Americans are heading into the Memorial Day weekend today (stay tuned for some holiday beach wine reviews), but Canadians celebrated their national holiday this past Monday.

Neither I nor my British husband had ever heard of Victoria Day. They don’t observe it in the U.K – I guess the Brits aren’t as excited as the Canadians about that particular monarch.

Canada lantern
Maple leaf lanterns festooned Orlando’s Victoria Day celebration

But that didn’t stop us from celebrating with Orlando’s Canadian community at a heck of a party organized by our friend Faiyaz Kara, food critic for the Orlando Weekly  … and proud Canadian.

The event – which benefited Orlando chef Kevin Fonzo‘s charitable foundation – pitted local chefs against each other to see who had the best take on Canada’s national specialty, poutine.

For the uninitiated (or un-Canadian), poutine is a dish comprised of french fries drenched in gravy, topped with cheese curds. The chefs at this event added meat and a whole lot more. This was not a low-fat affair.

But what excited me most – as you might imagine – was that the evening’s festivities also included a tasting of five Canadian wines, all from the Niagara region! We don’t get many Canadian wines this far south of the border, so this was a real treat. And no, they weren’t all icewines!

The Whites

Tawse “Spark”

Tawse sparkling riesling
2014 Tawse “Spark”

We started off with the beautifully tangy and bone dry 2014 “Spark” sparkling riesling from Tawse Winery. I’d actually tried a still riesling from this producer a couple of weeks before at an all-riesling tasting and liked it very much.

Like I said, this wine is completely dry with tangy citrus notes, refreshing bubbles, and acidity that cut right through the richness of the three different poutines on offer. It was a great pairing.

Fielding Pinot Grigio

Fielding Pinot Grigio
2015 Fielding pinot grigio

The next wine was a surprise to me in a couple of ways. First, while I’m somewhat familiar with Canadian rieslings, I’ve never heard of a Canadian pinot grigio. Second, as I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t generally like pinot grigio.

This 2015 bottle from Fielding Estate had a delightfully tropical nose with round notes of guava. Those elements carried over into the medium-bodied palate too.

This wine didn’t have the overpowering minerality that I find (and dislike) in some Italian examples of this varietal, but it did have enough acidity to give it good structure. I liked this wine.

Hidden Bench Chardonnay

I can go either way on chardonnays. I don’t like the oaky, buttery style that’s so popular in Napa, but a crisp, unoaked version, without the malolactic fermentation that produces that creamy mouthfeel, can be quite nice.

Hidden Bench Chard
2011 Hidden Bench Chardonnay

For advice, I turned to wine broker Martin Cote, a charming local Quebecois who specializes exclusively in Canadian wines and who was pouring the wines for the event.

I asked him where the 2011 Hidden Bench Chardonnay fell on the oak spectrum. He said the wine does see oak, but mostly older barrels that impart less flavor.

Indeed, the wine definitely has hallmarks of oak, but it’s not over-oaked as some of its California counterparts are. The creamy, buttery quality, however, is definitely present. Martin confirmed that the wine does go through that aforementioned malolactic fermentation, so that explains it.

This is not my personal style of wine, but it is clearly well made. The many fans of buttery chards will love it.

The Red: Fielding “Red Conception”

Martin was pouring just one red at the poutine fest – not a bad decision for an outdoor celebration in Florida this time of year. Unlike in Canada, we’re well into the summer by late May.

The 2012 Fielding “Red Conception”was an appealing blend of mostly Bordeaux grapes … with a little syrah thrown in for good measure.

Fielding Red Conception
2012 Fielding “Red Conception”

To be exact, the wine consists of 68% cabernet franc, 18% cabernet sauvignon, 8% syrah, and 6% petit verdot.

(I love it when winemakers put the breakdown on the label. It may take away some of the mystique, but it sure satisfies the wine nerd in me.)

Blackberry and blueberry aromas jumped out at me first, with the palate revealing some green pepper notes as well, as you’d expect from a wine that’s mostly cab fanc and cabernet. There was plenty of acid to balance out the fruit, making for a complex but very approachable wine.

The Icewine: Red Stone Cabernet Franc

We finished up with a beautiful example of the decadent dessert libation that was once the only wine Canada was known for. (This tasting convinced me that’s soon to change – if it hasn’t already.)

Icewine
2010 Red Stone cab franc icewine

Icewine is made from the juice of grapes that are picked after they’ve frozen on the vines. It’s pricey because each grape yields only a few drops of precious juice.

Red Stone‘s 2010 cabernet franc icewine is anything but a run of the mill example of this beverage. Most icewines are white and very, very sweet. The Red Stone is made from the cab franc grapes, so its color is a translucent red. And while it’s certainly sweet, it’s not cloying or syrupy.

I started to sample it with a sweet chocolate dessert, but Martin wisely advised me against that.

This wine shouldn’t pair with dessert. This wine should be dessert.

It has a decadently rich mouthfeel with beautiful notes of strawberry jam and rhubarb pie. (I wouldn’t have come up with rhubarb if Martin hadn’t planted the idea in my head – but he was spot on.) If it were to be paired with anything, he said, blue cheese would be the perfect partner. I’m not a huge blue cheese fan, but I believe this wine could make a convert out of me.

My Favorites

Since the Victoria Day revelers were asked to vote for their favorite poutine at the end of the night, I felt I should choose my favorites of the wine flight too.

It wasn’t an easy choice. Apart from the chardonnay, I liked everything the lineup. (And as I said, my beef with the chard had to do with personal taste, not the quality of the wine.)

When it came down to it, though, my votes went to the  the Tawse sparkling riesling and the Red Stone cab franc icewine.

These wines were, at least in my experience, the most uniquely Canadian. I don’t get to swirl, sniff, and savor things like that every day.

At least for now, that is. I’d be surprised if we don’t start seeing a few more north-of-the-border wines in these parts before too long.

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