Wine Lovers Gravitate to Canadian Vintages

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Canadian wineries have been garnering a growing number of international awards, making them a high-demand item on restaurant menus.

Billy Woon, senior sommelier at Canoe in Toronto, says Canadian wines in general are always popular at the Canadian cuisine-themed restaurant.

Regions can be quite different stylistically, he notes. “For example, B.C. wineries have a heavier, full-bodied red than you find elsewhere.” As for Ontario, “There’s been a big push into matching certain varieties to the climate and soil, including Cabernet Franc; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot don’t grow as well here.”

He adds Prince Edward County has exploded in terms of demand. “There are a lot of great producers. Norman Hardie has really made a name for itself in Europe and the U.S.” Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, reports B.C. wines are trending up at approximately 16 per cent over last year. “From a category point of view, B.C. wines are hot — the strongest players are Pinot Grigio on the whites, although Chardonnay does well; and Merlot and Cabernet for reds.”

B.C. has 300 wineries, which is triple the number from five years ago. The key wine regions in the province are Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan Valley. “In the Okanagan region, you get more luscious type wines because it’s so warm there,” Tostensen says. “Go further north and it’s more the lighter wines. In fact, the Okanagan Valley has been voted the top place in the world for wine tourism.”

At the heart of the burgeoning industry is Mission Hill. “That has to rank as one of the best wineries in the world,” Tostensen says.

Julie Hauser, senior planner, Vintages Licensee, Vintages, LCBO, says Ontario-wine sales have been especially buoyant over the last five years. Sales for VQA-wines in Ontario remain strong, showing a 5.4-per-cent increase year-to-date.

Riesling and Chardonnay are especially noteworthy, she adds. “There’s also a large demand for pairing sparkling with all kinds of food and Ontario sparkling [wines] offer great value. Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County is a huge ask for a lot of people.” Leading Ontario brands include Jackson Triggs, Peller Estates, Inniskillin Estate, Sandbanks Estate Winery, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Megalomaniac, Featherstone Vineyards, The Foreign Affair Winery and Malivoire Wines.

One up-and-coming trend gaining traction in restaurants is wine-on-tap. “It’s a new frontier, but is gaining momentum,” Hauser says. “Only a handful of wineries offer this format right now. There are a number of benefits: each glass is fresh, the wine lasts longer and packaging and storage is reduced.”

Vancouver-based Earls Restaurants is banking on the wine-on-tap model for its eateries across Canada, says Cameron Bogue, beverage director. “We’ve been working on it for the last five years and availability has been limited because most wineries don’t have keg fillers.”

Earls has gone a different route with a Torr keg system, in which recyclable bags can be filled on site and then dropped into specially designed kegs. “It’s much more efficient and green and you get the equivalent of two cases for the size of one. We wanted to go that route because it’s a better price — we can then pass on those savings to the guests.”

Volume 49, Number 10
Written By Denise Deveau 

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