People who love wine are quick to praise bottles that reflect a sense of place. Consciously crafted wines that are the result of meticulous farming and production methods that reveal an individual character unlike any other.
If you think that sounds overly precious or poetic, you’re right. But such is the romantic ideal of wines that look to carve out their own niche in opposition to mass-produced brands. Wines of substance, they’re an alternative to bottles that are well-made and often affordably priced but taste as though they could come from anywhere.
Wines with a sense of place offer distinctive local flavour. They have a quality that conveys or captures the plot of land or region from which they come, which adds value to their experience and enjoyment. This could be the garrigue-laced fragrance of red wines from the south of France that offer aromas of the plants, such as juniper, rosemary and lavender, which grow wild beside the vineyards. It could be the minty or eucalyptus notes found in shiraz or cabernet from McLaren Vale and other parts of Australia or the wet stone essence found in the intensely aromatic rieslings from the Mosel in Germany.
In all cases, there’s something markedly different going on in the glass, which makes the wine stand out. These sorts of wines are always in demand, but have more importance as our ability to travel has vanished. The nine wines recommended offer unique tastes of different parts of Canada and the world. As getaways are curtailed, we can look to experience remote places as conveyed through the wines made there until our ability to experience them in person returns.
Ascheri Barbera D’Alba 2018 (Italy)
This smooth and enjoyable red is a solid house wine candidate that’s marked by ripe berry fruit, floral and spice accents. Its refreshing nature – bright acidity and juicy fruit flavours are hallmarks of the barbera grape – makes it a terrific warm weather red. I’d suggest popping it into the refrigerator for 20 minutes prior to serving. Drink now. Available in Ontario.
Babich Wines Black Label Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (New Zealand)
The Babich family has been making wine in New Zealand for more than 100 years. Launched in 2005, the Black Label Sauvignon Blanc is produced from estate vineyards to show a more food-friendly style, with more weight and complexity. This dry white offers attractive tropical and herbal aromas and flavours, with a clean, refreshing finish. It shows Marlborough character through and through, but with less in your face intensity than many other sauvignon blancs at this price point. Available in Ontario at the above price, $17.53 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2016 (Canada)
Looking to raise the profile of his favourite grape in Niagara, Charles Baker launched this passion project in 2005. The grapes from chef-instructor Mark Picone’s home in Vineland, Ont., have been a mainstay, while Baker has looked to find other vineyards of note to bring into the fold. The 2016 Picone Vineyard captures the best attributes of Niagara riesling from a warm growing season. This is fresh and fragrant, with attractive citrus, peach and honeyed notes. Drink now to 2028. Available direct through stratuswines.com, $37.20 in Ontario, $36.25 in Quebec, $37.99 in Nova Scotia.
CedarCreek Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2018 (Canada)
The new vintage of CedarCreek’s estate pinot noir is packed with fruit and complexity. This is made from organically farmed grapes grown on the estate surrounding the winery in Kelowna, B.C. The grapes were harvested over the course a four-week period. The mix of dark fruit (cherry and berry) and savoury notes (dried herbs and spice) is easy to appreciate, but I’d suggest waiting a year or two to see the full expression of this sweetly spicy pinot. Consider decanting and using the biggest bowl wine glass you have for best enjoyment. Available direct from the winery through cedarcreek.bc.ca.
El Coto de Rioja Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva 2012 (Spain)
This flagship red wine from El Coto, which was founded in 1970, comes from the winery’s Cenicero vineyards in the Rioja Alta district. A generously smooth red that shows the ripeness of the vintage, this gran reserva offers a core of plummy fruit flavours, with distinctive spice and gamey complexity derived from extended aging in oak barrels and bottle prior to release. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $34 in Quebec
Hedges C.M.S. 2016 (United States)
A blend of mostly merlot with cabernet sauvignon and syrah from one of Washington State’s best producers, this estate-bottled red wine shows really great fruit and structure. Grapes were harvested from Hedges’ own vineyards in Columbia Valley and in the premium Red Mountain region, where the family owned winery is situated. Dry and balanced, it’s enjoyable now, but promises to develop nicely in bottle over the next three to five years. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $23.10 in Quebec.
Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 (United States)
Made with grapes grown in Monterey County, Calif., this easy-going white wine is intensely fruity with a smooth, oily texture. The winemaking team fermented portions in stainless steel tanks and concrete tanks, but the absence of any oak barrel influence doesn’t equate to a lack of personality. This is an assertive white with the bright peach and tropical fruit notes that are considered hallmarks of Monterey County chardonnay. Available in Ontario at the above price, $26.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $25.49 in Saskatchewan, $24.99 in Manitoba ($21.99 until May 31), $23.60 in Quebec, $27.98 in Nova Scotia, $28.56 in Newfoundland.
Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Chardonnay 2018 (Canada)
This appealing white is made from a variety of clones of chardonnay grown in different parts of the winery’s estate and by blending wines fermented in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels to balance the fruity character with weight, texture and spicy notes. The mix of orchard and tropical fruit flavours and vanilla notes is really inviting. Available direct from the winery through quailsgate.com. Various prices in British Columbia and Alberta, $23.49 in Saskatchewan, $25.99 in Manitoba, $24.95 in Ontario, $23.50 in Quebec and $24.99 in New Brunswick.
The Beach House Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (South Africa)
This refreshing and dry white is a blend of sauvignon blanc with 15-per-cent semillon, which adds weight and texture to the finished wine. Its regional identity comes from the mix of ripe tropical fruit and grassy notes that differ from the zesty New Zealand or herbaceous Chilean character. Available in Ontario at the above price ($11.45 after May 24), $12.29 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $12.49 in Saskatchewan, $13.49 in Nova Scotia, $14.97 in Newfoundland.
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