Canada Day: What about June 28 as #CanadianWineDay?

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Our annual celebration of all things Canadian is just around the corner. When we and others around the world think about Canadiana, maple syrup, salmon, hockey, the Rockies and perhaps Justin Bieber come to mind. However, the average Canadian, let alone the rest of the world, doesn’t usually associate Canada with wine, and if they do, it’s likely for Icewine.

In the lead up to Canada Day, I can’t help wondering why there are still Canadians who never or seldom reach for Canadian wine or why there isn’t a Canadian wine day, or week for that matter. While Canadian wine production and consumption has increased over the years, there are still some consumers who are oblivious to the quality of Canadian wine or have images of Baby Duck and Lonesome Charlie indelibly etched on their minds and palates.

As someone who tastes thousands of wines from across the country each year, I can proudly state that Canadian wines have, and will continue to evolve as a small but serious industry and that many of our 100 per cent Canadian wines bear no resemblance to past efforts.

A Toast to Canadian Grapes and Wine

Although plantings of grapes run the gamut from Aligoté to Zinfandel, due to the limits of cool climate viticulture, Canada really only excels at a handful of red and white grape varieties and styles of wine. One of our flagship whites is Riesling, best illustrated in the wines of Cave Spring Cellars in Ontario, Tantalus and newcomer Synchromesh in British Columbia and Gaspereau Vineyards in Nova Scotia. Chardonnay is the world’s and Canada’s most planted vinifera grape and shines at Quail’s Gate and Meyer Family Vineyards in BC, at Tawse and Coyote’s Run in Ontario and at Les Pervenches in Quebec. We also make an increasing number of white blends, like the impressive Nuit Blanche from Hidden Bench, the Alsace-inspired A Noble Blend from Joie, L’Orpailleur Cuvée Spéciale Vin gris from Quebec, along with Nova Scotia’s signature white blend, Tidal Bay.

Canadian Reds

A toast to Canadian Wine

For reds, we’re starting to see that many of our best wines are produced from a handful of varieties that ripen earlier and more reliably than others. Pinot Noirs from Flat Rock Cellars and Norman Hardie in Ontario, along with Cabernet Francs from Burrowing Owl and Quinta Ferreira in BC are worth seeking out. Although Gamay and Syrah tend to be polar opposites in terms of the styles of wine produced, we have nonetheless seen that both grapes do consistently well, the latter in particular from the southern reaches of British Columbia, and are worth having a look at. Check out the dynamite though scarce Syrahs from Le Vieux Pin and Stratus Vineyards and any of the Gamays from Ontario specialist Malivoire.

We also make an increasing number of red blends from traditional Bordeaux red varieties, with or without the addition of Syrah or other Rhone reds, with standout examples from Chateau des Charmes (Equuleus), Truis (Grand Red) and Tinhorn Creek (Oldfield Series Red).

Finally, while Canada continues to be known for our sweet wines, with Icewine being the jewel in the crown, we are seeing a greater diversification of wine styles with increased production of both rosé wines and sparkling. Many of Canada’s wine growing regions areas are ideal for producing both, and in the case of rosé, when made dry and intentionally, like Ontario’s Malivoire Ladybug Rose or the BS Gamay Noir Rose from BC, the results are pretty on the palate and perfect for  our hot summer days and nights.

Canada also produces very good sparkling wine, whether it be from Hinterland or Huff in Prince Edward County, the 13th Street Premier Cuvée or Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut from Niagara, Blomidon Cuvée L’Acadie Brut or Benjamin Bridge Brut from Nova Scotia or the much loved BC bubbly from Blue Mountain, Summerhill or the Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc.

We Can’t Do it All

Canadian wines cannot be all things to all people and the sooner that the industry acknowledges and specializes in a handful of key red and white varieties, the sooner that remaining naysayers will be made to drink their words. While experimentation and innovation are crucial to growing the industry, specialization among individual wineries can only help the industry as a whole to showcase the grape varieties or wine styles that are doing well in their region. Similarly, promoting strong and signature varieties and wine styles, rather than trying to make a wine for everyone who walks into the tasting room, will make it easier for Canadian consumers to understand a winery’s and the regions assets, as well as to recognize that Canadian wines offer great value at various price points in comparison to wines from other countries.

Learning from Tasting

National Wine Awards of Canada

WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

For more than a decade, I’ve had the opportunity to taste a LOT of Canadian (and international) wine, both at tastings and at major Canadian and international wine competitions such as the Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine and Spirits Competition.  In fact, I’ve just returned from an intensive week of tasting in Niagara for the first WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

The “Nationals” have picked up where the successful Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards left off with wines and judges from various regions across Canada. The inaugural competition received 1100 entries from wineries from coast to coast and aside from needing to rest my palate and have my teeth re-enameled, judging at the Nationals (and the Canadian Wine Awards in the past), is an invaluable means of gaining insight into what varieties and styles are working and what isn’t, as well as to see who is making the best wines in Canada, from where and from what grapes.

#CanadianWineDay on Twitter on June 28

To get you thinking about Canadian wine for Canada Day, it is only fitting that we have a Canadian Wine Day. To kick things off, I would like to proclaim June 28 as the first Canadian Wine Day on Twitter (#CanadianWineDay).

There are two reasons for choosing June 28 rather than July 1st. The first is that by tweeting about your favorite Canadian wines and following the hashtag before Canada Day, we’ll hopefully get more wine lovers out there to raise their glass with something Canadian. The second is that June 28th marks the 1st year anniversary of Royal Assent of Bill C-311, the Private Member’s Bill that amended a provision of the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which made it a federal offense to carry or have wine shipped across provincial borders. (See my post from last year on this.)

Although most provincial governments (except British Columbia and Manitoba) have yet to establish formal rules to permit their residents to transport or order wine from another province, perhaps establishing  June 28 as #CanadianWineDay will serve as a reminder that Canadian wines should be more widely available from coast to coast.

Here are just a few great Canadian wines to fill your glass. Happy Birthday Canada!

Tawse Winery Echos Riesling 2010

Tawse Echos Riesling

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut 2007

L'Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut 2007

Exultet Estates ‘The Blessed’ Chardonnay 2011

Exultet Estates 'The Blessed' Chardonnay 2011

Laughing Stock Vineyards Syrah 2011

Laughing Stock Syrah 2011

Mission Hill Family Estate Compendium 2009

Mission Hill Compendium

For a complete list of Janet’s wine reviews, visit our Critic’s profile page: Janet Dorozynski