Wines to please every palate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 July, 2004, 12:00am

Canada has never been known for its wine production, but that may soon change. There is a much broader range of grapes growing now and they have produced many award-winning wines.

Improved winemaking techniques aside, there has also been an increase in the number of European grape varieties in the country. Old-fashioned wineries that used to grow only local grapes such as Niagara and Concorde have vanished and in their place are modern wineries that can adopt new grapes according to market demand.

But Niagara, a mixed breed of purple Concord grape and white Cassady, is still used for making wine in some North American wineries.

Sometimes called the pale Concord grape, Niagara has luminescent colours and a healthy appearance. It produces a wine that tastes both sweet and tart, and people who do not like it think it tastes like a concentrated grape juice with alcohol. Those who have a taste for it describe Niagara wine as foxy - heady, floral and strongly flavoured. Its cousin, Concord grapes, with a thick skin that easily slides off the flesh, is more often used for making juice, jam and jelly.

More investment in wineries and enthusiastic winemakers flocking in from other countries have also contributed to Canada's success in viticulture. Wineries now grow popular grapes such as Chardonnay (with a character very close to Chablis), Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal, which is often used to make the famous ice wine. For reds, there are primarily Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Gamay, Baco Noir and Pinot Noir. Shiraz is also available in limited quantity.

Most wineries are in the southern parts of Ontario and British Columbia, where the abundance of lakes help moderate the temperature.

There are smaller wineries peppering Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Besides Vidal, Riesling is commonly used for making ice wine, and experiments have also been made with Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.

The grapes for making ice wine are left on the vines until the temperature drops to minus eight degrees Celsius and below, at which point they are harvested and crushed frozen.

Ice wine is for dessert. It is not as sweet as Sauternes and it goes well with fruit-based desserts or blue cheese. Canada also has a wine appellation system, the Vintners Quality Alliance, or VQA.

It regulates production to ensure quality and comprises an extensive range of wines as in Europe.

This system has been instrumental in helping Canadian wines raise the benchmark. A VQA seal is proof the wine has been made with 100 per cent Canadian grapes.

The line Produce of Canada but without the seal may contain only about 25 per cent of Canadian grapes.