Nova Scotia’s wine industry may be young compared to other regions around the world, but it’s improving with age and making its mark.
A regular reader recently wrote in asking about the state of the Nova Scotia wine industry, and whether there is a developing wine culture here. These are fair questions. I have some friends who love to drink Nova Scotia wines, and others who think the ones they’ve tried are not very good. Although the wine industry here is now 25 years old, it’s a baby compared to most world wine regions. The majority of our growth has been in the last five to 10 years.
When it comes to our place in the world of wine, Nova Scotia is extremely tiny. We are on the very edge of the climate needed to allow grapes to grow to make great wine, and yet the industry continues to expand, with new wineries and growers coming on every year.
This has been enjoyable to watch, as we’re developing a real wine culture. We have proven we can make unique and delicious wines. The addition of the peripheral industries around the wine industry, like tours, wine dinners, festivals and the spin-off of agricultural and associated products, has proven we have arrived.
So why aren’t more of us drinking more Nova Scotia wine and visiting more wineries? A lot of this is a lack of understanding of some of the grapes used, and perhaps having one or more “bad” Nova Scotia wine experiences. The other issue is that our NSLC and Private Store shelves are filled with fantastic wines from around the world, at equal or better prices than their Nova Scotia counterparts. It’s a great time to be a wine drinker, as many regions of the world have modernized and are experimenting with modern technology in wine making, and stretching the limits on where grapes can grow.
The question I always get asked is: “What do we do well here?” My answer is always the same. We make world-class sparkling wine, great ice wine, very good white wine (and getting better), and average red wine.
Sparkling wine: The pioneers in the production of world-class sparkling wine in Nova Scotia are Benjamin Bridge and L’Acadie Vineyards. Both of these wineries have won numerous awards for their traditional method sparkling wines. More amazing is that Benjamin Bridge is actually using two of the three French grapes used in champagne, chardonnay and pinot noir. Our warm summers and long, cool growing season mirror that of Northern France. Watch for much more success with sparkling wines from Nova Scotia, and if you haven’t tried one yet, they are worth every penny.
White wines: The one advantage we have growing grapes in Nova Scotia, versus a hot place like Australia, is that the wine develops what every white winemaker strives for: acidity. The long and cool season and the moderating influence of the ocean lends itself to give the wines that bright, aromatic character that makes Nova Scotia whites so fantastic. Our hybrid grapes were developed to survive the long winters and are excellent. L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc and New York Muscat all make fantastic wines to pair with our seafood. We are now starting to see some success growing traditional Vinifera grapes like chardonnay and riesling.
Red wines: Like many others, I have had mixed experiences with Nova Scotia reds. I have had some excellent Marechal Foch and Baco Noir, with earthy and smoky flavours. These pair well with red meat and hearty fare, like stews. I have also had bottles that were not drinkable. Our wineries and growers are still learning and figuring out how to make great red wine here. In the meantime, my recommendation is to taste first by visiting the winery or the farmers’ market before purchasing.
Icewine: Nova Scotia has perfect climatic conditions for icewine. Made by crushing frozen grapes harvested between -8 and -10 degrees, it’s extremely complex with intense fruit flavours, acidity and sweetness. Icewine is perfect with dessert, or as a dessert on its own.
Tidal Bay: I have written about Tidal Bay before, but it deserves as much recognition as possible because it’s our first attempt at an actual wine appellation for Nova Scotia. Tidal Bay establishes standards for the types of grapes, alcohol level and quality. It was launched in June 2012, and there are presently 10 wineries with Tidal Bay wines. Although there are some inconsistencies in style and quality, it is a great step forward in establishing a wider identity and bigger audience for our great Nova Scotia wines. I will be reviewing some of the 2012 Tidal Bay wines in a future column.
The under $25 wine review
This month’s challenge was to find two drinkable wines under $15. I tried six wines from $11.99 to $14.99, and these were the two best:
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
California, NSLC, $14.99
This wine has appeared at many dinner parties I have attended over the years, and has good pedigree with the Robert Mondavi name behind it. There are some nice brambly berries and stewed plums. I liked the weight and feel of the fruit and tannins for under $15—a touch green on the finish, and won’t stand up to a big steak, but would be perfect for grilled pork chops. This is great value. 89 points.
Hardys Stamp of Australia RieslingGewürtztraminer 2011
Australia, NSLC, $12.49
My expectations of these two grapes at this price point were fairly low, so imagine my surprise when I found this off-dry bargain had some pleasant notes of peach and nectarine with surprising acidity. There’s a lot going on here, with floral notes and a touch of petrol. What a fantastic aperitif and awesome value to pair with some kung pao chicken and rice. 91 points.
85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic.
95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.