For the past year, I’ve been participating in the Great Canadian Wine Challenge. The rules of the Challenge were simple: you could only drink Canadian wines for a full year. There were some exceptions. 1. if you were a guest and the host served something else (even though you brought them a bottle of Canadian wine as a hostess gift), 2. if you were a wine writer / sommelier / judge and you had to drink an international wine as part of your work or 3. if you were out of the country and there was no Canadian wine to be had.
I made it through the whole year within the guidelines. I did receive two bottles of Durbanville Hills wine from South Africa to critique for pairing with chocolate. Now the year is over, I’ll go looking for these wines in the LCBO. As South African born if not bred, I have an interest in their wine industry, I did get an exemption for wine offered at other people’s houses or events and finally, I was in the South of France ( I loved Madiran) for three weeks and the Danube for two so got to sample some very different wines there. Everything else was Canadian.
I started the Challenge off last September looking for affordable wines in Prince Edward County. I found a selection of these at Sandbanks Winery, Waupoos, Casa Dea, The Grange of Prince Edward, Broken Stone, Rosehall Run, Huff Estates, Lighthall, and 33 Vines for wines under $20. The prize goes for the best bargain went to the Grange for their Stoneboat white that was priced “cheap” but tasted eminently drinkable for a vin ordinaire or a party wine. Also among the bargains were barrel aged Pinot Noir from Keint-He and Long Dog in the mid twenties and Charnat style sparkling from Hinterland. These were all featured in one of my last examiner.com blogs Bargain Hunting for Prince Edward County Wines
In October, I took my relatives who were visiting from France to Huff Estates, Karlo Estates and Long Dog and had a taste of newly fermented Long Dog 2013 Pinot Noir which tasted of “Cherries and Chocolate”. I picked up Riesling from Huff, CHOA Chardonnay from Karlo Estates and Otto Pinot Noir from Long Dog and wrote “Rot – It’s a Good Thing!” about that wacky wine tour.
November was Wassail. This year, I didn’t take the Wassail Bus, instead Colin and I visited The Devil’s Wishbone for their wonderful Riesling and interesting 80-20 Red, Waupoos Winery where I discovered their Auxerrois and Del-Gatto Estates for Leon Millot and Bella Bianca.
Then the cold weather really set in, we stopped touring but my cellar was full of lovely wines, including a number from my visit to Nova Scotia in the spring of 2013. I won’t say how many as technically we aren’t supposed to transport wine across provincial borders. The visit resulted in an article for Saltscapes Magazine on Nova Scotia Sparkling wines which also were featured in my blog Welcome in the New Year with NS Bubbly with sparkling wines from L’Acadie Vineyard, Benjamin Bridge, Grande Pre Winery, Gaspereau Vineyards and Blomidon Estates. I had a bottle of L’Acadie Prestige Brut and Blomidon Crement for the occasion.
In 2013, many of the wineries were open on the weekends in January and February, but in 2014 it stormed every weekend. So between bottles of very affordable Grange Stoneboat and Sandbanks Dunes, I raided my wine cellar for inspiration and came up with a series of Wine of the Week blogs. which included Karlo Estates Van Alstine White port, Benjamin Bridge Borealis Icewine. Broken Stone Pinot Noir, Harwood Estates Marquesa Port all which included a chocolate theme. I came back to table wine after attending a Valentine’s Day winemaker’s dinner at Bergeron Estates and discovered their Cabernet Franc which was so good that I wasn’t upset that I’d left my wallet at the winery as it was an excuse to go back for another bottle the next weekend.
In March, I broke open my winter whites. Wines that spoke of the promise of spring. Devil’s Wishbone Riesling, Simon Rafuse’s Virtual Winery’s L’Acadie Fumé, Rosehall Run’s JCR Chardonnay, Gaspereau Vineyard’s Amazing Muscat which is now being sold through LCBO Vintages because it is so good, and Trius Hillebrand’s Outlier Gerwurztraminer that was hatched from fermentation eggs.
Although I’d planned to do one a week for the year, the sun was finally shining, and the snow was melting, so I emerged from my wine cellar in May and took to the road again. The series closed on one of Nova Scotia’s most celebrated wines, Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7 which now has a season of its own in May, something like Beaujolais Nouveau owns late November
May is Taste the County weekend. I didn’t make it for the big event which was the first time the County wineries were allowed to sell their VQA wines at the event since the new wine at farmer’s markets legislation was proclaimed. We stopped in at Lacey Estates and picked up a bottle of Gerwurztraminer and Baco Noir. Karlo Estates for a bottle of Riesling and Cabernet Franc and Keint-he for Pinot Noir. All three wineries were glowing about the sales numbers from Terroir and the follow-up customers who came to the winery the next day. I’d wanted to visit the new Hubb’s Creek Winery but unfortunately it was closed that day.
In June, I headed off to Niagara-on-the-Lake. In 2013, Crush Wine Tours had taken us to Between the Lines, Caroline Cellars, Strewn Winery and Trius Hillebrand, In 2014, Vintage Wine Tours were our hosts and we visited Southbrook, Pilliteri and Konzelman. I loved the Southbrook whites and on Bill Redelmeier’s advice picked up the Triomphe Chardonnay. At Pilliteri , I bought my first ever red icewine and tasted my first sparkling icewine. At Konzelman we bought a bunch of table wines as well as a peach wine for cooking. The price point was good and so were the wines. The following day, we stopped in at Cave Springs for Dolomite Chardonnay, Creekside for Broken Press Voignier, Hidden Bench for their Chardonnay and Rosé and The Good Earth also for Rosé. We were set for the summer.
Then Festival Players started their season with Rosehall Theatre and Sunday Nights at Huff Estates in July and August. As a result, further bottles of Rosehall Run Chardonnay and Huff Riesling made it home.
I only managed to visit two new wineries in Prince Edward County this year. Three Dog Winery which has got off to a great start and The Cape Winery next door to Fifthtown Cheese.
My last Canadian wine purchase in the Great Canadian Wine Challenge was at Hillier Creek on the last toasty hot beach day of the summer and we stopped in for wood fired pizza on their beautiful patio and picked a bottle of unoaked chardonnay.
My seven days of cruising on the Danube gave me access to an assortment of Pinot Gris, Chardonnays and Rieslings. Surprisingly, I felt I had tasted many more interesting wines of the same vinifera in Canada and even the most disappointing Canadian TGIF (Thank God It’s Finished) wine that I sampled during the year could not hold a candle to the dreariness of Ludmilla a very popular wine of the Czech Republic.