted virtually but the organizers decided to forego the 2021 awards with the exception of the ‘Winemaker of the Year Award, which will be announced sometime during the summer. A second indicator is the National Wine Awards, which for 2021 has been deferred from June to October.
Selecting a list of top wineries is very subjective. Depending on the reviewer, ratings may be based on any or all of:
Customer visit experience at the winery
Overall service of the winery
The winery facility and amenities
The variety of wines offered for sale
The quality of the wine
For the purposes of this review I have based my opinions on my interpretation of recent trends, the wineries successes, and the quality of their wine, their wine-making practices and what makes them stand out above their competitors at the present time. My list is presented in no particular order.
Rosehall Run Vineyard, Prince Edward County
Having won the 2020 Ontario Wine Awards “Red Wine of the Year” for its 2018 ‘JCR Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard’ I am looking forward to seeing what Rosehall Run will do this year. I was fortunate enough to visit The County last fall and taste this prize winner, as well as bring a few bottles home. Based on last year’s performance, I would think that this year’s Pinot Noir release will be worth getting a hold of.
2020 was not the first time Rosehall Run has received an award. Their recognized achievements go back to 2006 and they have even had their wine included on the menu for a Royal visit.
Angels Gate Winery, Niagara
Winemaker Philip Dowell was named 2020’s ‘Winemaker of the Year’ at the Ontario Wine Awards. Dowell has a simple philosophy on winemaking; it’s all about balance both in the vineyard and in the actual wine. It’s about bringing together the ‘terroir’, ‘elevage’ and ‘typicity’ of wine. The ‘terroir” is the character of the grape from a specific vineyard site; ‘elevage’ is the progress the wine takes through the cellar during its maturation; and ‘typicity’ is the distinctive vinous character each wine has.
Karlo has rebounded after some struggles following the 2014 death of its founder and winemaker, Richard Karlo. Karlo has redeveloped its vision, which is to promote sustainability and show that it is possible to be respectful of the planet while producing award-winning wines. Karlo was the first certified vegan wine in the world. Not only is the wine in the bottles certified vegan but all the vineyard practices are vegan as well.
Personally, I am a big fan of both the Van Alstine white and red Port, as well as their Quintus which is made using Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
The Picone Vineyard, Niagara
The Picone Vineyard was a complete mystery to me prior to their winning the White Wine of the Year award at the 2020 Ontario Wine Awards for their 2017 ‘Charles Baker Riesling’. The vineyard is small, only 10 acres.
In addition to the Riesling, they produce Fogolar Cabernet Franc, which is made from a one-acre block with prized vines that are 30+ years old.
Being committed to enhancing the environment by using sustainable practices in their winery and vineyard, the Wine Council of Ontario has certified Picone for sustainability management of their vineyard.
Interestingly, the owner, Mark Picone, is an internationally trained chef. As well as owning the winery, Mark is a Chef Professor at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute. What better way to showcase his wine than by pairing them with his own food creations.
Picone Vineyard may be small but it seems to have great future potential to become mighty.
Obviously these are not all the good wineries in Ontario, in fact far from it. However, these are the ones that caught my attention this past year. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will find any of their offerings in your local wine or liquor store. However, if you find yourself in either the Niagara region or The County, visiting these wineries could be a fruitful (no pun intended) experience. Most of the wineries offer online ordering as well.
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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.
New York Muscat
Ontario Chardonnay and Riesling grapes are used in some of the wines
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.
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.
New York Muscat
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.
New York Muscat
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.
New York Muscat
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.
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.
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.
New York Muscat
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.
New York Muscat
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.
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.
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.
Switzerland may be a little known wine producing nation but it has been making wine for more than two thousand years. Swiss wine’s lack of fame is not due to any lack of quality or quantity, but because it is produced mostly for the Swiss themselves.
The Swiss consume nearly all the wine they make. In 2016, Swiss residents drank 89 million litres of domestic wine which made up only about a third of the total 235 million litres of wine they drank. They export only about 1% of their wine production and the majority of that goes mainly to Germany.
Things are gradually changing as the world is beginning to discover the high quality of Swiss Pinot Noir and white wines made from the locally grown Chasselas.
Switzerland possesses multi-cultural influence. The Germanic wine influence is demonstrated by a preference for varietal winemaking and crisp, refreshing wine styles, and is most prevalent in the German-speaking north between Zurich and the Rhine. French influences are felt mostly in the French-speaking south-west in Geneva, Vaud and Valais. Switzerland’s favourite grape varieties – Chasselas, sometimes referred to as “Fendant”, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Merlot are all of French origin.
Do to the terrain, Swiss wines are some of the world’s most expensive. Many vineyards are inaccessible to tractors and other vineyard machinery so most work is done by hand. This substantially increases production costs. This does have an advantage; when grapes are harvested by hand, there is an obvious incentive to favour quality over quantity.
The Chasselas white wine grape is gradually giving up production to more popular ‘international’ varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer are also grown in Swiss vineyards.
Red wines now outnumber whites in Switzerland. Pinot Noir, also known as Blauburgunder, is the most widely produced and planted variety in the country, making up almost 30% of wines produced. Chasselas represents just over a quarter of all wines.
The next most popular wine in the red category is Gamay. It is often blended with Pinot Noir to produce “Dôle” wines.
Also significant among Swiss red wine grapes is Merlot. Syrah has also done well here, even if only in the warmest parts of the country.
Wine has been produced in Switzerland for more than 2,000 years. As in France, the spread of viticulture during the Middle Ages was mainly driven by monasteries.
Today the Swiss wine industry has about 16,000 hectares of vineyards that produce about 100 million liters of wine each year.
The government body in charge of the Swiss appellation system, the OIC, has a separate title for each of the country’s three official languages: “Organisme Intercantonal de Certification” in French, ‘Interkantonale Zertifizierungsstelle” in German and “Organismo Intercantonale di Certificazione” in Italian. The OIC is responsible for delineating the official Swiss wine regions and creating wine quality guidelines and laws. The OIC is reportedly in talks to bring their labelling practices into line with European standards even though the country is not a member of the European Union.
I myself have never had the opportunity to try Swiss wine but I will keep an eye out for it whenever I cruise the aisles in the Vintages section of my local liquor store.
There are in excess of 100 grape varietals that have 2 or more uniquely different names. Many of these have multiple names within the same country! I have compiled a list of the more common ones that make an appearance in wine stores in North America.
So what’s in a name? Are they always interchangeable, or does their place and name hold a clue to their style?
Where a grape is grown may greatly impact its flavour. I have compiled some examples where this is the case.
Blaufränkisch grapes, also known as Lemberger, Kékfrankos, Frankovka, and Frankinja, are found in the temperate and distinctly continental latitudes of Central Europe. In eastern Austria, it’s known as Blaufränkisch. In southern Germany, it’s Lemberger. It also goes by Kékfrankos in Hungary, Frankovka in northern Croatia and western Slovakia and Frankinja in eastern Slovenia. No matter the name, it produces quality reds that age well. It also forms part of Egri Bikaver, Hungary’s historic “bulls’ blood” wine.
Fairly full-bodied for such northerly reaches, Blaufränkisch produces structured, elegant wines. Cooler vintages or sites add an irresistible pepperiness to the usually dark-fruit spectrum, where there are notes of dark cherry and blueberry.
Vinified in stainless steel, Blaufränkisch is sometimes confused with fuller-bodied Gamay. However, when aged in small, new oak barrels, Blaufränkisch attains some punch and needs to be laid down for a few years to return to its inherent subtlety.
Grenache, also known as Garnacha and Cannonau is known for its luscious red fruit flavours. Grenache is an archetypal Mediterranean variety. It needs full sun, will withstand heat and drought and it thrives on meager, stony soils.
Grenache is full-bodied without being tannic. It can also make charming, aromatic reds in the Rhône cru villages of Vinsobres, Rasteau, Gigondas and Vacqueyras. As Cannonau in Sardinia, it’s bigger, stronger and bolder.
Malbec, also known as Côt, is synonymous with Argentina, where this aromatic, black grape revels in the bright, high-altitude sunshine of the Andes.
Malbec is sometimes referred to as Côt in France. It’s even one of the five permitted varieties in red Bordeaux, even though it ripens unreliably there. In France’s cooler Loire Valley, Côt produces wines that are very fresh, and often spicy.
The Mourvèdre grape also referred to as Monastrell, Mataro, Rossola Near and Garrut, is a thick-skinned, small-berried grape of Spanish origin that thrives in hot climates. Mourvèdre is at home on the Mediterranean coast in Spain, where it’s called Monastrell, and forms the gutsy, heavy, tannic reds of Yecla, Jumilla and Alicante. In Australia, where it’s known as Mataro, it is included in Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blends.
The Primitivo grape of Italy is also known as Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski in its native Croatia and Montenegro, as Primitivo in Puglia and as Zinfandel in California.
As a red wine, Zinfandel always boasts full, juicy and plump fruit that covers a spectrum of ripeness, often with elevated alcohol levels of up to 14%. In Puglia, Primitivo is smooth and warming. On an inland elevation, Gioia del Colle produces the freshest versions, while coastal Primitivo di Manduria is strong, dense and powerful. In Croatia and Montenegro, Tribidrag is produced as a fruity local wine.
Syrah, also known as Shiraz, can taste almost like polar opposites depending on the climate. Syrah was traditionally a French grape found in the Northern Rhône region. There the grape has firm, drying tannins and is more slender.
Known as Shiraz in Australia, the grape is most distinct in the hot Barossa and warm McLaren Vale regions, but it also thrives in cooler Canberra. Australian Shiraz is often described as peppery, big and bold.
Chenin Blanc is also known as Pineau de la Loire and Steen. It is native to France’s cool Loire Valley, where it is also called Pineau de la Loire. Its acid is high, and its expression always tinged with apple flavors that range from green to dried.
It’s inherent acidity makes Chenin Blanc a popular grape in South Africa, where it’s referred to as Steen.
Pinot Gris, also known as Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder, Fromenteau, Pinot Beurot, Ruländer, Malvoisie, Pinot Jaune and Szürkebarát, may range from being an easy-drinker to a full-flavoured white.
Easy-drinking, lighter versions are often labeled Pinot Grigio, while rounder wines, often with some residual sweetness, are designated Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris makes full-fruited, rounded whites heavy enough to accompany red meat and are suitable for aging.
The Vermentino grape is also known as Rolle, Pigato, and Favorita and thrives in Italy, France and on the islands of Corsica and Sardini., prized for its fine, crisp acidity.
On its own, Vermentino displays citrus aromatics and inherent crispness. From the Tuscan coast, it evokes a citrus-scent. Pigato, from Liguria, while still fresh, is a little more robust and structured.
As Vermentino di Gallura from Sardinia, the grape is fuller-bodied with intense, medicinal notes of lemon balm and yarrow. When grown in places such as Italy’s Piedmont region, it is known as Favorita. There the grape takes on an aromatic quality. More recently, Vermentino is also finding a new home in Australia.
Below is a more complete list of both red and white varietals and countries where they are located.
Blaufränkisch / Limberger
Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Italy, USA