Discovering British Columbia
I've always been delighted to have a disproportionate number of Canadian subscribers to these publications - at least a couple of thousand of you, counting only those who've taken the time to fill in the optional "where are you" blank when you signed on.
And over the years, I think I've fielded the same question from just about all of you: "Why don't you ever write about Canadian wines?"
The answer, sadly, is simple: Save for the occasional rare and pricey ice wine that comes my way, it's almost impossible to find Canadian wines where I live. It appears that our neighbors to the north drink most of their own wine, letting just a bit get away in the form of sweet-wine exports to Asia and a limited retail market in U.S. cities near the border.
Based on what we have available here, it's hard to blame U.S. wine enthusiasts for failing to recognize that Canada has a serious and growing wine industry, with Ontario and British Columbia boasting well over 100 wineries between them, plus quite a few more in Quebec and even a handful of small-farm wineries in Nova Scotia.
Wine lovers who think of Canada as a place of igloos and dog sleds, endless winter night and year-round ice and snow need to recalibrate our perceptions: Canadian wine regions, by and large, are much more salubrious.
Ontario's Niagara Peninsula, in a pocket protected by the waters of Lake Ontario, is a traditional fruit-growing area that boasted orchards for generations before it became home to vineyards. British Columbia's scenic inland Okanagan Valley is arid, with deep-water glacial lakes helping to moderate the cold winters, and boasting the kind of long, dry and cool summers in which quality wine grapes thrive. (It's not dissimilar to Washington State's Walla Walla and Columbia Valley wine regions, which are not contiguous with Okanagan but occupy somewhat similar ground a bit farther south.)
A couple of years ago I made a quick wine-tasting trip across Ontario, discovering to my pleasure that there's more than just ice wine to be found there. My report on that visit is online at
British Columbia - Canada's Pacific Northwest - remains on my "must-visit" list, and I hope to reach Okanagan ("OH-ca-NAH-gun") some day soon. In the meantime, though, I was delighted to see an Okanagan producer reach retail stores in this part of the world, with the first Canadian wine other than ice wine I've ever seen on sale here.
The producer, Mission Hill, is one of British Columbia's largest wineries, and apparently among its best capitalized, a California-style winery-as-tourist-attraction with imposing architecture including a 120-foot tower with carillon bells. Winery owner Anthony von Mandl and wine maker John Simes, a New Zealand expatriate who used to make white wine at Montana (Brancott) are producing a portfolio of wines that have won multiple awards - and they are starting to export aggressively in the U.S. and Great Britain.
Mission Hill's 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2002 Pinot Gris are both $10 here, a price that most wine hobbyists would happily pay for the experience of trying a wine from a previously un-tasted region alone. Happily, it's more than just an "interesting" experience: The Cabernet in particular is a wine of quality, well worth the price.
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Mission Hill 2001 Okanagan Valley VQA Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($10)
Very dark garnet in color, this Canadian wine breathes "cassis" aromas, the signature blackcurrant scent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruit flavors are forward, but crisp acidity and smooth but perceptible tannins add a firm structure that's almost austere. Oak becomes evident with time in the glass, but it doesn't overtake the fruit. (Feb. 29, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A flavorful roast free-range chicken goes well; it would also be a winner with beef.
VALUE: A fine value at this modest price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Tannins and balance should hold it in the cellar for a few years, but its fruit is so luscious now, it's hard to recommend aging it.
WEB LINK: Kudos to Mission Hill for making the high-bandwidth "flash" presentations optional on its comprehensive Website,
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Check prices and find vendors for Mission Hill on Wine-Searcher.com:
Mission Hill 2002 Okanagan Valley VQA Pinot Gris ($10)
This clear, light straw-colored wine presents a waft of fresh lemon-lime aromas with just a musky hint of melon and a distinct note of confectioner's sugar in the nose. The first taste sensation is a slight prickliness on the tongue, followed by a light citric flavor that's just off-dry. Easy to quaff, it's a crowd-pleasing style, although not my favorite approach to this popular grape. (March 2, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A simple dish of linguine topped with shrimp tossed in garlic and olive oil with a dash of red-pepper flakes served it well - the richness of the shrimp and the slight piquancy of the dish balanced the slight sweetness in the wine.
VALUE: Competitive with Pinot Gris/Grigio of similar style.
WHEN TO DRINK: It should keep for a year in the fridge or on the wine rack, but it's not for cellaring.
WEB LINK AND BUYING ONLINE: See above.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2004