Ahead of Canada Day, we decided to pick our top 10 Canadian wine moments over the past year, and highlight the wines that made the memory.
They are not necessarily our top scoring wines, but rather ones that reflect the growing confidence among producers regarding site selection, viticulture, and winemaking. They are wines that matter and that, eventually, will make a difference. This Canada Day we are proud to celebrate and reflect on our national wine culture, recognize how far we've come, and realize how bright the future is.
Somenos pinot shines a light deep into the inner psyche of Vancouver Island. A wine that quietly proves where there is terroir, there are great wines. Checkmate is restoring merlot's image and I suspect we will be raving about these single site wines in the coming years. Every wine region needs a Michael Bartier, erudite, exacting and completely devoted to his site on the Black Sage Gravel Bar, a future sub-appellation of the future sub-appellation Black Sage Bench. Don Triggs and family appear as if their plan is to outwork everyone in the valley and so far, it’s working. From experimental heights to experimental wines and time to research the effects of global warming and a pending water shortage, Culmina is a player of the first order. At Hillside, Kathy Malone is transforming the charm of the Naramata Bench directly into her wines. A visionary committed to place she has bet the house on Naramata's complicated soils and she's taking her results to the people.
It’s no mystery that pinots are dominating my list because they are so hard to make. Kudos to Ann Sperling for interpreting the important and ancient, at least by Canadian wine standards, soils of the Mission District in East Kelowna. Her pinot is magic. Nearby Shane Munn is only just beginning to make his mark at Martin’s Lane, perhaps the single most beautiful winery in the country. I chose his Simes Pinot Noir but could have chosen any of the rieslings because all of them tell a story. Meyer Old Block comes in a richer coat sometimes penalized by pinot-philes but not this one. Winemaker Chris Carson specializes in capturing the texture and mouth-filling qualities of pinot with little or no intervention. The hardest working guy with a dream to make perfect pinot is Howling Bluff winemaker Luke Smith and his Acta Vineyard on the Naramata Bench is going to help him make that dream come true. Meanwhile at Tantalus Vineyard owner Eric Savics and winemaker/GM David Patterson have quietly done everything right to produce one of the country’s unique wines: Their Old Vines Riesling. Each of today’s picks are inspiration and aspirational which makes them perfect for Canada Day.
My most memorable moments with Canadian wine over this past year are when a lightbulb flashed, either for me, or for the people I was with. Though the wines and situations were vastly different, my thought process was the same: “Whoa – this is really worthy, something to be proud of, and worth sharing”
At last summer’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) in Niagara, I was thrilled to discover that the alluringly reductive, salted, complexed and fresh chardonnay in a blind tasting was Lightfoot and Wolfville 2014 Ancienne Chardonnay, from Nova Scotia. One of Canada’s top wineries to watch, for sure. Nova Scotia was again cemented as Canada’s region on the rise (IMHO) when Dr. Goode and I poured the Benjamin Bridge NV Method Classique for a packed room of American sommeliers at TEXSOM, many of whom had never heard of l’Acadie, Vidal, or Seyval before. At ProWein earlier this year, the Canadian booth was one of the more popular in the New World pavilion, and one of the busiest wineries there was Haywire. I was thrilled to hear and watch the response to the finessed Haywire 2016 Switchback Pinot Gris, one of Canada’s best Gris, and one of our country's most progressive wineries. It took a while to find Niagara’s avant-garde naturalist winemaker François of Pearl Morissette amongst the thousands of stands at ProWein, but the search was worth it. His uncompromising wines raise as many questions as they solve, but they always are worth any search to taste through. The Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix Neuvième got many stars in my notebook for its flaxen, earthy, textural freshness.
A perennial personal favourite, this idiosyncratic gris is on heavy rotation at my house, but the new vintage is as good as it gets. The orange-hued, textural beauty of Nichol 2017 Pinot Gris stands out in any lineup, for every right reason. And on the topic of orange, let’s reflect on the series of high quality, serious skin-contact white wines from across Canada now. Little Farm 2016 Pied de Cuve Orange gives a whole new golden light, literally, to riesling. I hope others continue in this brave new (old) style.
BC wines are having a real moment in the UK, with much attention from media, sommeliers and buyers. Rhys Pender and I hosted a BC wine bar pop up at The Good Wine Shop in London this spring, pouring a tight selection of some of our fave wines from around BC. The suitcased-over Lock + Worth 2015 Semillon was a hit, and we ran out before the first hour was up. This savoury, salty, serious wine is a steal, and an ageworthy gem, one I stock my cellar with every year. A few Brits got an even deeper look at BC during a fam trip to the Okanagan this past May. One of their numerous revelations was BC’s diversity of gamay. The engaged group was keen on Orofino 2016 Gamay, from Similkameen’s Celentano Vineyard, and all its crunchy, fresh, bright, herbal scrub. #GoGamayGo.
I sat down with Meg Houston Maker in May when she was out to speak at Top Drop Vancouver, and we tasted through an impressive queue of Wine Islands wines. The Sea Star Ortega stole my heart that day, with its distinctive marine-influenced, cool coastal character. One of BC’s top wines for sure, and a calling card for the region.
Sparkling wines are a focus of mine, so when I stole up to Tofino for a few nights to getaway this spring, I took a box of brand new releases from Bella Wines, BC’s bubble specialist. One of my most memorable tastings of the year was sitting solo in my Air B&B, working through the box of single vineyard, single grape fizz from ancestral up through aged traditional method. They were all entirely individual and characterful. Bella Wines 2017 Gamay Noir Methode Ancestrale Mariani Vineyard Clone 509 warmed my geek heart. It is one of two different gamay fizz produced from the same Naramata Bench vineyard, the other wine from a different clone.
A pretty fantastic year in Canadian wine. I hope by this time next year we’ll be reveling in having amazing producers from Nova Scotia and Ontario readily available on BC shelves. O Canada.