As a kid, and into my late 20’s, my dad, brother, and I used to drive from our home in Detroit to northern Canada for a week of fishing and relaxation. It was a highlight of the summer, and the best way to connect with my pop. We used to “smuggle” top shelf vino into the country, because the wine situation in Sault Ste. Marie (“the Soo”) was dire. My dad hated that we snuck wine over the border, because he was a law abiding man that was true to his word. All was forgiven, though, after we tried that pirated ‘91 Mugneret Nuit-St-Georges 1er Cru paired with freshly caught partridge. To this day, it is one of my favorite food & wine pairings ever. There was no way we were going to get anything close to that at the Ontario government controlled liquor store.
15 years after the last pilgrimage, my family and I went back to Canada to honor my pop and reminisce of experiences past. We drove through “the Soo” on our way, and had an unusual experience buying wine. First of all, you can’t go into a grocery store, liquor store, or wine store to buy wine. The Canadians and their provincial government only sell wine (and liquor for that matter) through a few designated stores called “LCBO” (Liquor Control Board of Ontario), and there are only 3 in the whole city. Some of these stores, like the one in Chapleau, Ontario have a really sad assortment. Some, like the one I went into in “the Soo” (population 75,000) are a far cry from the wine situation in decades past. They had a robust selection from most wine producing countries of the world; France, Italy, Australia, California, Portugal, and even Canada. I was pleasantly surprised that the Canadian government came through for us! See, not all governments are bad!
As per usual, I like to buy wine locally wherever I can. I had heard about the world class icewine (grapes that ripen on the vine until the first freeze) from Ontario, but didn’t really have a clue what else was being produced. To my surprise, I couldn’t find one icewine in the store, but I found a lots of other wines from the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario. So, I did a little research.
The VQA Niagara Peninsula appellation produces over half of Ontario’s wine, and is helped greatly by Lake Ontario’s regulating temperatures. It’s a cool climate appellation, as you might expect, but the long summer days, a relatively large shift in day-night temperatures, and well drained soils help ripen some varietals just enough. I found riesling, chardonnay, dry rosé, pinot noir, cab franc, and merlot at the LCOB. The wines that stood out to me were the Cave Spring dry Riesling 2013, and Trius Gamay / Syrah Rosé 2015. Each of those wines was low in alcohol, high in acid, and perfect for the hot, sticky summer days that find their way to the region in July.
My trip to Canada with the family was wonderful. I really felt at home there, and felt my dad’s presence with us too. I envisioned him sitting at the dinner table, his usual two-ounce pour of wine, toasting to life and washing down Aunt Carolyn’s comfort foods. The wines on this trip weren’t like the ‘91 Mugneret we had years ago, but they were solid, well-made food wines that went well with simple cuisine. Next time you’re in Canada, don’t be afraid to try a few from the VQA Niagara Peninsula.
Wines that “Pop” Jack would have enjoyed:
- Cave Spring dry Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula
- Trius Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula
And the secret weapon:
- Domaine Pinnacle Cidre de glace-ice, Quebec – made from frozen apples
We can never know everything about wine. Let’s keep learning.