Saturday 29 November 2014

Canada, more than just ice wine

During my first trip to Canada in 2009 we visited Niagara Falls and naturally stopped by some wineries around the area. I was delighted to find that, apart from ice wine, they also make still red wine. I was excited to be able to taste some of the best Cabernet Franc in the world and was overjoyed when one winemaker allowed me to try his 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from the barrel. Ontario may be cold in winter but its warm summer allows cool climate red grapes to ripen gracefully. And if there is ample sunshine, as there was in 2008, it can even ripen Cabernet Sauvignon. After this discovery, I have begged my sister to bring me back a case of Canadian Cabernet Franc and Syrah every time she visits Canada.

In the past year, the Consulate General of Canada has been promoting Canadian still wine in the market here in HK, with the assistance of my fellow educator friend Rebecca Leung. I finally made it to a tasting on 3rd November and found a few nice surprises.

The black and red clay loam at Coyote's Run
I was most impressed by Coyote’s Run, located in Ontario. Their barrel fermented Chardonnay, Red Paw Chardonnay 2012, was balanced and elegant, while the two Pinot Noirs, Red Paw and Black Paw, both 2012 and named after the colour of the clay loam the grapes are grown on, won praise from many media and educator friends. Even their entry level white, off-dry Five Mile White 2012, probably dismissed by many critics even before tasting because of the blend—Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer—was surprisingly refreshing and pleasant.

Canadian wine regions are all classified as cool climate but each is different. Climatically similar to Burgundy, Ontario in the east is the largest region, with vineyards spread east-west close to the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie to benefit from the moderating effect of those large bodies of water. Ontario is followed by British Columbia in the west where vineyards mostly cluster along a north-south line in Okanagan Valley. This is a very dry area with summer daytime temperatures frequently reaching 35ºC to ripen the grapes and cool nights to retain the acidity. It is therefore not surprising to find red wines with close to 15% alcohol yet good balance with fresh acidity and elegant fruits. The two that stood out were Perseus Winery Invictus 2012 and Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio 2010, both Bordeaux style blends.

Another interesting find was Omerto tomato wine. Yes, it is fermented from tomatoes and there are two styles: Omerto Sec and Omerto Moelleux, both with 16% alcohol. They don’t taste like wine made from grapes but the Sec is particularly vibrant with citrus aroma, while the Moelleux has additional honey and marmalade  scents. Apparently, Ormeto Moelleux won two food/wine pairing Bronze Awards at the latest Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition, one with sashimi and the other with yakitori chicken. Check them out if you are curious. Omerto is also listed in the Spanish Restaurant, Fofo by el Willy via importer Nice Things.

The only disappointment in this tasting was the paucity of Cabernet Franc, the grape that I believe Canada does best. There were only 2½ of them—two 100% Cabernet Francs and one blend from four varieties featured. Asked for the reason, a few exhibitors actually said they were not sure about the wine. They thought consumers wouldn’t like it, that Syrah and Chardonnay were easier to sell, and so on ... but they themselves love it! Well, I say one should trust one’s own judgement. I think it’s time for Canadians to introduce to wine lovers some of the greatest Cabernet Francs in the world.

Many importers carry Canadian ice wines but I’m not aware of any Canadian still wine importers here apart from Cuvées, which has at least five Canadian wineries in its portfolio including Laughing Stock Vineyards. I’m trying to persuade Joseph Luk, the managing director, to bring some Cabernet Franc to us.

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