The Great White North

The second largest country in the world by total area (land and sea areas combined), Canada seems significantly larger than China and the US on the standard world map due to Mercator projection, but the actual difference is indeed negligible. Contrary to popular perception, not all of Canada is Arctic; its southernmost regions are in fact latitudinally on a par with Bordeaux, along the 44th parallel north.

Canada’s history of wine dates back at least 200 years, when European settlers attempted but failed to establish a vitis vinifera heaven at the first time asking, subsequently turning to the indigenous vitis labrusca and vitis riparia, which coped with the local climate better, but whose “foxy” taste remained challenging to many. Pending conclusive archaeological finds, the Great White North might be the oldest wine-producing region in the New World. Back in the late 10th century, Norsemen led by Leif Erikson, son of Erik Thorvaldsson “The Red”, colonised L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland. There was such an abundance of vitis labrusca and vitis riparia that the area was named Vinland.

British Columbia (BC) and Ontario (ON) combined constitute more than 90% of the country’s total wine production, followed by the rising stars in Québec (QC) and Nova Scotia (NS). French and German hybrid varieties such as Baco Noir, Ehrenfelser, Maréchal Foch, Optima and Seybal Blanc and Vidal Blanc used to be the mainstay, but “traditional” varieties such as Riesling, Cabernet Franc and even Syrah are reaching new heights.

Although not as intricate – or Byzantine – as those of France’s and Germany’s, Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), Canada’s idiosyncratic regulatory and appellation system, appears to combine elements of both. To obtain VQA designation, wineries and their produce must undergo testing by regulating bodies, whereas sub-appellations are allowed, enabling highly specific terroirs to be highlighted. All in all, Canada produces more whites than reds, at a ratio of 6:4.

Renowned for its namesake waterfalls, Niagara Peninsula (ON) is Canada’s largest appellation and the world’s largest icewine production area. Thanks to its proximity to Lake Huran to northwest, Lake Ontario to northeast NE and Lake Erie to southwest, the climatic conditions in Niagara Peninsula are as such that the summer is warm enough for red varieties to fully ripen, whereas winter is cold enough to produce icewine almost every year. In short, extreme continental climate is balanced by the lake effect.

Sparkling wine is not a French monopoly, neither is icewine a German prerogative. Owing to climate change, Germany is producing more full-bodied wines than ever, while Eiswein is becoming increasingly rare. Canada appears to have even stricter regulations than Germany when it comes to icewine / Eiswein: grapes frozen on the vines must be harvested at below -8°C (as opposed to Germany’s -7°C), whereas sugar level must reach at least 153.5°Oe (as opposed to Germany’s 110-125°Oe, depending on regions).

To be continued one day…

Special thanks to Ms. Rachel Cheong for supplying the tasting samples.

Inniskillin Niagara Peninsula VQA Riesling Icewine Reserve 2015

Brilliant citrine with scintillating golden reflex, the exuberant nose presents jujube, apricot, dried fig, marzipan and elderflower. Anchored by animated acidity and fresh minerality, the vibrant palate furnishes nectarine, golden raisin, sweet ginger, marzipan and osmanthus. Fully-sweet and medium-full bodied at 9.5%, the high-spirited entry continues through an intricate mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.

Inniskillin Niagara Peninsula VQA Vidal Icewine Reserve 2015

A French hybrid variety, Vidal is a crossing of Ugni Blanc (a.k.a. Trebbiano) and Rayon d’Or (a.k.a. Seibel 4986), the latter being a crossing of Aramon du Gard – itself a crossing of vitis rupestris and vitis aestivalis – and another hybrid variety. Saturated golden with gleaming aureolin reflex, the perfumed nose radiates guava, cantaloupe, pineapple, Oxford marmalade and jasmine. Braced by generous acidity and clean minerality, exotic palate oozes sugar apples, yellow pitaya, jackfruit, lemon curd and daffodil. Fully sweet and full-bodied at 95%, the frisky nose persists through a tropical mid-palate, leading to a moreish finish.

Inniskillin Niagara Peninsula VQA Cabernet Franc Icewine Reserve 2015

Translucent Venetian red with flickering rosso corsa reflex, the subtle nose reveals cranberry, dates, candied hawthorn, Lady Grey and geranium. Supported by juicy acidity and sweet tannins, the chiselled palate unveils redcurrant, Chinese bayberry, morello cherry, rhubarb pie and rose. Full sweet and medium-full bodied at 9.5%, tutti-frutti entry evolves into a melodious mid-palate, leading to a tea-like finish.

Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages

Categories World of Bacchus