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Everyone’s Doing it. Even Canada is making good wine

Eh?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.



Sipping Provencal-Inspired Rosé is a Springlike Potion of Sensuality and Laissez-Faire

Picnic with charcuterie board_smallerSpringtime has arrived which means rosé is in season. I love rosé for its simplicity, freshness, acidity, and subtlety.  Sipping this springlike potion brings up a sense of nostalgia, as it reminds me of picnics in the grass, glorious spreads of charcuterie, and laissez-faire of the past.

Provence, France is the ideal place for making rosé. It is on the Mediterranean, which tempers the hot days with cooler nights. The temperate climate is what rosé varietals such as Cinsault, Carignane, Syrah and Grenache need for a perfect balance of fruit and acidity.  The region is blessed with limestone soils, which adds a noticeable minerality to the wine. Garrigue (wild herbs that grow in the south France countryside) somehow impart earthy notes into the wine by their mere presence.  Along with a 2600 year history of making wine, it is this combination of balanced fruit, minerality, and lavender-like herbs that has made Provence the benchmark region for rosé.  Try the 2015 Chateau La Gordonne rosé or the 2015 Domaine de Terrebrune rosé from the famous sub-appellation called Bandol.

Recently there has been an influx of producers all over the world that are making fantastic rosés, influenced by Provence while having their own unique terroir.  Here on the West Coast winemakers have taken the baton and run with it.  We’ve come a long way from the sweet, syrupy “Sutter Home” rosés of the past as our only model.  This new trend is producing seriously delicious, dry, sophisticated, food-friendly, and inexpensive beauties.  Don’t be fooled though. There are still millions of cases being made of sugary White Zinfandels.  You have to know where to look to find the great ones.   

California, Oregon, and Washington have several small producers that make great rosés.  We’re also seeing a lot more experimentation with varietals like Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Nebbiolo to name a few. Check out the 2015 Division-Villages Gamay rosé, “l’Avoiron” from Columbia Valley in Washington; the 2015 Ser rosé of Nebbiolo from a single vineyard in Lake County, California; and the 2015 Adelsheim rosé of Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon.

It’s really exciting for me to see the market expand to include more dry rosés these days. They almost always fit into my mantra, “Wine for the People” – wines that the common person can afford and that deliver serious bang for the buck.  

Dry rosé can be sophisticated, pair well with food, and truly be delicious without breaking the bank.  Try them with herbed goat cheese, or an antipasti plate with prosciutto and olives, a butter lettuce salad with French feta and roasted almonds, or oven baked garlic shrimp.

What food do you love to pair with rosé?  Do you have a particular region of the world you buy rosé from?  Your feedback is important to me.  Be sure to leave and comment and tell me what’s on your mind.

It’s impossible to know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.