With every vintage, Canadian wine seems to be coming into focus with just a little bit more clarity and precision. The regional differences, the use of the key grape varieties and the increasing quality of the main wine categories – sparkling, Icewine, still red and white wines – means that Canadian wine is becoming clearer and more distinct. In the on-trade with quality and value for money to the fore it is increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
“A Gamay from the Okanagan Valley, three individual Pinot Noirs, a Riesling, Chardonnay and a Rhône valley white blend – these are just some of the 10 wines I have picked that will work in the UK on trade,” writes Dean.
I have been attending the annual Wines of Canada trade tasting every year now for the best part of a decade. In that time there has been a distinct feeling of increasing maturity, quality and point of difference about wines coming out of Canada’s four main wine regions.
There is a lovely blend of the New and Old World in Canadian wine, I love the tempered alcohol content, the freshness and brightness in the wines and the increased confidence the wines have. Each year they simply get better and better – and they are still remarkably good value.
Talking to a couple of key importers of Canadian wine into the UK they are also on the same page.
“I have always thought Canadian wines have huge potential in the UK because they are made to a very high quality and the strong goodwill felt in this country towards Canada more generally,” says Nik Darlington of Graft Wine,“Canadian wines are becoming more and more distinctive as regionality and certain key varieties, rather than just the usual international suspects, come to the fore, so combined with a good message around sustainability I can only see them continuing to make advances in the UK market.”
Sarah Drake from Flint Wines, whose Canadian wineries include Benjamin Bridge and Le Vieux Pin, agrees: “A relative newcomer to the UK market, Canadian wine has hit the ground running thanks to a combination of quality, value and sheer interest factor. Flint is fortunate to work with two top-quality Canadian producers: Le Vieux Pin from British Columbia and Nova Scotia’s Benjamin Bridge. Between them their wines encompass a broad range of varietals (from Syrah and Sauvignon to the hybrid L’Acadie Blanc) and styles, albeit with cool climate elegance and site-specificity as the common denominators. The traditional method sparkling wines from Benjamin Bridge have proved particularly popular as by-the-glass options in the On Trade.”
Here are some of the best 10 wines available in the UK
Benjamin Bridge Gaspereau Valley NV Brut, Hand Crafted Small Lot
This sparkling wine from Nova Scotia’s finest has a lovely balance between a fresh, mineral-driven palate and rounded creamy notes. On the eye it is light, yellowy gold; the nose has fresh chalkiness mixed with apple pavlova and leesy-brioche notes. In the mouth the wine is broad, rounded and textured with quince flavours, creamy apple and a crisp, salty finish. There is wonderful precision here, a classy elegance. Very impressed.
Henry of Pelham, Riesling 2019, VOA Niagara Peninsula
Classy and confident dry Riesling from the Speck family that at £14.20 RRP is quite simply a steal. Like Riesling that comes from New York’s Finger Lakes region this has a clean, crisp fruit profile with wonderful freshness and purity, driven by bracing acidity that is never too austere or unwelcoming. Light grassy yellow the wine is clearly Riesling on the nose with ripe, clear-cut fruit (white peach) and a hint of oily rag; the mouthfeel is light, fresh, crisp with clean-cut mineral-driven tension, lime zest, lemon squash, crisp, clean and pure and alcohol at just 10.5% abv. Would work well with a variety of Asian cuisines and be a great by-the-glass/ wine-pairing option.
Agent: Wine Rascals
Le Vieux Pin, Ava 2018
Like all Rhône white wines, a few years cellaring at the very least will benefit this quality Rhône blend from the Okanagan Valley made up of 51% Roussanne, 36% Viognier and 13% Marsanne. To look at the wine is medium yellow gold in the glass, the aromas have gunflint, white blossom, tinned peaches, brioche and honey with an attractive toasty oak note; in the mouth the wine is medium bodied with a slightly oily texture, rich but like the top Rhône whites it is emulating it has the acidity to keep it nicely balanced. If you are opening the bottle now I would recommend decanting for an hour beforehand.
Le Clos Jordanne, Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017, VOA Niagara Peninsula
This quality, award-winning Chardonnay has one foot firmly planted in Burgundy and the other in the New World. Medium golden, the wine has a ripe, intensely pretty nose with honeysuckle, quince, ripe peach, and an attractive smoky, toasty note; the palate is medium weight, textured, a nice level of concentration, breadth and ripe flavours, a creaminess and a hint of noble wood, but it delightfully balanced with a fresh, mineral finish. Really delicious and very moreish. If you like Chardonnay on the creamy side this will appeal but it doesn’t go too far. So interesting and really skillfully made. Alcohol is 13% abv.
Quails’ Gate, Pinot Noir Stewart Family Reserve, 2019
This is the flagship wine from Quails’ Gate, a blend of fruit coming from their top sites, with some of the vines dating back to the 1970s. The wine is made with twice daily punch-downs during fermentation, left for 18 days on the skins before ageing for 17 months in French and neutral oak. Pale ruby in the glass; the wine is reasonably complex aromatically with hints of clove and vanilla blending with the fresh raspberry fruit; in the mouth the wine is medium-bodied, elegant, rounded and fresh with nice grainy tannins and firm acidity. This is a lovely expression of Pinot Noir and one which has been made to age for at least a decade.
Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Unfiltered, 2017
2017 is turning out to be a better vintage than was first anticipated, favouring the top vineyards and winemakers like Hardie. This is a blend of his top sites, co-fermented on skins for a month before being basket-pressed into a range of aged 228-litre French oak barrels. After 18 months the wine is bottled unfiltered and unfined. This is a delicate, refined and detailed expression of Pinot Noir; transparent pale garnet with red berry aromas and sweet cinnamon, red liquorice and woody notes; in the mouth the wine is fresh, pure with ripe, resolved tannins – cherry and strawberry flavours abound with savoury notes also – a hint of beetroot. Very classy, pure and lively – lovely now or in five or six years’ time. Nice to see the alcohol sitting at just 11% abv.
Mission Hill Family Reserve Pinot Noir, 2019
Mission Hill is one of the pioneers of Okanagan Valley. This Reserve wine is made from a variety of vineyard plots, then blended and aged in French and American barrels. On the eye the wine is medium ruby; the nose suggests black bramble fruit along with the red berry fruit you might come to expect; in the mouth the wine is rounded on entry, medium weight with fine-boned tannins, firm acidity and concentrated fruit flavours. More of a Côtes de Nuits Burgundy style – serious with just that little bit of attitude.
Okanagan Crush Pad, Haywire Gamay 2018
Fascinating to try a Gamay from the Okanagan Valley – this comes from a high elevation, organically farmed vineyard, the fruit destemmed with a portion left whole to give carbonic complexity, fermented in a mix of concrete and open-top fermenters, then aged for eight months in concrete tanks. In the glass the wine is pale ruby/ garnet; aromatically wild with raspberry and mulberry, a hint of mint and cardamon on the nose and a dusting of chocolate on the palate. It’s medium weight, juicy and pure with an intense core of stony acidity to fully ground it. Really interesting.
Peller Estates Signature Series, Icewine Riesling
The aromas of this deep, yellowy gold Icewine are so inviting you want to dive into the glass, with oodles of apricot jam and tinned peaches. In the mouth the wine is unctuous and has a luxurious feel with concentrated, intense, full flavours of pineapple and lemon curd. It is incredibly sweet with 228 grams per litre of residual sugar, but it’s balanced by a nice line of acidity. A wine I’d describe as completely seductive.
Pelee Island, Vidal VQA South Islands 2017
This dessert wine is fresher with a firmer line of acidity. Still lusciously sweet and smooth, very deep orange-gold in the glass, with rich, concentrated aromas of apricots and peaches and notes of orange zest, dried apricot and fig. Intense and intensely satisfying.