It’s super-tricky to find Canadian wines in the UK. In fact, in all my years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Canadian bottle of dry wine on the shelf over here. Whisky, ice wine and beer, sure. But not the type of good old dry, still stuff I specialise in.
Yes, on these shores you’re more likely to find wines from China, Syria or Svalbard than Canada. Ok… maybe not Svalbard.
As a nation, I don’t think we’re unadventurous in our tastes. In the past we’ve had to rely on importing culinary ideas from across Europe, due to the poor quality of our home-grown produce. So why would we not want to try Canadian wines?
The obvious answer is that Canada’s climate is too cold to produce good wine. And, certainly, Canada has historically been chiefly known for producing the type of sweet ice wine that’s also popular in cooler parts of Germany.
But a nation so huge is bound to have some interesting terroir tucked away, especially on coastal regions and at lower altitudes. And this has proved to be the case, with Canadian wines starting to pick up awards internationally.
One reason you don’t find a lot of Canadian wine in the UK is due to economics. Strict laws regulating Canadian wine sales make it more profitable for wineries to sell their produce locally. And I know from experience that, in the UK, most people are reluctant to shell out upwards of £20 for a wine, unless they’re in a restaurant.
Canadian Wine Regions
The two primary grape-growing regions in Canada can be found, as you’d expect, in the southerly, coastal, low altitude areas, where the climate is milder. But there’s no room for the sort of local rivalry you’d find in, say, Burgundy. On the contrary, they’re separated by thousands of miles of rugged terrain. The Niagara Peninsula sits in southern Ontario in the east of the country, towards New York state, while the Okanagan Valley (pictured below) is way out west in southern British Columbia near the Pacific coast.
Types Of Canadian Wine
In terms of dry wines, Canada specialises in whites, with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling all popular varietals, as is the case in northern Europe. More surprisingly though, it also produces more than its fare share of quality red, including Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
So… What Does Canadian Wine Taste Like?
Gotta be honest here, I’ve only tried Canadian wine once, and it was a few years back, but I remember being pleasantly surprised. Obviously there’s no way you can generalise about the quality of an entire nation’s wine output, but from what I’ve heard the standard of vinification is high, with cutting-edge methods producing lean, elegant reds with plenty of red fruit character and sharp, refreshing whites with citrus and stone fruit aromas.
Due to the cool climate, you’re clearly not gonna get the sort of robust, beefy, powerful reds that could get in the ring with a Cali Cab, but then variety is the spice of life, eh?
Where To Buy Canadian Wine In The UK
In 2019, Oxford Street’s poshest department store Selfridges launched an extensive range from the Okanagan region. But if you’re not in London, the best place to grab a slurp of Canada’s finest is still online (especially in the current climate).
Ice wine and fizz are pretty widely available at stores like greatwinesdirect.co.uk but dry wines are a bit tougher to source. Hard to Find Wines carry a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay and The Fine Wine Company carry two Chardonnays and a Riesling. But why not ask your favourite independent retailer if they’re getting any in? And, of course, keep ’em peeled for importers putting on tastings in your area. Or even set one up yourself!
If you have a Canadian wine supplier to recommend, please let me know in the comments. Safe slurping, people…