What better way to celebrate the Olympics than by drinking Canadian wines? Choice isn’t a problem with more than 400 wineries in eight provinces. But it’s the quality of Canadian wines, rather than the quantity, will convince you that they are the ideal complement to this sporting event.
Canada has a long history with the grape. Viking explorer Lief Erickson first named the country “Vineland” in 1001 BCE when he saw so many vines growing in Newfoundland.
Although the classic vitus vinifera grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay do not grow in the province, blueberries, cloudberries, lingoberries, or partridge berries, are the basis for three wineries making fruit wines. These wines exhibit a fresh berry character with bright acidity, making them great accompaniments to lobster dinners and other fish dishes. Try the Rodrigues Markland Cottage Winery Patridgeberry/Lingoberry Wine and serve it chilled. Rodrigues Markland wines, which are all certified kosher, are available in Newfoundland, Ontario and Alberta.
Moving west, Nova Scotia wineries make wines during a growing season that is shorter and cooler than those in Ontario and British Columbia. Therefore, vintners use winter hardy grapes such as marèchal foch (a cross between pinot noir and gamay grapes), de chaunac, seyval blanc and vidal blanc as well as German varietals such as riesling and gewürztraminer. Jost Vineyards, located on the Northumberland Strait in Malagash, has won many medals in international wine competitions. The Jost Vineyards Marèchal Foch has dark fruit aromas that pair well with barbecued hamburgers topped with salsa or a seared pepper-encrusted steak. The wine is available in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba.
Rossignol Estate Winery is the only wine producer on Prince Edward Island. Its fruit and table wines are bottled with labels bearing the artwork of Nancy Perkins, a P.E.I artist, and John Rossingol, the win The seyval blanc and marèchal foch wines won two silver medals at the Intervin International Awards for Wine Achievement in New York while the fruit wines have also received recognition in competition. Try the Rossignol Estate Winery Strawberry Rhubarb made from lightly pressed fruit that is aged for a year to make this sweet amber wine. It drinks well as an aperitif or as a pie-in-a-glass dessert on its own.
With its cold climate, Quebec is traditionally known for producing fine maple syrup, not fine wine. However, about 75 wineries produce wine, ninety percent of which is white wine, mostly seyval blanc. About half of Quebec’s wine is produced in the Eastern Townships, eighty kilometers southeast of Montreal, where there are more hours of sunshine on average than the rest of the province. The province’s winemaking heritage goes back to 1535 when French explorer Jacques Cartier found so many grapes growing on Ile d’Orleans that he named it Ile de Bacchus after the Greek god of wine.
Vignoble du Marathonien Cuvée Spéciale, a blend of cayuga, seyal blanc and vidal grapes, has a floral and orange peel aroma similar to the muscat grape. It goes well with chicken dishes and other white meat with sweet sauces. Vignoble de l’Orpailleur’s Vin Blanc, made from seyval blanc, is a dry white wine with an intense green apple nose and a hint of honey. Drink it with shellfish, white meat and mild cheeses. Both wineries have won medals at international wine competitions.
Ontario’s premier wine regions, Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island and Prince Edward County, are on the same latitude as those of Burgundy, France; Chianti, Italy; and Rioja, Spain. The cool climate enables vintners in Ontario along with those in B.C. and Quebec to be the largest ice wine producers in the world. Although both Germany and Austria are large ice wine producers, their climates are not as consistently cold as is Canada’s to guarantee ice wine production every year. Canada produces over 2 million 375ml bottles of ice wine annually. The average price of $45/bottle in Canada will go as high as $225 in Japan.
When the Niagara winery Inniskillin won France’s 1991 Grand Prix d’Honneur for its icewine, the world started to take note of Canadian wine. To win this vinous Nobel Prize, Inniskillin competed against 4,100 wines. While icewines may be made in the winter, they drink well year-round and most of Ontario’s wineries make them. Their sweetness allows them to go with the sweetest of summer desserts. Most are sold in the half bottle size (375 ml), so a bottle can easily be shared by two. Try Inniskillin Vidal Icewine and Hillebrand Trius Vidal Icewine. Also try Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine, which has an effervescence that softens the perception of sweetness on the palate, allowing these wines to complement a wider range of foods such as veined cheese, nuts and fruit desserts.
In addition to sweet and sparkling wines, Ontario produces a wide range of red and white still wines. Cave Spring Riesling is crisp, refreshing white wine that is among the most food friendly, pairing easily with most summer dishes. Henry of Pelham Baco Noir has long been known as a benchmark for this varietal red wine with a plummy palate that stands up to grilled and charred meats. Stoney Ridge Cabernet Franc, with a spicy bell pepper nose, also drinks well with barbecued meats.
Banach Winery in North Battleford, Saskatchewan’s only winery, produces fruit wines based cranapple, strawberry, black cherry and raspberry. The Banach Winery Sir Walter is made from fresh raspberries with medium sweetness balanced with a touch of tart acidity. It goes well with raspberry and other fruit desserts, and served slightly chilled, it makes a lovely sipping wine for long summer evenings.
British Columbia hosts the largest grape growing region after Ontario with about a hundred wineries in the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Similkameen Valley and Okanagan Valley which produces most of the province’s wine. The lakes and geography within these regions moderate temperatures and provide an excellent microclimate for grape growing.
For some pleasantly unusual and aromatic white wines, try the Mission Hill Chenin Blanc or the Sumac Ridge Pinot Blanc. The province also grows wonderfully rich, fruity red wines such as the Calona Heritage Collection Merlot and Okanagan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. B.C.’s wines have also won numerous awards in international competition.
In addition to tasting Canadian wine, why not visit one of our wine regions? Most of the wineries are nestled in spectacular settings, and they pair wonderfully well with local cuisine, making the trip a gastronomic delight.
You can find the largest online directory of Canadian wines here: