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A Canada Day wine column (sort of), plus 10 great Canadian wines and a word from FreeMyGrapes


Yeah, yeah, it’s Canada Day (or close enough) and everyone’s talking about Canadian wines and raising a glass of this and raising a glass of that from somewhere, anywhere in this great land.

Good. We should be raising a glass of Canadian wine to toast our own birthday. It’s the right thing to do.

8738181907_d90e5dfb3fBut, damn it!, please DO NOT drink your country’s own wine because it is Canada Day. Drink it, because you like it or don’t drink it at all.

We’re past being patriot about our wine. Those who like it, like it a lot, those who don’t, well, they don’t. Simplistic, I know, but it’s a little late in the game to have to convince Canadians that we make great wine in this country. If there are still those who don’t believe that, then there are factors at work that we can never fix no matter how hard we try to force it down their throats. So, leave those people alone. Quit bugging them.

I’m expecting a deluge of believers on social media to extol the virtues of Canadian wine. Hats off to all of you who are spreading the good word, especially those behind Canadian Wine Day, being celebrated today for the first time. You can follow along on Twitter here @CanadianWineDay.

It’s a given that we have a river of great wine being made coast to coast now. Good, hard-working farmers pumping out a sea of great Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cab Francs and every other varietal under the sun.

In B.C., Alberta and some of the other progressive provinces you have stores that can sell these wines from big and small producers alike. You have choice. It is unlimited choice decided by smart retailers and ultimately the consumer.

PinotGrisPlease think of those of us who live in Ontario (and Quebec) on this Canada Day who have limited access to all those great wines being made by Ontario producers. We are being held hostage by a monopoly still governed by post-Prohibitionist thinking. It is a monopoly that limits the wines we can have access to. It is a monopoly that shows no signs of weakening. It is a monopoly that won’t let adults in this province make their own choices.

I long for the day when we can toast with a great bottle of Canadian sparkling wine the end of the LCBO monopoly and the freedom of choice enjoyed by much of the free world.

I also appreciate the fight from FreeMyGrapes (see below for an update) which has been working hard to get provincial governments to allow the free flow of wine between the great provinces of this great land. Unfortunately, some provinces have been reluctant to get on board for whatever narrow-minded thinking they possess. It’s just another roadblock that is blocking Canadian’s freedom of choice.

These are the things I will be thinking of on Canada Day when all the LCBO stores in the province are closed because, well, I don’t know why, because … well, because it’s been like that since, oh, 1920 or so.

The business of Canadian wine cannot grow without the province’s help in modernizing the booze business. Ontario must give up pretending it can be a better retailer than actual retailers. The government has to realize that there is a better way to move Ontario forward. When that day arrives it will be the best Canada Day ever.

OK, the rant’s over, let’s get to some wines.

Here are 10 Canadian wines that I’ve enjoyed lately that would fit perfectly in your Canada Day toasting glass (in no particular order):

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011 ($30, Vintages, 90 points) — Thomas Bachelder earned a coveted “Vintages Essential” listing for this Niagara Chardonnay. That means when the 2010 vintage runs out, the 2011 quickly fills the void. The 2011 vintage is simply delicious with a pear-apple nose and subtle notes of citrus and vanilla spice . I love the racy stony mineral profile on the palate and graceful finesse and length through the finish. It’s beautifully balanced by full-bore acidity. Superb Niagara Chardonnay.

8640940408_8c30df18e4Rosehall Run Chardonnay Cuvee County 2010 ($22, Vintages, 89 points) — The fruit for the Cuvee County is sourced from Hillier clay limestone vineyards in Prince Edward County. Aging in oak is for 14 months mostly in 500-litre puncheons, a third of which is new. This is a Chard that offers immediate pleasure with a ripe nose of apple, pear, vanilla, nutmeg and oak-inspired spices that are quite attractive from the get-go. The expressive, ripe fruit on the palate is fleshy but not flabby with apple-pear flavours and flinty minerality running through the core. A lovely Chard that’s drinking perfectly right now.

Vineland Estate Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 ($14, LCBO, winery, 90 points) — A go-to Riesling in Niagara from winemaker Brian Schmidt for summer sipping. A lovely nose of lemon and apple with peach accents. It’s ripe and fruity and perfectly balanced between sweet and dry with plenty of crisp acidity. A perfect example of classic Niagara Riesling.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2012 ($19, winery, 90 points) — Winemaker Sandra Oldfield nailed it with this Okanagan Gris — it is the best she’s made. A gorgeous nose of pear, melon, apple and juicy tropical fruits that have fresh appeal in the glass. It’s made with partial malo to give the Gris a little textural excitement on the palate but the apple, pear and peach fruits still have plenty verve on through the finish. Very pure and delicious. Great job here.

Joie Farm Rosé 2012 ($21, winery, 90 points) — Okanagan’s Joie Farm makes one of the country’s great rosés. It is a blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris and has a lovely nose of raspberry, strawberry, juicy watermelon and a squirt of refreshing citrus fruit. It is just slightly off-dry on the palate with balancing acidity that brings out the best in the delicious red fruits and lemon-lime zing. Fantastic wine!

pinot2027 Cellars Queenston Road Pinot Noir 2011 ($35, online, Featherstone winery, 93 points) — Made with wild fermentation, no fining agents or filtration and winemaker Kevin Panagapka’s favourite Tonnellerie Sirugue French oak, 20% of it new. The nose is much deeper and earthier than previous vintages but still the ripe cherry and raspberry rise to the top with beetroot and oak spices mingling in the background. The wine does a turnaround on the palate, guided by a wall of fine oak tannin and earth, and, well, that Pinot funk that slowly reveals the beetroot, the sour cherry, the field raspberry, the anise and darker fruits. It’s altogether a more masculine expression of this fascinating grape that starts with a wink and a promise but delivers a subtext of complexity that will make you work hard for the pleasure within this intellectual offering.

Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2011 ($22, winery now, 90 points) — And while you’re at Featherstone, pick up a bottle or two of this VERY Canadian wine. The oak comes from trees planted along the Grand River in Brantford, Ont. and the staves are shipped to California for the completion of the barrels. David Johnson likes Canadian oak in his Chardonnay, which he says fits somewhere between French and American oak in terms of spice flavouring. The Chard sees one year in 100% new oak and is fermented with wild yeast. The nose shows toasted vanilla, apple-pear, and creamy notes. It has lovely texture on the palate with poached pear, vanilla wood spices, brioche and apple butter notes through a smooth finish. Interesting and different style of Chard.

9024359611_bc642f106bFive Rows Craft Wine Pinot Gris 2012 ($25, winery, 92 points) — Now this is something, a serious Gris that’s not afraid to let its freak flag fly. 70% of the fruit is barrel fermented and barrel aged in old, neutral oak barrels for six months. There is some skin contact and you can see it in the light salmon colouring and you can feel the subtle tannins on the palate. The nose shows ripe McIntosh apple, melon, poached pear and spices that swirl around the edges yet never overpowers the fruit. It has some weight and viscosity on the palate, some tannic structure, but it is the fruit, laden with apple and pear, that shines in the mouth with bits of spice and honey all balanced out by a firm beam of acidity. Alsace comes to mind here, those viscous, bold Crus that age so gracefully.

Coyote’s Run Rare Vintage Meritage 2010 ($40, winery, 91 points) — This winery only makes the Rare Vintage wines in the finest vintages. This is a very fine wine with a bold nose of plump, juicy blackberries, currants, black cherry-kirsch, plums and fine oak spices swirling about. Beautiful fruit concentration on the palate with ripeness but not overly aggressive tannins. The mélange of fruit is joined by Espresso bean, earth, sweet spices and a touch of minty herbs. Good energy and verve through the long finish. Drink or cellar this for a few years.

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve White Meritage 2012 ($25, winery, Wine Rack, 91 points) — A gorgeous Bordeaux white style with layers of pear, apple and citrus aromas to go with a subtle note of spice. I love the texture of this wine and fine oak spice that’s beautifully complemented by well-integrated stone fruits. A great style for Niagara.


One year later – what are you waiting for?

(Submitted article)

On June 28, 2012, the federal government rectified an eighty-four year old, prohibition-era law that made it a criminal offence for Canadians to carry or ship wine across provincial borders. Parliament’s support for Bill C-311 was unanimous and we thank all the parties in both the House and Senate for taking this important step towards freeing Canadian wine from this archaic legislation.

FinalFreeMyGrapes, a national non-profit founded by wine lovers who want access to all Canadian wines, also congratulates the leadership shown by British Columbia and Manitoba to permit their citizens to order wine directly from out of province wineries.

Last December, we were hopeful that Nova Scotia would also become a leader in supporting Canadian wines when it passed enabling legislation, yet seven months later, the regulations are still in limbo. Hopefully, this situation will change soon.

Unfortunately, the fears we expressed during the Parliament and Senate hearings on Bill C-311 have proven true. The federal legislation’s caveat “in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province” has created a large I-can-do-nothing loophole.

The latest update by Winelaw’s Mark Hicken highlights how eleven provinces/territories are still dragging their feet. While many have stated that they now allow individuals to physically carry a set amount of wine into the province for personal use, this policy change is of little value. We all know it has been a common practice for decades, with literally no enforcement.

Adult Canadians want out-of-province wineries to direct ship to them, which was confirmed by a 2012 – Harris/Decima poll that showed 82% of Canadians believe they should be able to access wine from another province through online purchasing. Canadians want to support great Canadian wines, from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

One year post Bill C-311, Canadians are still asking – what are you waiting for?