Wine, as any oenophile will declare, is all about terroir – a mystical, undefinable sense of place.
When I travel, I try as many wines as possible from the region I am visiting. Over the years, in those places I’ve returned to, I have witnessed the evolution of wine styles and winemaking.
What first turned international attention to Canada’s wine industry was its ice wines.
These are produced from grapes that are naturally frozen while still on the vine, at temperatures of minus eight degrees Celsius or lower, for two weeks before being picked, which means someone has to go out into the freezing cold to harvest them by hand. The grapes are then rushed to the winery and pressed while still frozen, because, once they thaw, the water from the frost will dilute the juice. The yield from frozen grapes is tiny – only a few droplets from each bunch.
Canada has other wines that are worth a try. The most interesting winery in the country is perhaps the Aboriginal-owned Nk’Mip (pronounced “in-ka-meep”) Cellars, in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The wines are made by Osoyoos Indians who have been custodians of their land for several generations. The climate is characterised by long hot days, cool nights and mild winters with little rainfall – perfect for growing wine grapes.
Nk’Mip’s top wines, made from vines planted more than 40 years ago, are Qwam Qwmt (pronounced “kwem kwempt”), some of which could challenge the best wines from California’s mountain regions. And in a nod to California, it also makes a meritage – a Bordeaux-inspired blend called Mer’r’iym (pronounced “Mur-eem”), which is the Aboriginal word for marriage.
Of all the red wines from Nk’Mip Cellars, this is the most impressive. It had a delicious nose of ripe juicy berries and stone fruit – blackberries, black plums and currants, with rich mocha and dark chocolate notes; the perfect amount of tannin – with hints of toasty vanilla; and a sense of place.
That’s what a good wine is all about.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers