Canadian Wine Insider

Ontario to Open Border to Direct Shipment of Canadian Wine
Plus B.C.’s 2019 Vintage

By David Lawrason

Happy Canada Day? It is has not yet been officially announced by the Ontario government but an insider has tweeted that Ontario consumers will be able to have Canadian wines from other provinces direct shipped without going through the LCBO. The border apparently opens July 1, on Canada Day.

The full Tweet from Dan Paszkowski, president and CEO of the Canadian Vintners Association, reads as follows: “According to Ontario regulations the requirement that wine shipments from another province or territory having to go through the LCBO rather than direct to consumer will be revoked July 1, 2020. Thank you @fordnation. Let’s match this @jkenney @francoislegault.” he said, calling for Alberta and Quebec to follow suit. He did not provide any other detail.

It comes at a very appropriate time as wine consumers across the country are going on-line in droves to buy wine during COVID-19. It is not however a direct reaction to the crisis, nor a temporary measure. The pressure for the opening of Ontario’s border has been mounting for months, especially since April 2019 when the federal government got rid of all its inter-provincial liquor restrictions, but then left it to the province to work out a framework for how that would happen. We will soon see how Ontario frames it.

In fact, many wineries in British Columbia and Nova Scotia have been direct shipping into Ontario for months now, especially since the federal announcement a year ago. It is only the largest companies that have wineries in more than one province that have been reticent to direct ship. Most smaller wineries are already on the move.

And WineAlign’s Great Canadian Wine Exchange has taken part by facilitating direct consumer purchases of mixed cases of wine from B.C. and N.S. wineries. Those offerings close May 10 by the way, with a just few cases available of the BC Discovery Case, BC Premium Black Case and NS Discovery case. The WineAlign team has highlighted some of the B.C. wines below.

A Look at B.C.’s 2019 Vintage

At this time of year the pipeline of B.C. wine samples being sent to WineAlign is full, and we are doing our best to post those reviews as quickly as possible.

The wines coming through are aromatic, unoaked whites and roses from the 2019 vintage, some oaked whites and lighter reds from 2018, and heavier reds from 2017. And the impression ringing through loud and clear is that 2019 and 2018 at least are cooler years than those earlier in the decade, and the overall result is a lightening and brightening of the wines – more in line with what most what expect from a northerly region.

Virtual BC Wine Vintage Preview

In April the British Columbia Wine Institute hosted two one-hour webinars to have an in-depth look at the 2019 vintage, with winemaker tastings and commentary. The first week looked at the northern Okanagan, the second week looked at the southern Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Both can be viewed on You Tube: BCWI Webinar: Virtual BC Wine Vintage PreviewPart I and Part II. The consensus in all regions was the wines are showing higher acidity and lower sugar levels (thus moderated alcohol), but that phenolic (or flavour ripening) was normal and in some cases very good.

The overall consensus was that it was that 2019 seemed cooler than some of the recent hot vintages, but overall it is being described as “a typical BC year, not a cold year”. The Growing Degree Days were pretty much on par with the ten-year average. What made it a more difficult year however was the onset of cooler, wet weather in mid-September, then an early Thanksgiving frost that ended the growth cycle. But until that point it was a fine summer, without the frequent heat spikes that can cause the vines to shut down. Nor was there a wildfire smoke threat in 2019.

According to the B.C. Wine Institute’s vintage report:

“A smoke-free year meant bright sunlight and the growing season continued at a steady rate with vines in good condition progressing according to schedule to what appeared to be a slightly warm vintage. September started warm and dry with many of the earlier ripening varieties harvested in perfect condition and right on schedule for expected harvest dates.

The second week of September saw the weather change, becoming cooler with small amounts of rainfall slowing ripening and drawing out the harvest for later ripening grape varieties. This resulted in slightly lower sugar levels in the grapes than would be expected but allowed plenty of time for the tannins to develop.

The start of October saw the return to more typical dry conditions and moderate temperatures continued ripening until Thanksgiving weekend when an early frost saw many of the vineyards lose their leaves signalling the end of the growing season. Certain sites avoided the frost, allowing the clusters to hang into late October.”

In any event, my early tastings of the 2019 aromatic whites, unoaked whites and roses, indicates there is notable acidity, which depending on your threshold could be described as anywhere between fresh and austere.

Here are some recommendations of a dozen BC wines available in the Great Canadian Wine Exchange mixed cases (Discovery and Black cases), a great way to explore B.C. wine ahead of the border opening.  Most were recently tasted by the entire WineAlign cru. I have also already recently reviewed on WineAlign portfolios from Noble Ridge, Spearhead, Blue Mountain, Sperling and Tantalus, and in the days ahead will be adding  collections from Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, Fort Berens and Township Seven.

From the B.C Discovery Case

Spearhead 2019 White Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley ($28.85)
David Lawrason – This is not some cheap “white zinfandel” copycat. Think of it more as “Blanc de Noir” Champagne, without the bubbles. I loved its mouth-watering tension, which is exactly what comes across in this bracing 2019. It has fairly generous aromas vague toast, grapefruit and herbs. It is mid-weight, firm edging to austere, but just so complete and satisfying.

Fitzpatrick 2016 Fitz Brut, Okanagan Valley ($38.04)
Sara d’Amato – A classic Champenoise blend of chardonnay and pinot noir with a few minor additions. Offering a smart balance of yeasty/autolytic notes and orchard fruit. More youthful than the vintage belies. Lightly toasty with a hint of pepper and cut with a vibrant citrus fruit. A highly enjoyable find and a steal at this price.

Daydreamer 2018 Rosé, Okanagan Valley ($24.95)
John Szabo – From a family winery in Naramata by Master of Wine Marcus Ansems this is a full-bodied, very dry and bold rosé in the Tavel style, that is to say, not a light, easy-sipping, fruity wine. I love the sapid, salty palate, the ripe but not blowsy fruit, the long finish and above average complexity. Fine stuff, also age-worthy.

Meyer Family 2018 McLean Creek Road Vineyard Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley ($33.10)
David Lawrason – From a chardonnay and pinot noir specialist, here is a powerful, complex, full, yet lean Okanagan Falls Chardonnay. The nose is full blown, toasty, peaty and with lemon custard and wood spice. It is medium-full bodied, fairly taut and mouth-watering, with stony, lemony and spicy notes on the finish. The length is excellent.

Moon Curser 2018 Malbec, Okanagan Valley ($35.74)
David Lawrason – Malbec is of growing importance in the hot, dry southern Okanagan, which shares geographic traits with Mendoza in Argentina. Malbec always casts such a lovely mulberry colour. This is youthful, very fresh and lively with ripe floral/blackberry plum fruit, with tea and sage aromas. It is full bodied, dense and juicy with slightly green tannin. The length is very good to excellent.

Vanessa Vineyard 2016 Syrah, Similkameen Valley ($40.34)
Michael Godel  – Vanessa Vineyard exploits the two opposing and attracting forces of syrah that compliment and distract, but in the end form a formidable bond in hands of velvet gloves. Flowers and meat. That’s the scent and the rub, the wildflower’s field and the smoker’s waft. Similkameen Valley is a special place that will grown syrah this way and allow the transfer of violets and smoked brisket to the glass if it is allowed to do so. Execution and accompanying structure have seen to that albeit with just a slightly sweet (but natural) touch.

From the BC Black (Premium) Case

Martins Lane Riesling Simes Vineyard 2016, Okanagan Valley ($45.00)
Sara d’Amato – A thrilling, nervy but ripe and generous style of riesling. Lush apricot and ripe peach with lemon curd in the mix. A mineral notes lends a sophisticated character and a chalky texture. Impressively complex and texturally intriguing. Excellent length. Drink now or hold another 4-5 years to experience a more evolved persona.

Foxtrot The Waltz Pinot Noir 2017, Naramata Bench ($50.70)
Sara d’Amato – A meaty, earthy pinot noir – a classic interpretation of the grape varietal. A bit feral and pleasantly rustic and gamey. Matured in very fine oak offering a touch of fireside toastiness to the flavour profile. A great deal of flavour and complexity is on offer here. Best to drink now before the fruit fades and the wine becomes entirely savory.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2016, Okanagan Valley ($57.95)
John Szabo – Generous, intensely perfumed, complex red here from Burrowing Owl, with a fine range of red and black fruit, resinous herbs, graphite, earth, and roasted vegetables, dried flowers and more – impressive indeed. The palate is rich and thick, with well-integrated tannins and balanced acids. Wood is still a major contributor for the time being, but there’s more than enough fruit to see this through to full integration over the next 2-3 years. Ambitious wine that delivers. There are some bottles currently at Vintages.

Painted Rock Cabernet Franc 2017, Okanagan Valley ($51.84)
David Lawrason – From estate vines on the Skaha Bench, this is a very well constructed, firm, balanced and complex cabernet franc built more for the future than the present. Although balanced so well that aeration makes it approachable now. Classic cab franc aromas of raspberry, tobacco, dried herbs and well sewn oak resin. It is full bodied, nicely streamlined, with firm, gritty tannin. The length is excellent.

Lariana Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Okanagan Valley ($50.00)
Michael Godel – My oh my this is a big cabernet sauvignon and thank goodness it has nearly three and a half years under its belt. Full on varietal schemes and dreams are notably clear and proficient with a silk-threaded tying together of cassis, dark plum and blackberry inside a leathery hide. There is some heat so it could use even more settling but be sure to include salty and juice-running protein when you decide to imbibe.

Corcelettes Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Vineyard 2016, Similkameen Valley ($40.00)
David Lawrason – Cabernet and syrah have always made good blending mates and this NWAC Gold Medalist is one more argument for the practice. Such ripe, pure floral aromas with clean blackberry jam, nicely framed by subtle oak – not hugely complex but very fragrant. On the palate it is really even-handed, fairly dense and pretty, with finely gritty tannin. Scoring very well on purity and balance.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. As a sneak peak, we are now putting together mixed case offerings from Ontario’s Somewhereness group, featuring some of the best estate and single vineyard wines in the province. Watch for it!

David Lawrason