A review of “The Wine Lover’s Guide to Atlantic Canada” by Moira Peters and Craig Pinhey ($37.95):
As the Canadian wine industry grows, it has become increasingly pivoted on the wines of British Columbia’s rugged and dramatically changing climes and Ontario’s collection of viticultural pockets, where Burgundian, Alsatian, and German styles of viticuture express themselves in New World Soils.
A recently published work by Moira Peters, a wine educator and professional sommelier, and Craig Pinhey, a sommelier and writer from living in New Brunswick fills in a widening information gap about Canada’s neglected East Coast wine regions.
‘The Wine Lover’s Guide to Atlantic Canada’ does not entirely resemble other dense, esoteric wine texts. It attempts to capture the aesthetics of the regions through a photgraphic and factual presentation of a region quickly being recognized as a producer of fine wine (especially sparkling wine).
Because each province’s strategy for controlling the promulgation of alcohol does not necessarily facilitate cooperation with one another, many Canadians west of the St. Lawrence might be shocked to encounter a thriving wine industry spanning Eastern Canada.
Not yet a commercial dynamo, information on the producers is scarce. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a province with a control board savvy enough to have negotiated wine from a larger producer (like Jost or Benjamin Bridge) or the winery is staring you in the face as you drive through Gaspereau Valley, the opportunity to try these wines are rare.
It is getting better, however. Most of the East coast remains a destination wine experience for vacationers and lucky locals. Though as the reputation of the wine gets better, so does the demand for their wine and interest in what each region specializes in.
Information about what sort of wines are available in each region used to be limited to a collection of vague online articles and academic texts aimed at botanists and ampelographers studying the soil (too academic for the average enthusiast).
‘The Wine Lover’s guide to Atlantic Canada’ fills this demand for information at just the right time in the region’s development.
The volume reminds me of the digest written by Rod Philips to comprehensively lay out Ontario’s wine regions in context with one another.
Both volumes provide a complete picture: there is useful information about style, grape varietals, fruit wines, and climate. There are also charming anecdotes from the proprietors and winemakers about where they live and what they do.
All Canadian wine regions have had their difficulties reaching people’s dinner tables. The book describes a wine region with an outlook that emphasizes the struggles of a wine region to overcome the prejudice and invective new regions encounter.
This phenomenon is something observable and familiar to those who have watched Ontario and B.C. grow and mature over the last three decades.
It would have been observable in the mid twentieth century, as people scoffed at the idea of Australia producing anything resembling a fine consumer luxury. The same goes for South African Cape and Argentina.
Atlantic Canada’s wine regions are not quite like other wine regions. They are committed to what grows well in their soil. There is even a commercially dedicated breeding program in Kentville, Nova Scotia to discover and explore what possible varieties can grow in the soils of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and elsewhere.
New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Labrador are all mentioned for their thriving fruit wine industries, which cover a range of styles from sweet to dry or table wine to distilled spirits.
The overwhelming majority of the book, which is just over two hundred pages, focuses on Nova Scotia. The other regions combined take up roughly the same amount of space to discuss.
This can be forgiven, though, since Nova Scotia is definitely the innovative engine responsible for the recent surge in popular interest for East Coast wines.
Moira Pinhey and Craig Peters knew exactly the digestible details to include so as to capture the attention of fellow wine enthusiasts. This book would also be a suitable conversation piece for someone who appreciates the beauty of the East Coast. The charming landscapes and abstruse nature of the wineries make ‘The Wine Lover’s Guide to Atlantic Canada’ a compelling and fast read.
Cutting his teeth on Col Solare demonstrated his understanding of balance in high end Bordelais blends.
Washington State is an extremely hot climate with very cool nights. This controls the berry maturation – preserving acidity and aromatics.
The two wines chosen were the Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 from the Napa Valley selection and the prestigious Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.
The two wines have a simplicity in their vinification process that showcase the soil they’re grown in. Technically, they are executed perfectly.
The Artemis is 98% Cabernet and 1% each Malbec and Merlot. This has a tremendous effect on the texture and colour of the wine, though the percentages are very small.
The wine is youthful and bright, though it has seen over a year and a half in new French and American oak. It absolutely is not weighed down by the oak. It remains vibrant and energetic, with lots of currant and blackberry flavours. The finish has plenty of smoke and ruminating spice.
The Fay vineyard Cabernet is 100% single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and spends significantly more time in oak.
Any wine labeled ‘Fay’ vineyard belongs to a more prestigious single vineyard series offering glimpses at the expression of the different plots operated on by Marcus and his staff. The famous SLV (Stag’s Leap Vineyard) Cabernet, which turned so many heads at the judgement in Paris also belongs to this series.
The Fay vineyard was recently chosen as the location of their new visitor’s center. If you have visited Stag’s Leap since 2014, chances are you saw the place where this wine was born.
The wines, themselves, ooze black fruit. The oak is very upfront, but balanced. There is a particular fondness for French oak by Hoopes. The wines are dark and glass coating. The first was the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The second wine was specifically from Oakville.
The Napa is more restrained that the massive Oakville. Both are very serious new world styles of Cabernet. They’re soft and generous on the fruit. They’re conspicuously rich and hit close to 15% alcohol by volume.
On the Napa Cab, the fruit are more towards the red fruit spectrum, with black fruit moments: boysenberry, macerated cherry, raspberry. There’s a whip-crack of acidity and dark chocolate.
The Hoopes Oakville possesses a lot more of the darker fruit associated with Cabernet Sauvignon: brambly blackberry, blueberry, and cooked plum. Of course, there is still a very potent array of oak spice to it.
The last few vintages of Hoopes have been entirely in control of Lindsay Hoopes, since her father has stepped back from direct control over the operation.
Lindsay Hoopes was followed by Justin Baldwin, owner of Justin Winery; operating out of Paso Robles, California. Justin Winery is responsible for the well known wines ‘Isosceles’ line. Though Cabernet Sauvignon remains the star of this blend, this wine embraces the cohesive blending of Cab with Merlot and Cabernet Franc (which, collectively, can make up around 30% of the wine, based on the vintage).
Before he showed us his Bordeaux inspired blend, he showed us his 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 2013. This wine absolutely saturates the glass and the palate. The high alcohol (which tastes sweet) and purple lip-staining colour of the wine conjure up flavours of macerated cherry and mulberry, but it has a strong savory component too. Cedar, smoke, and incense from the extended barrel maturation reveal themselves, as the wine breathes.
Something remarkable about Justin Baldwin’s blends is the desired high proportion of Cabernet Franc, one of the parent varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. His ‘Justification’ blend interestingly takes in 55% Cabernet Franc, but typically it only takes up around 15% of the Iscoceles blend on average.
Cabernet Franc tends to be less heavily structured than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is more delicate and sports abundant florality and herbal spices. Its subtleties are usually passed over for the more well known Merlot, as a blending partner in Californian wines.
The 2014 Iscoceles invokes all the floral expression it can from the incorporated Cabernet Franc. It smells like red licorice, lavender, damson plums, and smoke. It boasts some serious alcohol (16%) from the fact that it is grown in the much hotter climate of Paso Robles.
Justin strictly keeps to dry-farming his land. This means that only the natural rainfall waters his vines. This is radically different than most of California, which regularly uses irrigation to mitigate factors like the recent drought. Dry farming conserves water, but also forces the vine to develop a more intricate and deep root-structure. This means that It can pull more interesting flavours out of the soil.
The evening finished with Mark Neal, of Napa’s Neal Family Vineyards. Mark’s father, Jack, had spent his career making wine in the Napa Valley operating a company that oversaw the production of wine for contracted producers. Mark eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, after establishing a successful land development company.
Mark’s career has been devoted to continue managing these famous appellations for premium Napa wineries, but he has also opened his own winery. The winery produces a range of varietals, but there is a strong emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon in single vineyard production from Neal Family Vineyards.
He presented both a 2012 Cabernet from multiple blocks across Napa and 2007 single vineyard wine from One Lane Bridge, Mt. Veeder.
The 2012 was sourced from vineyards growing small berry clones of Cabernet in St. Helena, Rutherford, and Howell Mountain. It showed off a lot of red and black fruit and, with integration of new and used oak, subtle wood spice. Yes, it is Napa, but the wine was still youthful and fresh with lots of acidity. It has a lot of body, but it’s not massive. There is subtlety and balance, here.
The 2007 One Bridge lane is specifically sourced from a single clone (‘clone 6’) of Cab on Mt. Veeder. According to the description on their website, this vineyard’s wines tend to intensify after a certain period in bottle. This wine does tend to come on more full-throttle than the 2012, but that could also have to do with the vintage and the difference in the quality of fruit that would go into a blend instead a single vineyard wine. It held up to more aggressive regiment of two years in all new French oak and still carries it very well. There is a lot of vanilla, blackberry, coca dust, tilled earth, and florality to the nose.
These two wines demonstrate an important strength of Neal Family wines. The plots he utilizes are meticulously managed all the way down to the specific clone of Cabernet Sauvignon planted. Building on his familiarity with Napa and his experience in land development, his winery now grows and sources from famous sites across Napa, like Mount Veeder, Coombsville, and Atlas Peak.
Not only are Mark Neal’s wines great, but he makes it look effortless. The quality of the wine has a lot to do with details such as organic farming, which he believes are mandatory to creating an interesting wine. He proudly mentions that he and his company are the largest certified organic grower in northern California – a testament to a quality driven approach.
I would like to extend my thanks to the Puritan Backroom, the Easterseals, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, and Montagne Communications for providing me the chance to experience these six different perspectives that all bleed Cab Sauv.
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