But this vast nation that shares the world's longest unfortified border with the United States is much more diverse than that. As I discovered in a recent enjoyable if all-too-short visit, Canada quietly offers a small ration of excellent wines that can stand comparison with the world's best.
While I've made a mental note to check out the British Columbia wine regions in the mild far West of Canada on a future visit, this trip focused on Southern Ontario, the Canadian region southwest of Toronto.
Most of the region's vineyards and wineries are located on the Niagara Peninsula in a strip of land along the south shore of Lake Ontario, where a high, wooded bluff called the Niagara Escarpment - the geological feature that Niagara Falls tumbles down - provides a protected environment within which the thermal effects of the Great Lake protect against extreme winter cold, fostering the development of a thriving fruit-growing economy that includes grapevines. This region contains more than two dozen wineries in a relatively compact area that stretches about 60 kilometers (38 miles) along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), an Interstate-type highway, all within an hour's drive or less from Niagara Falls and Buffalo, N.Y.
At the other end of Southern Ontario, you'll find a smaller number of wineries along the north shore of Lake Erie (within a short drive from Detroit), where the lake waters again provide a relatively protected grape-growing environment close to the shore. Or in the case of the Pelee Island Winery, offshore.
Like most cool-climate northern wine regions (Germany, for instance) Canada has long made white wines from the Riesling grape as well as "French-hybrid" whites like Vidal Blanc. More recently, noting a kinship in both latitude and climate conditions with Burgundy in France, many Canadian wineries have been enjoying increasing success with reds, not only the Burgundian Pinot Noir but Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The product that has truly ensured Canada a place on the world wine scene, though, is ice wine. Based on a German tradition (there called "Eiswein"), ice wine is made by allowing very ripe grapes to hang on the vines for many weeks after the time that they would normally be harvested. When the first hard freeze comes, the wine maker picks and crushes the grapes while they are frozen, each grape yielding only a drop of nectar-like fluid that is rich and intensely sweet and that makes a wine to match.
Most often made from either Riesling or Vidal, Canadian ice wines are produced only in tiny quantities. They are hard to find and very expensive, sometimes ranging to $100 (Canadian) or more for a small bottle. If you love dessert wines, Canadian ice wine is well worth seeking out ... and if you can't find it anywhere else, there's no better way to taste it than in a visit to a Canadian winery.
If you would like to read my tasting notes on more than two dozen wines from five top Canadian wineries, I've placed them online (along with this article and some photos) at www.wineloverspage.com/wines/canada082400.shtml.
For more good online reading about Canadian wines and wineries, I suggest WineRoute, http://www.wineroute.com/, the official site of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which offers an online tour of the Ontario wine country and includes links to many of the wineries' Websites. For information on British Columbia wines, see http://www.bcwine.com/. Canada's top wine magazine is Wine Access, http://wineaccessmag.com/.
Have you tried Canadian wines? Drop me an E-mail note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to talk about it. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note, but I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
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Another good '98 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Domaine Grand Veneur 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($21.99)
FOOD MATCH: A natural match with a grilled steak crusted with black peppercorns.
"Below the Belt"
If you would like to read my tasting notes on more than 100 wines tasted over the weekend, or get information about registering for next year's event, visit the MoCool Page, http://www.wineloverspage.com/mocool.
Burgundy Wine Company
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Vol. 2, No. 32, Aug. 28, 2000