Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Canada’s Cool Climate Sensibility

Published:  03 June, 2021

Harpers’ recent Canadian-flavoured webinar looked at the emerging regions and styles from this exciting country as it emerges onto the global wine scene, as Andrew Catchpole reports.

The panel:

↘ Nik Darlington, director, Graft Wine Company

↘ Janet Dorozynski, wine sector lead, government of Canada

↘ David Gleave, MD, Liberty Wines

↘ Sarah Knowles MW, buyer, The Wine Society

↘ Ben Franks, CEO, Novel Wines

↘ Jamie Goode, co-host, author, critic and judge,

↘ Andrew Catchpole, co-host and editor, Harpers Wine & Spirit

This Harpers webinar was organised in partnership with the High Commission of Canada in the UK.

A recent Harpers survey of the indie merchant sector found more than two-thirds reporting their customers had become more adventurous during the past 12 months, representing the acceleration of a trend already under way pre-pandemic in more wine-savvy off- and on-trade quarters.

Moreover, people are increasingly seeking out authentic wines with a sense of place, coupled with a shift towards fresher, more poised and elegant styles. All of which favours cooler-climate regions and quality-focused producers – wines delivering distinct character and individuality.

Step up Canada, with it’s exciting but ‘yet-to-be-discovered’ styles coming under the spotlight in our recent Canada – Wines with a Cool-Climate Sensibility webinar. This brought together leading UK buyers that have already taken the plunge by listing Canadian wines, first to pre-taste a selection of what the country offers, and then to discuss how and where Canada is best placed to grow its UK presence.

Jamie Goode, who has visited, tasted and judged in Canada many times, began by sketching out how – despite major quality wine-producing regions such as Niagara and Okanagan Valley being some 3,500km apart, with a host of differing varieties on offer – it was also possible to describe a common DNA.

“Geographically and in terms of situation, these wine regions are very far apart. But there’s certainly a similarity in the style of many of the wines, which is what we coined in the title – Wines with Cool-Climate Sensibility,” said Goode.

This opened a passionate discussion on the leading varieties and most engaging styles that the country offers. This was made all the more compelling – as the panel agreed – by the sense of discovery for trade and consumer, with Canada being for most something of a ‘blank slate’.

Nik Darlington led the charge for the restrained styles of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, citing a mix of “consistency” coupled with “some really excellent wines” among those tasted and from elsewhere.

As you’d expect from serious buyers, too, value was a key consideration,

with Darlington adding that, “the Pinot Noirs I liked were in the low-to-mid £20s”, drawing general agreement that “these wines could really pick off the over-priced, slightly complacent mid-tier wines from the Old World”.

On these world-renowned classic varieties, David Gleave MW added that Canadian producers have more recently – in line with a global trend – been eschewing bigger oaked and extracted styles in pursuit of more elegant and restrained wines revealing ever-greater sense of place.

Wines of intrigue

If Pinot and Chardonnay impressed, though, it was to other potential Canadian frontrunners that the conversation then turned, not least as it has much up its sleeve that could provide just the points of difference and intrigue that independent merchants and wine-savvy on-trade look for.

Gamay, whether from Okanagan or Niagara (both of which produce quality expressions), was singled out as another high point that deserves greater recognition.

“The tasting showed that Pinot Noir excels and is a great variety of Canada ... but Gamay does a lot of the things Pinot does, it delivers similar flavours that people are looking for, similar styles and it is distinctive,” said Darlington.

“There’s no country in the world outside France that has a feather in its cap for Gamay [and] I’d like to see it being put on more of a pedestal.”

Canada’s expressions of Cabernet Franc then received a similar shout out, with a lot of “fantastic examples” being produced, combining “quite opulent fruit” with “instantly recognisable” varietal character, suggested Goode.

“There’s a lot of really good Cabernet Franc in Ontario and there’s some good Cabernet Franc in British Columbia as well,” he added.

This led to acknowledgment of the diversity to be found within Canada’s main but far-flung wine-producing regions, with Okanagan in British Columbia singled out as an example.

“When it comes to the Okanagan you’ve got a region where at the top end, the north, you’re growing things like Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir, a very cool climate; and in the same region, travelling 100km down the lake, you’re in the south Okanagan where you can ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah – there’s a world of difference,” said Goode.

Suitably prompted, Ben Franks picked up the baton for Syrah, finding much to like in the blend of “meaty aromas and flavours” coupled with “a pepperiness as a core element” that the panel agreed was highly food-friendly and reminiscent of the great wines of the northern Rhône.

That, though, was not to say that the Canadian samples tried were in any way apeing their European cousins – far from it, as the impressive dry Rieslings tasted exemplified, and the sumptuous icewines further drove home.

Throughout all of the wines sampled and others that the panel knew, it was agreed that Canada at best delivers an “impressive” hallmark of purity of fruit, even when overlaid on complexity and depth of character in the wines.

For Franks, whose customers look to him for more esoteric and interesting finds, this fruit clarity proves a hit, as does the affinity for food – plus the wines are also very drinkable when young.

“I can definitely find people in Novel Wines’ customer base who are looking for something different, and these wines would get them really excited,” he said.

“As a retailer, there’s some really exciting, commercial potential for [these wines], so it’ll be interesting to see how they develop and also what other kind of varieties we can get as we’re looking for wines that are unique.”

As Gleave pointed out, the quality of Canada’s icewines has already opened doors to good restaurant lists, setting a quality expectation among customers, but now the field is wide open for what comes up behind. As Sarah Knowles MW suggested, it is now down to Canadian producers to put their best foot forward.

“If Canada wants to compete in a truly complex and crowded international wine market, then it has to put its best wines in at really good price points. An interesting or esoteric wine might sell once or twice, but Canada needs to build Canada and quality is key for these wines,” she added.

And, as Franks concluded, the time is right, not least because Canada has “this trust currency” with Brits, who have an “emotional attachment” and positive image of the country at large. Time, then, to welcome more Canadian wines on British shores.