Wines from Their Home and Native Land
This weekend I managed to cross the U.S. border into Canada without a passport. Post 9-11, folks. In a sheer state of panic upon realizing I had left it on my dresser, oh, about 1000 miles away, I sought advice from anyone who would listen. And everyone who would listen flat out told me there was no hope in hell I was going to get in. Nevertheless I made it. Even more impressive is that I made it in with nothing more than a California driver’s license and a New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (what even is mental hygiene?) Food Protection Certificate to identify me. So I thought what better way to say thank you to the Great White North and the kindness they showed me by allowing my disorganized self in the country than to drink a bunch of their wine and write all about it, right?
It is with this enthusiasm that I approached my Canadian wine tasting. First up, I gave the 2010 Cave Spring Dry Riesling from the Niagara Peninsula VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) a whirl. I chose Riesling because it has been a mainstay of the Canadian wine industry since 1974, when it was first produced. And, generally speaking, the Canadian climate allows for a long, slow growing season that is ideal for Riesling. While a large portion of Riesling grown in the Niagara region goes toward making ice wine, some of it is used to make pretty awesome dry white wine.
The Cave Spring is a fine example. Limestone-clay soil, elevation and climate-moderating breezes from Lake Ontario yield a wine that is true-to-type but with just the right amount of character to make it stand out in a crowd of Rieslings. Sour Patch acidity, juicy citrus, a hint of that classic Riesling petrol and a slick, almost slightly oily finish make this a very cool wine to bust out at a dinner party. Trust me, no one will see that one coming. Riesling is wonderfully food friendly, so feel free to be adventurous. Or, play it safe and pair this pucker-inducing white with Peruvian ceviche, shellfish with a hint of sweetness (think scallops, shrimp or lobster), or chicken with exotic flavors like ginger and lemongrass.
A bit of a hipster grape in the mainstream wine community, Baco Noir is quite readily found in Canada, as well as Oregon, Washington and New York, where it thrives in the cooler climate. It is typically dark, smoky and acidic with soft fruit and light tannins. I opened up the 2011 Pelee Island Winery Baco Noir from the Ontario VQA and found it lived up to its reputation quite nicely. The first sip had me a bit concerned – there seemed to be a faint hint of residual sugar, giving it a mild sweetness that threw me off. But as notes of cedar, black currant and plum emerged in glass and mouth, and the wine displayed fantastic balance, sip after sip, I was pleasantly surprised. It was the very definition of drinkable – pleasant, charming and easy-going. The kind of guest you want at your dinner table.
I served this wine alongside steak soft tacos with black beans, corn, homemade garlicky guacamole, and a ball-busting pico de gallo that had me sweating like a harlot in church. Very few wines can stand up well to spicy heat. The soft, ripe fruit, low alcohol and mellow tannins of the Pellee Island Baco made this the perfect accompaniment to the murderous jalepenos I got a little carried away with, while the rich, dark juice was a worthy adversary for the steak. Not exactly a cultural match made in heaven, but it worked for the palate.
So we’ve got some reliable, quality-drive options from Canada, and some interesting pairing ideas. Now we are just faced with the minor hurdle of getting a fair representation of the stuff across the border in our American wine stores, as it’s pretty tough to find outside of each respective VQA. Perhaps I can start to make nice with the U.S. border patrol on my way home and see where that takes me.