For city that routinely hosts tastings featuring wines from seemingly every place with the capability of crushing and fermenting fruit, it seems odd that a showcase of eight British Columbia wineries in Toronto last week stood out for many as the first of its kind.
Big city media and sommeliers are often invited out to sample the wares from Australia, Chile and everywhere else actively involved in exporting wine. Not so, British Columbia.
The omission is easy to explain. Until recently, precious little wine has made it out of the province. The locals loyally support the wines grown in their backyard. Wine lovers in Alberta and Manitoba happily snatched any bottles that managed to escape their clutches.
Very few British Columbia brands maintain steady listings with the liquor board in Ontario. A handful of bottles appear from time to time at Vintages outlets, including offerings from Sandhill Estate Winery, Nk’Mip Cellars Winery and Sumac Ridge Estate Winery. Only two premium reds, Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin and Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon enjoy year-round exposure at specialty stores in Ontario. A few other value brands enjoy distribution through conventional LCBO stores.
More vines in the ground and increased production are two reasons that wines from British Columbia are travelling farther afield. Larger producers, such as Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, Mission Hill Family Estate and CedarCreek Estate Winery, are hoping to diversify their markets, too. With more than 200 wineries operating in the province, there’s significant volume being produced every vintage.
British Columbia vintners are starting to have Ontario in their sights.
The Toronto tasting was organized by the B.C. Wine Institute to support a thematic release at LCBO Vintages outlets of five wines, including some splurge-worthy red wines from Mission Hill and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. Hopefully it signals the start of better access to these exciting Canadian wines.
As for white wines, one of the bright lights in the Vintages release is the Quails’ Gate 2011 Chardonnay ($20.95, 377770), which enjoys steady availability across the western provinces. Made in a fresh and focused style, it is pleasantly fruity with some honey, toast and spice notes. It’s convincing character makes it a welcome introduction to the Okanagan for Ontario wine lovers who are anxious to see the other side of homegrown wine.
Wines of the Week:
Gray Monk Estate Winery 2011 Gewürztraminer, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
BC $16.99 (321588) | ON $19.95 (321588)
Gray Monk founders George and Trudi Hess celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, 40th year of grape growing and 30th anniversary of their winery last year. The estate has always had a winning way with aromatic and fruity white wines. This expressive Gewürztraminer is powerfully fragrant, with exotic spice and luscious peach and tropical fruit flavours. Its subtle sweetness adds to the attraction. Graymonk.com
Mission Hill Estate Winery 2009 Quatrain, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
BC $50 (840389) | AB $45 | MB $50 | ON $44.95 (218636)
The price makes this a special occasion bottle, but it’s worth the splurge for anyone looking to taste the best expressions of Okanagan winemaking. The best batches of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are given the utmost care and attention from vineyard to bottling line. Lovely dark fruit flavours are layered with chocolate and coffee. A gold medalist at the 2012 InterVin International Wine Awards, this flavourful red was supremely crafted to make an impression. Missionhillwinery.com