Canadian winemaking is quickly becoming an important contender on the world stage and with good reason; the vast span of geographical growing space is an ideal setting for vineyards to experiment with grape varietals both old and new. Canadian wine is primarily made in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Ontario’s Niagara Region, and on Pelee Island, as well as in Nova Scotia, and small areas of Eastern Quebec. When shopping for Canadian wine look for the VQA or Vintner’s Quality Alliance mark of approval, this is a strict regulatory system that ensures the grapes have been grown and fermented in Canada.
Despite the Pinot Noir grape’s reputation for being very difficult to cultivate, it has thrived in Canada’s cooler climates to result in a red wine that is complex and extremely drinkable. Pinot Noir should be served slightly chilled and has notes of berries and jam, vanilla, and earthiness. Pinot Noir shines when paired with meaty and mild gamey flavours. Try it with roast duck or chicken, lamb or grilled mushrooms.
Merlot grapes are grown in both B.C. and Ontario to produce Merlot wines as well as many blended wines. Merlot is famed for its drinkability, its medium-acidity and tannins yield a taste that is exceptionally smooth and mildly fruity. Merlot is one of the few red wines that is very easy to pair with food although it shines brightest when served with full-flavoured cheeses and grilled meats.
Syrah grapes are most often used in blends although it can be found as a single grape wine across Canada. Syrah has a distinctive spicy and peppery taste with notes of jammy blackberries making it an ideal pairing with gamey red meats such as roasted venison and lamb.
Gamay grapes are most widely grown in the Niagara Region and produce a red wine that is perfect for summer sipping. Gamay, also known as Beaujolais when grown in France, is very light-bodied and has earthy strawberry and raspberry tasting notes and, depending on the maker, can even have unexpected tropical hints of banana. Serve Gamay at room temperature or lightly chilled with summery salad, charcuterie, or grilled chicken.
Chardonnay is one of Canada’s most popular white wines and is sold in both oaked or unoaked versions. Oaked Chardonnay is aged in oak casks and is often described as having a creamy, fruit-forward and oaky flavour, while unoaked Chardonnay has an immediately fruity and crisp taste. Oaked Chardonnay pairs beautifully with a buttery brie and sharp cheddar, unoaked Chardonnay is complemented by citrusy fresh chevre or other fresh cheeses.
Perfect for sipping on a hot summer day and slowly growing in popularity, wine made with the lesser-known Kerner grapes boasts tropical flavours such as pineapple and guava. Serve Kerner well-chilled alongside barbecued chicken or pork served with a side of tropical fruit salsa.
Muscat wine is still a relative newcomer to Canada despite the fact that Muscat grapes are one of the oldest varietals still being used to make wine. Muscat grapes are most often used in dessert wines and sparkling wines, resulting in a flavour profile that boasts hints of melon and musk. Enjoy sweet Muscat wine well-chilled and serve alongside your favourite tangy blue cheese or with Spanish Marcona almonds.
Pinot Gris grapes thrive in cooler temperatures and are successfully grown in the Okanagan Valley as well as in the Niagara Region, making it a popular choice for wine drinkers across Canada. Pinot Gris is a complex white wine with an array of tasting notes which include stone fruit, pleasant acidity and mild spice. Pinot Gris is a classic pairing to fish and shellfish. For an updated pairing try serving well-chilled with sushi.
The Niagara Region is famous for its Riesling grapes and is responsible for creating many of Canada’s Riesling wines as well as Icewines. Wine made from Riesling grapes is generally full-bodied and sweet with high acidity and can be found in dry and off-dry variations. The high acidity of Riesling means that it can stand up to big flavour pairings. Serve well-chilled with spicy Thai food or curry.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes are grown with great success in vineyards across Canada, resulting in an easy-drinking white wine that doesn’t require long cellaring periods to develop a sophisticated taste. Sauvignon Blanc boasts a herbaceous and grassy flavour profile that also includes notes of green apples, citrus, and gooseberry. Serve Sauvignon Blanc with herb-heavy salads and entrees. It particularly works well with fresh basil, mint, and cilantro.
The Niagara Region is uniquely famous for its Icewine production, a type of wine that involves grapes that have been frozen on the vine before being picked for production. This technique results in a much sweeter and concentrated wine. Many grape varieties can be used to make Icewine although Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc are most commonly used in Canada. Icewine has a very sweet flavour with strong notes of tropical fruit flavours, honey and stonefruit. Serve Icewine with food that is rich such as foie gras, chocolate, and creamy blue cheeses.