It wasn’t all that long ago when Canadian wine actually wasn’t very good.

Now I can hear indignation, but for a long time — even before Canada was Canada — there’s been winemaking on these shores. From the Nordic legacy when “Vineland” was colonized by Nordic explorers, to those dark days when Port Moody, B.C. was one of the largest wine producing “regions” of Canada, there was a lot of what I’ll generously call unremarkable wine, notable for being local before local was a thing.

Yet in the last 30 or so years, Canada’s winemaking talent and viticultural pioneers proved vinifera grapes like cabernet sauvignon could ripen in the Okanagan. In Ontario, Inniskillin Wines was granted the first winery license since prohibition, closely followed by Chateau des Charmes. It takes time to see these works yield fruit (literally and figuratively), but the quality of Canadian wine certainly started improving through the 1980s; by the late 1990s, it was competing strongly against international examples.

It’s hard to talk about the success of Canadian wine without talking about the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), which started in Ontario in 1988 followed by B.C. in 1990. Similar in nature to the appellation system in other countries, it famously accomplished a way to acknowledge wineries using grapes sourced from Canadian vineyards. With VQA, wineries began making high quality wine from Canadian vineyard sites, which is really where terroir begins — growing the right grapes in special places.

Wine production is centered on two major areas in Canada. Ontario is the largest, with the Niagara Peninsula accounting for most of their wine, though Prince Edward County and a few other areas are garnering attention too. In B.C., the Okanagan Valley is the foundation stone for its wines, with smaller production taking place on Vancouver Island and the Similkameen Valley along with some smaller areas of production emerging.

Not to be forgotten, Quebec produces table wines mostly using hybrid varieties around the Eastern Townships, though we are more likely to find iced apple ciders here. Nova Scotia is also gaining traction with their winemaking; several well-regarded sparkling wines are made in the province, and more recently, their Tidal Bay appellation is making waves (ha-ha!) with crisp, off-dry whites.

Finally, we see winemaking taking place in the rest of the country. Alberta, too cold for vinifera, has several honey and fruit wineries, Saskatchewan has a winery in the Cypress Hills, and there other wineries peppered throughout the other Atlantic provinces as well. Consumer acceptance for Canadian wines has come along slowly, helped of course by tourism.

Both Niagara and the Okanagan are wonderful, scenic places conveniently located close to the U.S. border, and I’d highly recommend visiting wine country in Nova Scotia or Quebec if you get the chance. Nowadays in Canada, we can enjoy pinot noirs that compare to the finest Burgundies, incredible cool climate chardonnays, dynamic and racy rieslings, and the emergence of a truly distinctive style of syrah.

Canadian producers seem to have solved any quality or perception issues, while facing what might be their biggest problem to date: interprovincial trade barriers. Most consumers and adherents of Canadian wine are perplexed that it may technically be illegal to order wine online from a different province. While some folks hold out hope for a free market for locally made beverage products, it may still be some way off. So please, join me in raising a glass (or two, or three…) to some beautiful Canadian-made wines in 2017. After all, Canada only turns 150 once!

JoieFARM 2014 PTG
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A blend of pinot noir and gamay, to my knowledge, JoieFARM are the only folks making one in the Okanagan. All the beauty of pinot noir, coupled with the pepper spice and strawberry notes of gamay. Rich and spicy on the palate with the right amount of earthiness to the tannins. Easy, versatile, and discussion-worthy. Drink now or soon. CSPC +823799 $36

Mission Hill 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

There’s nothing quite like enjoying a beautiful cabernet sauvignon with a top quality, Alberta-made steak. Cedar and cherry pie filling with graphite, spice box, and a bare touch of green pepper on the nose. Chewy tannins (perfect for that steak) with blackberry and cherry fruits and a long, graceful finish. CSPC +330506 $26 or so

Van Westen 2014 Vino Grigio
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia Robert

Van Westen’s voluptuous pinot grigio has plenty of apple and stone fruits, with a smidgeon of hazelnut and thyme herbaciousness. Light and crisp, it’s a serious pinot grigio with some steely mineral and serious depth. Would work well with fried or rotisserie chicken, scallops or grilled prawns. CSPC +739190 About $32

Evolve NV Effervescence
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A blend of pinot blanc and chardonnay, look for peaches, soft cider, and more than a touch of pear on the nose. Tempting your palate are bright and soft-leaning tropical fruits like banana and mango, with mid-sized bubbles. Easy, fresh, and well priced. CSPC +789665 $23

Tantalus 2016 Riesling
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A Canadian legend in riesling, the folks at Tantalus knock this grape out of the park year after year. Wildly intense lime and crushed green apple fruits with slate minerality and a touch of rock candy. Quite dry with a little sweetness, it’s got style in abundance. No food required! CSPC +740494 $35

Burrowing Owl 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

I’m always a little cautious with my sauvignon blanc dollars — is it going to be a kiwi approach or something a little more European? Burrowing Owl’s is a treat. Ripe melon, a little honeysuckle, peach and lime with a touch of gooseberry. Crisp with plenty of acid, and a mild richness across the mid and back palate call for turkey breast, rotisserie chicken and naturally, seafood. CSPC +1118652 About $28

Tinhorn Creek 2015 Oldfield Reserve Chardonnay
Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia

The first release with the new label, this is exceptional chardonnay from the valley. Bold as brass with plenty of oak character (fermented and aged in oak), look for vanilla, buttered toast, with a nicely played tropical fruitiness. Love big oak? It’s rich, spicy, and warming. Looking for wine for the fire pit? Try this one. Match at dinner with roasted fowl or steak (with lobster, of course). CSPC +784497 About $37

Peninsula Ridge Cabernet Merlot 2015
Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario

This wine smells like Boeuf En Daube to me – or is that just wishful thinking? Bring it on! A blend of 83 percent cabernet sauvignon and 17 percent merlot, this is such an easy drinking, let’s-open-another-bottle wine, and at the crazy value price, could be sinful. The tannins are very soft, and there are dark and plummy flavours, but with a good acidity that makes your mouth water. CSPC +783255 $16

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay 2015
Niagara River VQA, Ontario

This wine is a sunny colour out of the bottle, and opens with delicate lemon notes leading to a creamy mouth feel. It’s a beautifully balanced wine, easy drinking and very delicious. While elegant, The Brock would be equally good with a grilled cheese sandwich as it would with Chicken Cordon Blue, or an Alfredo pasta sauce with shrimp or chicken. CSPC +1108168 $23

Laughing Stock 2014 Portfolio
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

One of the “icon” wines of the Okanagan, Laughing Stock’s Portfolio is a Rockstar through and through. A Bordeaux-based blend centred around merlot strikes the right balance. Decant now or cellar for a few years. I think 3 years or so in the cellar will let these pure fruits integrate with these divine spice and earth tones. CSPC +736239 $55

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2015
Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario

This unfiltered/unfined wine has a fruity and floral, yet meaty, nose that makes you hungry before you’ve even taken a sip. I’m already dreaming of duck or rabbit for dinner, drawn in by rich, dark and tart, cherry fruit on the palate with an uncommon complexity and depth of flavour. Savour this one, and drink it with friends. CSPC +740111 $45

Quails’ Gate 2015 Chenin Blanc
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Great chenin blanc, makes the soul happy. Quails’ Gate is one of the few in the Okanagan using it, and fans of the grape will like the dried lemon and honey notes on the nose along with a mild, wooly “Hudson’s Bay blanket” layer. Crisp, dry, and impeccably balanced, it would be simply perfect with fried chicken, grilled seafood, or salty chips. CSPC +391854 $25

Chateau Des Charmes Rosé Cuvée d’Andrée 2015
Niagara-On-The-Lake VQA, Ontario

A deep watermelon-colour, this wine is a fresh, dry rosé wine from pinot noir grapes. Delicate aromas of raspberry sherbet change to strawberry as it warms. It’s light-to medium bodied, and ohso-easy drinking. Serve it well chilled (you and the wine) on your patio with a charcuterie plate or terrine, and pickles. CSPC +78055 $17

Vineland Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2014
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Dark cherry and cassis aromas greet you on giving this wine a swirl, along with herbal notes. While the wine is lush and soft, there are bright hints and a gentle acidity to make your mouth water and cry out for another sip. It’s silky smooth, and a perfect partner to my roast elk rack, but would also be a great match for a pork chop or a juicy burger with relish. CSPC +594127 $19

TH Wines 2015 Pinot Noir
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Tyler Harlton’s wines came swinging out of the gate, earning accolades and plenty of interest from wine drinkers. All of his wines are pretty tasty. As for the pinot noir, plenty of fresh farmyard aromas with cocoa, cherries, tomato leaf, and herb. Quite Burgundian in style, layers of complex flavours, some subtle, some overt, but truly a discussion-worthy glass of wine. CSPC + 761994 $38

Henry of Pelham Old Vines Baco Noir 2014
Ontario

Big daddy to Henry of Pelham’s Baco Noir, Old Vines has a seductive nose; it’s plush, rich and ripe with dark aromas of plum and mulberry, and minty high notes. The palate is satisfying — dark berries and soft fruit, balsamic reduction, chocolatey with almost a pomegranate note, and silky smooth. I hanker after some venison with this wine, but it could equally pair with roast lamb or a wild boar casserole. CSPC +459966 $25

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2016
Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia 2016

Nova 7 is the 10th anniversary of one of Nova Scotia’s signature wines. To celebrate this vintage and its grapes grown on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, the wine is wild fermented and completely natural. A refreshing off-dry sparkling wine with delicate flavours of red berries, apricot and sherbet — a wine for any occasion. Bring on the charcuterie, olives, and pickles! CSPC +756521 $25

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