Our columnist explores Nova Scotia’s bold (and growing) wine scene
Nova Scotia’s signature styleBy Danny Hewitt | Sep 8, 2012
Tags: Avondale Sky, Jost Tidal Bay, wine
Every year for the past 10 years I have tasted through a series of Nova Scotia wines as an exercise in support of an industry I work in, and a province I love to promote.
As someone who’s fortunate enough to have drunk many great wines from around the world, I have developed from a skeptic of the local wine industry to someone who’s a firm believer in our home-grown. Our best wines are now recognized on the international stage and we now have 14 wineries in production, covering over 200 hectares.
One of the challenges of the Nova Scotia wine industry has always been developing a signature identity or style that can be recognized everywhere. Italy has Chianti and France has Burgundy, Bordeaux and Chablis. Nova Scotia has a number of signature grapes, such as L’Acadie Blanc, but until recently they were not packaged to highlight any specific signature style.
I still have some reservations about our ability to produce world-class red wines. Our style is definitely based on white wines. Our cooler climate and fewer sun hours support the development of crisp, clean, aromatic whites. The natural minerality of the soils and the closeness to the ocean give our wines some unique and positive characteristics. The province’s wines pair perfectly with our fresh seafood, especially shellfish.
In May, I was invited to the Atlantic Wine Symposium to taste the 10 wines launched as the Tidal Bay appellation. The Winery Association describes the Tidal Bay style as “ fresh, crisp, off-dry, still, white wine with a bright signature Nova Scotia aromatic component.” Although a few wineries introduced Tidal Bay wines last year, this was the official launch, with one wine from each of the 10 wineries now available at the NSLC and the private stores. To qualify as a Tidal Bay wine, the grapes must be 100 per cent Nova Scotian and in blended percentages based upon the perceived importance of the grapes. An independent panel of five wine experts approve the wines.
The Tidal Bay appellation is not like the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) used in Ontario and British Columbia. The VQA is a set of standards for all wines and styles. Instead, Tidal Bay is a recognition of a wine style that we make here based on our terroir.
So, back to that tasting. There I sat, with 10 bottles of wine in front of me and the task of going through all of them, which meant not swallowing or having to call a cab to get home. Before I got to taste the wines I spoke with Peter Gamble, the international consultant hired to develop the appellation. Gamble is based in Ontario but is a big fan of Nova Scotia wines through his work with Benjamin Bridge Winery.
According to Gamble, the Tidal Bay appellation provides consumers with the assurance that they are getting the best and most representative wines that the province has to offer. He thinks this province has one of the most unique terrior (combination of soil and climate) in the world. Strong talk indicative of the positive feelings in the room at the symposium.
I loved the lower alcohol (they are usually between 9.5 per cent and 11 per cent), which makes a wine refreshing and great with lighter, summer foods. I enjoyed the bright acidity of most of these wines, which was usually in great balance with fruit flavours of apples, peach, pear, lime and grapefruit. Most of the wines were around $20, and therefore provided good value. The packaging is distinctive and modern. My only major complaint was that the actual style of the wines varied from one to the next. Some were off-dry (slightly sweet), while others were bracing and quite dry. Some were weightier on the tongue while others danced. So, while the wines were good and the concept of Tidal Bay is well intentioned and executed, perhaps the actual Nova Scotia signature style can still use some work.
Not to worry, as this project is just in its second year, and as the industry and cooperation grows, the wines will find more focus. In the meantime, there are 10 different wines to try, two of which I had someone randomly purchase for me to review.
Get some friends together, put out a cheese plate and oysters, and experiment and have fun with these Tidal Bay wines.
The under-$25 wine review
Jost Tidal Bay 2011
Nova Scotia, NSLC and private stores $19.99
Refreshing aromas of freshly cut pear lead to peach and pear flavours. Some brightness in the middle palate. Very smooth wine. Extremely drinkable if you like a slightly off-dry style. A little plush for my liking as I enjoy the brighter acidity typical of Nova Scotia wines. Pairs nicely with some Fox Hill cheese or a pot of mussels cooked in the same wine. 86/100
Avondale Sky 2011
Nova Scotia, NSLC and private stores $19.99
Nova Scotia on the nose with the saltiness of the ocean coming through. Citrus flavours of grapefruit dominate. A great balance of freshness and fruit flavour. I couldn’t believe the bottle said 9.2 per cent alcohol. This wine reminds me of L’Acadie Blanc, but neither of these wines listed the grapes on the label. A great happy hour wine. Match with oysters on the half shell or watermelon salad. 87/100