I’m a big fan of Canadian wines, and I don’t mean just their ice wines. A few years ago at the Niagara Wine and Food Festival, I tasted an Inniskillin Pinot Noir that had my knees buckling with its fruit, intensity and balance. The Niagara Peninsula, a lovely wine region just a short drive north of the tourist mecca at the falls, produces top-notch Riesling and great cool-climate Merlot, Chardonnay, even some Syrah. They are rivaled in quality by their counterparts in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.
The problem, of course, is that these wines are not readily available in the United States. Blame two factors: Smaller wineries can sell out to their home markets, and the U.S. makes it so darn difficult to import wines here that it really isn’t worth the effort. So we get some bigger wineries, such as the Vincor-owned Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs, but primarily in their ice wines, where competition is light and prices are high.
So imagine my surprise and joy when I was at a local Wheaton, Maryland, store that doesn’t really even specialize in wine (in Montgomery County, which would be the worst place in the entire country for a wine lover to live, except that we’re close to D.C.), when I spied a Cave Spring Riesling. It was the semi-dry from 2004, and I would have preferred a younger dry wine on principle, but I quickly snatched a bottle and complimented the store manager for taking my $14 for it. I half expected it to be cooked, oxidized, vinegared from poor storage and being passed around from place to place until it found me, but no, when I opened it I tasted peach, apple and apricot, with decent acidity and depth. It was a lovely partner to Asian food or light casual fare. I had visited the winery during my sojourn in the region in 2003, and this lived up to my memory. (Now, if I could just find their Chenin Blanc ice wine …)
Henry of Pelham, another Niagara Peninsula winery, also makes excellent wines and sends some south of the border, but I really don’t know where, because their distributors, Bayfield Importing of Long Island City, N.Y., won’t answer my queries.
So maybe there’s a marketing issue, too.
Portugal's table wines are great values, and we tend to think of them in the inexpensive category. These days, some of Portugal's more serious table wines are reaching our shelves, and they still represent great value even at loftier prices. Quinta de Cabriz is made from Touriga-Nacional (one of the main Port grapes from the Douro), Alfrocheiro and Tinta-Roriz (Tempranillo). It features a core of blackberry fruit, surrounded by compoty, dried-fruit flavors with hints of earth and ... well, you get the picture. It's beautifully complex for this price and a great value. Imported by Aidil Wines & Liquors, Newark, N.J.