Spending a few days recently in Montreal and Ottawa, I was excited at the chance to taste some Canadian wines. Ontario and British Columbia are known in this country for their sweet, dessert ice wines, but they also produce some dynamite dry wines that are not widely available south of the border. Unfortunately, Canadian restaurants – at least the ones my wife and I were able to patronize with a picky-eater 7-year-old – are not very enthusiastic about the local product. My difficulty in finding top Canadian wines in Canada reminded me of the blind eye DC-area restaurants turn toward the increasingly good wines from Virginia. More’s the pity.
We did, however, enjoy two nice Canadian wines. We found the Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2006 from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley region at a state-run store outside Montreal for about $17, then took it to a BYO restaurant nearby. It was a delightful wine, fist-thumping good, lush with stone-fruit flavors of apricot and peach, maybe even a tropical note of mango, with great acidity and wonderful balance. It would do well in any market at that price.
At Stella, a trendy Italian osteria near Ottawa’s Byward Market (think Dupont Circle meets Eastern Market) we enjoyed a grilled sirloin steak with a Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir 2005 from Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. This wine was light and lean, not as lush and exciting as other Pinot Noir I’ve tasted from Niagara, but with the steak it flashed some bright cherry and spice flavor. While I may have shrugged it off in a quick blind tasting, we enjoyed it more with every sip, the hallmark of a successful wine.
Alas, Canadian wines are not widely available here in the DC market, thanks to economics (they sell rather well at the wineries, even if not in the restaurants I found) and regulation (it is costly and laborious to import wines to the various U.S. states). That’s too bad, because I believe they would do well here if the economics were favorable – their quality is outstanding.
One other note that struck me: At that BYO near Montreal, I asked the waiter if we would be allowed to walk out with any unfinished wine we had brought. He looked startled at the very question and said, “It’s your wine!” Then he thought an instant and added, “But I’m sure we could figure out something to do with it if you don’t want to take it.”
We had a nice nightcap that night in our hotel, without cracking the minibar.
Summer is a time for enjoying desserts made from fresh berries, peaches, and other glorious fruits of the season. It’s also a great opportunity to linger over dessert wines that echo the same flavors. (Oh, all righty—any season is great for these wines. They work just as well in winter when fresh fruit isn’t available and we can savor its flavor in a glass.)
Whether with a fruit dessert, a savory cheese, or by itself, a well-chilled dessert wine can be a great ending to any dinner. One I especially enjoyed recently was Wölffer Estate 2005 Late Harvest Chardonnay, from the Hamptons on Long Island. It’s a faux ice wine, in that the grapes were frozen after harvest—rather than picked frozen from the vine—to concentrate the juice and the sugar. It features peach, pineapple, and apricot flavors with a long finish. Simply outstanding. (The 2006, now available on the winery's Web site, sells for $37 for a 375ml bottle.)
Wölffer Estate has limited distribution in the Washington region, unfortunately—I picked up the dessert wine while traveling. But several delicious stickies produced locally are worth seeking out. Look for Rockbridge Vineyard’s V d’Or, a consistent winner from Virginia available at Arrowine in Arlington (4508 Lee Hwy.; 703-525-0990) and Total Wine & More in Alexandria (6240 Little River Tpk.; 703-941-1133) or the Elk Run Vineyards Vin de Jus Glacé, a Riesling-based stunner from Maryland available at Beltway Fine Wines (11325 Seven Locks Rd.; 410-668-8884) in Potomac.