Wines have been produced and sold in Canada for more than 150 years, but it wasn’t until this century that Canadian wines really started attracting favourable attention on the world stage. With exports on the rise and vineyards opening up in new, previously untried regions, Canada is poised to become a major player on the international wine scene. Here are five reasons Canadian wines are unique in the world:
We have more geographic diversity than most other wine-producing countries
Wine is shaped by the geography of the place in which it’s produced, and in that regard, Canada has a huge advantage – literally.
“We’re a big country,” says Dan Paszkowski, President and CEO of the Canadian Vintners Association, whose member wineries produce more than 90 per cent of Canada’s wine. “There are few countries in the world that have as much diversity as Canada.”
The Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), the regulatory body for Canadian wines, officially recognizes eight distinct wine appellations within Canada – three in Ontario and five in British Columbia – but there are also established wine regions in Quebec and Nova Scotia, and wineries are found in every province in Canada.
“Ontario is a world apart from British Columbia, and even within those regions you have a variety of micro-climates,” Paszkowski says.
The Niagara Peninsula alone can be divided into 10 sub-appellations, each with their own unique terroir (environmental characteristics).
We can – and do – produce almost any kind of wine
Canada’s incredible geographic diversity means many types of grape can be grown here, resulting in a huge variety of wines, says Sara D’Amato, a sommelier and wine critic based in Toronto.
“We can make many, many different styles of wine; I think it surprises people both internationally and locally all the time,” she says.
The warm, dry climate of British Columbia’s South Okanagan wine region lends itself well to full-bodied red wines such as cabernets, merlots and syrahs, while the Niagara region’s long growing season and broad fluctuations in temperature and precipitation from year to year have given it a reputation for producing leaner reds such as gamays and pinot noirs, as well as some of the finest white wines in the world.
(In 2009, Niagara winery Le Clos Jordanne put Canadian wines on the map when their 2005 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay beat out 13 other wines – most of them from France and California – in a blind taste test.)
We will try anything once – twice if it’s a success
The relative youth of Canada’s wine industry compared to the more established wine regions of Western Europe means Canadian winemakers are eager to experiment with new styles and blends that will help set us apart on the world stage.
“Unlike specialized wine regions in France and Germany that are known for one type of wine, we’ll try almost anything,” D’Amato says. “You can find as many as 10 different grape varieties in a single wine.”
No grape is off-limits here; the South Okanagan’s LaStella Winery has even had success with Sangiovese, a grape originating in sun-drenched Tuscany that is rarely planted in Canada.
Our cold climate gives our wines finesse
Temperature has a huge effect on wine grapes: the warmer the climate, the denser the fruit, which is why dry regions that receive a lot of sunshine are renowned for full-bodied reds in particular.
But the cooler average temperatures found in many Canadian wine regions lend our wines – particularly whites – a fresh, aromatic expression that is gaining in popularity.
“Cooler climate wines have more finesse and elegance and are very food-friendly,” D’Amato says. “It’s a style we do quite well here in Canada in almost every wine region.”
We’re the only country that can consistently produce great ice wine
Contrary to popular belief, Canada is not the only country in the world that produces ice wine. Germany, Austria and Luxembourg also produce ice wine; however, Canada is the only country in the world that can turn out a high quality product year after year thanks to our northern climate, says Paszkowski.
In order for a wine to be considered ice wine under Canadian law and international agreements, the grapes must be harvested naturally frozen on the vine. Due to the acids and sugars in the grape, freezing only occurs at temperatures of -8C and below. Most Canadian wineries wait until temperatures of -10C or below to harvest their grapes for best results. Those kinds of conditions can’t be counted on in more temperate climates. As a result, “competitions consistently judge Canadian ice wine as the best in the world,” Paszkowski says.
Watch for our summer Travel issue for a list of the best Canadian wines to pair with any occasion this summer!