Tasting Canada from coast to coast

Amanda Barnes’ palate spans 4,000 kilometres in one tasting as she also feels the buzz in being back at a live event. 

There’s a certain joy about seeing familiar faces again in person, isn’t there? After two years of physical separation, although with perhaps some virtual interaction, between most nations in the wine industry, the revival of in-person wine tastings and trade shows feels quite hedonistic. The Canada trade show in London earlier this month was one of those occasions. Not only did a good two dozen producers make their way from Canada to the UK for the tasting, but it was an excellent opportunity to taste wines spanning over 4,000 kilometres of Canada in one room.

From British Colombia to Nova Scotia, there was an impressive scope of wineries and wine regions, stretching from the far east to the far west of Canada – and a good diversity of white, red, orange, sparkling and ice wines to reflect that. From east to west, here are a few of the highlights.

Starting at the easternmost stretch – and perhaps one of the most extreme wine regions in the world – was Nova Scotia. With three wineries at the tasting, including Blomidon, Lightfoot & Woolfville, and Benjamin Bridge, there was a fair amount of very cool climate bubbly on show. Benjamin Bridge was also showing its innovative Nova 7 sparkler – a sweet, delicate and low alcohol Muscat, which surprised me from this normally acid-driven traditional method wine region (something the region does very well indeed).

Leaning into the better-known territory of Ontario, there were well-known and well-loved names, including Stratus, Inniskillin and Southbrook (although Tawse was sadly absent, or lost in shipping container action). There were also interesting offerings from some of Ontario’s lesser-known wine regions of Prince Edwards County (with Closson Chase and Norman Hardie Wines) and from Lake Erie North Shore (with Pelee Island Winery). I was also pleased to tick off a tasting overdue in my MW study checklist at Andrew Peller, with my first ‘Ice Cuvee’, a traditional method sparkling wine made with a dosage of ice wine. And there were, of course, plenty of ice wines on show (of not only Vidal but also Riesling and notably Cabernet Franc) across the board in Ontario with some nice aged examples too.

One familiar face I was particularly pleased to see was Thomas Bachelder, who was on top form, offering a whirlwind masterclass at his stand, alongside Arterra Wines, exploring the different sites and ‘crus’ of Niagara. As a somewhat nomadic winemaker, Bachelder has made Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy, which he considers the Holy Trinity of these Holy Grail grapes. But Covid pushed him to make harder choices and today he’s focused on exploring the ‘crus’ of Niagara, as well as making ‘village’ wines — a Burgundian concept I dare say he’s taken on board very well. A tasting of his Les Villages Gamay Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offered a great overview of what Niagara expresses, while the ‘cru’ wines offered an exceptional taste of specific terroirs – which were best tasted alongside other single vineyards of the same varieties from the Ontario wineries. Niagara is ready and capable of showing its smaller designations through vinous identity, though I wonder if (and hope!) the international trade and press are.

Over to British Colombia, there was – as always – a rainbow of colours of wine and varieties. The state that boasts diversity as its calling card certainly didn’t let us down. One of the most playful of the tribe, Okanagan Crush Pad, had plenty of delicious innovations on offer – including new vintages of their well-named The Bub pet nat, and low intervention ‘Free Form’ Vin Gris and amphora-aged Sauvignon Blanc. There were plenty of bold reds on offer in BC too, with meaty Syrah wines, minty Cabernet Franc and increasingly popular red blends proffered from many of the tables.

With a house full of the great diversity of Canadian wine on offer, and the buzz of a travel-starved and eager British wine trade, Taste Canada 2022 was a very welcome return to trade tastings and a delightful taste of what Canada has been up to in these last few vintages.