By Jim Boyce | I recently posted about Clear Lake bringing a new wave of Canadian wine to China. Last week, the company held a launch party at The Cannery in Shanghai, with Canuck sommelier Emilie Steckenborn leading a tasting of wines from Angel’s Gate, Closson Chase, Malivoire and Tawse. I asked Steckenborn, who works with importer / distributor Summergate, about the event and Canadian wine in general.
How’s it goin’, eh?
Everything is great here in Shanghai! Finally looking forward to sipping on some nice white wine once the weather warms up, eh!
Most people in China associate Canada with ice wine but the focus at Clear Lakes is still wine. What grape varieties and styles can people expect to find?
I’m excited you’ve asked this question! Canada is a unique wine producer that is slowly growing in recognition. The wine regions are concentrated in the south, where the weather is slightly warmer but still considered cool climate. That climate allows us to focus on elegant wines with great acidity, more similar to Old World, using grapes such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. There’s a new wave of producers creating top quality sparkling wine in the traditional method, which I find equally exciting.
The wines imported by Clear Lakes all hail from Ontario. What distinguishes that part of the wine world?
The two largest wine regions in Canada are the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. They are completely different in terms of style, climate, topography and varietals.
The Niagara wine region is next to Lake Ontario and protected by the Niagara Escarpment. It’s because of those two natural factors that we can make wine in such a cold region. Ontario focuses primarily on Burgundian wines and awesome Rieslings.
Okanagan Valley out in British Columbia is actually Canada’s only semi-desert area and can make richer full-bodied wines. They make beautiful Bordeaux blends and Syrah. I’ve also found some lovely Viognier and some wineries are planting Sangiovese and other interesting varietals that you would not expect in Canada.
How did people at the launch party react to the wines? Were there clear favorites?
Everyone was surprised that Canada could make wine or even good wine! I think all of the wines showed well because The Cannery and Chef Freddy did a great job of creating dishes to match them. It was a very Canadian meal with everyone loving the slow-smoked wood plank salmon filet paired with Tawse Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It was a tie!
If someone is a newbie to Canadian wine, what one or two bottles from Clear Lakes would you suggest as a starting point?
It really depends on what you’re looking for. People who love New World wines will find comfort in Closson Chase from Prince Edward County. Their wines are structured but with prominent oak. Those that love Burgundy will be excited to taste wines from Tawse, which was selected by Decanter as having one of the best Chards outside of Burgundy. I used to work with Tawse when I was back in Canada and the team there takes wine very seriously! For those that want an enjoyable glass of Chardonnay, I think Malivoire is perfect.
Finally, which wine would best pair with that Canadian favorite, poutine?
Mmmm. Poutine is probably my favorite unhealthy food. It’s basically impossible to find the real deal out here in China. As for pairing, I would have to say any of the Pinot Noirs would be my go to!
Note: If you’re wondering about the title Grape White North, it’s a spin on this old Canadian comedy classic.