But surely Canada’s too cold to produce quality wines?
Well, that’s where most of us are wrong! Canada is famous for Ice wine (see below) but there are over 400 wineries producing top quality dry white and red wines- it’s only because Canadians drink most of it themselves that we don’t see much of it on our shelves!
The reason why International grape varieties can grow successfully in such a cool climate is that most of the vineyards surround the Great Lakes. These huge lakes assist in the ripening of the grapes in autumn, as they store the summer’s heat in the great bodies of water.
Also, in the Niagara Peninsular, Ontario (where most of the wine is produced) air is circulated so well by the Niagara Escarpment leading to the Niagara Falls. This moderates the temperature preventing cold air standing still, which would cause frost and damage the grapes. The Niagara Falls acts like a giant air conditioning system circulating the air- it’s incredible if you think about it!
Of course, cooler climate grape varieties flourish the best, for example Riesling. But winemakers have excelled, surprisingly, in the last twenty years in producing Bordeaux blends and single varietal wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
Ice-wine is the famous and most important wine of Canada. It is a sweet wine from the Niagara Peninsular in Ontario, which maximises the benefits of the cold and is made from Riesling or local Vidal grapes.
These grapes are harvested in January when the grapes literally ‘freeze’ on the vine in the early hours of the morning in the snow (it’s a cold job but someone’s got to do it?!). They are then pressed before the grapes defrost so only the concentrated grape juice is extracted, minus the frozen water content which stays behind frozen! It’s a very simple, but very clever process, producing incredible sweet wines.
Only small quantities of juice can be extracted from each grape so it is a long process, and a very meticulous one at that as the grapes are all hand-picked. This therefore, reflects in the price and the wines are very expensive, but it is really worth buying as the quality is second to none.
There are four main areas of vineyards:
- Niagara Peninsular (Ontario)
- Okanagan Valley
- Nova Scotia
- Crisp, lemony whites
- Fruity, juicy medium-bodied reds
- Intense, luscious, rich sweet wines
- Vidal (Ice wine)
- Riesling (also used for Ice wine)
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Gris
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Regional varieties (reds)
- Ontario’s Ice wine
- Niagara Peninsula’s Bordeaux blends (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).
- Niagara Peninsula’s Riesling