Oh, Canada, Where Are Your Wines?

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, €œIt€™s
your wine!€ Then he thought an instant and added, €œBut 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.

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