The Lignage grape was virtually extinct several years ago. The last known vine was situated in the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) nursery at Montpellier, France. Today, the number has increased but there are still well under a thousand vines in existence.
The revival of Lignage is part of a wider project overseen by a local group, the Union for Genetic Resources of Centre-Val de Loire (URGC). URGC’s goal is to revitalize old grape varieties linked to the local area prior to the phylloxera infestation in the late 1800s.
Phylloxera is an insect that can damage grape vines by feeding on the plant sap from the roots. It is often described as an aphid-like sucking insect.
Officially, the project is experimental at this point so the Lignage varietal is not listed on any appellation documentation. Lignage’s history in the region dates back to 1427. It was also known as Macé Doux, Macédoux, Massé Doux and Lignage de Blois. By the mid 1800s it had become well established in a winegrowing zone known as the Côte des Grouëts.
The variety is similar to Pinot Noir in that it produces a light-coloured red wine. Having purple skin and a green flesh it can also be made into a white wine.
Not much is known about the wine that Lignage produced but according to written accounts the grapes produced a fine, delicate, lightly coloured red wine with fine aromas and a low alcohol content. More information should be known by 2024 when the first trial wines are expected to be produced. It is anticipated that by 2028 the varietal will return as an official vine and be available for more extensive planting.
I look forward to perhaps having the opportunity to try Lignage at some point in the future.
Bonarda grapes are pretty much unique to South America’s Argentina, where, after Malbec, it is the country’s most produced varietal. It was first introduced in Argentina in the 1800s. It is not the same grape as the Bonarda from Italy. The Argentinian varietal is actually named Douce Noir, which originated in Savoie, France.
It was initially used to add colour and a fruity flavour to Argentinian-produced blends. However, it has since been found that it can stand on its own as a single varietal. The key to using Bonarda on its own is to use grapes only from the more mature vines. There are plantings that are over 100 years old.
Bonarda grapes mature well in oak barrels and the resulting wines are characterized by complexity and spice with great structure and medium-full body. The wine will have hints of plum, cherry and fig. The colour is deep and dark. There is a medium level of tannins which allow it to be cellared for five to ten years, though it is ready to drink when it is released from the winery.
Bonarda will pair well with grilled pork, roast chicken or even grilled salmon.
If you haven’t tried it before, Argentina’s Bonarda is worth seeking out at your local liquor store. Who knows, it may become your next favourite medium-bodied red wine.
As a follow-up to my blog “To Age or Not to Age” from January 15th, I have put together a list of generally accepted retention times for common varietals of white and red wine. However, proper storage methods need to be followed in order to best achieve these results. Refer to Wine Storage Options for information on how best to retain wine.
The information provided here refers to the length of time a wine can be retained, not the length of time a wine will necessarily continue to be enhanced. In certain instances some vintages may be retained longer while others should be drunk shortly after purchase.
There are a several white wine varietals that age well. The most renowned is Chardonnay, which gets its ability to age from a combination of higher acidity paired with oak-aging.
Sémillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc in the white blend of Bordeaux. Sémillon has been shown to age gracefully and develop interesting nutty flavours over time.
Riesling is Germany’s aromatic and often subtly sweet white has proven to do well during aging. As it matures it turns a rich yellow colour with aromas of petrol. It may sound disgusting but tastes wonderful.
White Rioja or Rioja Blanca is a white wine that begins with citrus and mineral flavours but then becomes increasingly rich and flavourful with age.
Chenin Blanc wines from France’s Loire Valley have produced some great choices of wines suitable for aging. There are also some new options from South Africa that are making a name for themselves.
Fortified dessert wines tend to age longer than stilled wines. Sherry, Madeira and some Marsala have shown to improve in flavour over decades. There are several botrytized white wines such as Sauternes and Riesling that age nicely for up to 30 years.
Drink Within 1 to 3 Years
Drink Within 3 to 5 Years
Oaked South African Chenin Blanc
Oaked Sauvignon Blanc
Drink Within 5 to 10 Years
Oaked Grüner Veltliner
Sweet Loire Valley Chenin Blanc
Burgundy Oaked Chardonnay
Auslese German Riesling
White Cotes du Rhône
White Rioja/ Rioja Blanca
Drink Within 10 to 20 Years
High quality Chablis
Late Harvest Riesling
Vendage Tardive Alsace
Some red wines with high acidity and high tannin are perfect to lay down and age for a few years. Here are some red wines that are known to age well:
Cabernet Sauvignon has a high range of variability because there are a wide range of quality levels and regions. Look for wines with deep color, a higher level of acidity, balanced alcohol levels and noticeable tannins.
Merlot will age in a similar manner as Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines become softer and often smokier with age. Right-bank Bordeaux wines are a great place to start when looking to find cellarable Merlot.
Monastrell/Mourvèdre has extremely high tannins and colour. In the Bandol region of Provence, France, this grape doesn’t usually fully develop its taste until after at least 10 years of aging.
Tempranillo is one of the best varieties for long-term aging.
Sangiovese is another top-notch grape variety to age long-term because of its spicy acidity. Over time it will mellow out and produce sweet fig-like notes.
Nebbiolo grapes produce wines with incredibly high tannins that softens and seems to sweeten over time. Barolo and Barbaresco are great examples of wines made with Nebbiolo grapes that age extremely well.
My wife and I recently hosted a family dinner and for the occasion I asked my wife to purchase a Riesling to go along with it. One of the challenges of living in a rural community is that the local liquor store doesn’t have a lot of choices when in search of a particular varietal. She returned home with Tawse 2017 Sketches of Niagara Riesling.
When we opened and served the wine with the dinner my wife and I identified the bouquet right away, diesel fuel. My wife was immediately turned off by it while I became positively excited. This was the first Ontario Riesling that I have had that authentically portrays its Old-World style German cousin.
The wine was vibrant with subtle floral, nutty, fig, smoke and pear notes, a soft sweetness and long finish. It is a great value at only $18.95. Even though my wife was not a fan of the nose of a traditional German style Riesling, she did enjoy the overall flavour of the wine.
When I clicked on Tawse website to see if I could learn more about their German style Riesling, I saw that their wine maker, Paul Pender, had been tragically killed several days prior. I never had the opportunity of meeting him but after tasting the Riesling, as well as other wonderful creations from Tawse, I certainly wish I had. His untimely passing is a tragic loss to the entire wine community.
If you are a fan of Riesling, I suggest picking up a bottle or two of the Sketches of Niagara as a tribute to its creator.
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.