Nova Scotian wines have come a long way. “Ontario has Niagara Falls, but this province has the Bay of Fundy, it’s such an incredible natural phenomenon,” says Tony Aspler, famed Canadian wine writer and critic, to an intimate group of wine enthusiasts at a Benjamin Bridge Club dinner hosted by Chives restaurant. “To progress to this in a mere 35 years is incredible.”
Aspler continued to rhapsodize the Nova Scotia wine industry, and particularly Tidal Bay, saying that soon enough the world would taste how a slow-ripening, high-acidity wine touched by cool ocean breezes would, like Muscadet or Chablis, be a first-class wine for seafood.
Aspler also spoke at 12 Tides, a gala that gives local wine lovers a chance to try the recently bottled vintage from the previous summer at the Harbourfront Marriott. All the winos were out, serving industry, wine educators, dabblers, sommeliers, wannabe sommeliers and almost every winery in Nova Scotia (with the glaring omission of much anticipated bottlings from Lightfoot and Wolfville) pouring new Tidal Bay, among other things.
For those of you who’ve had a glass, but can’t put a finger on what the words ‘Tidal Bay’ are meant to designate, I’ve got you. Tidal Bay is not a grape, or a specific area, but rather a style. In 2012, the Winery Association of Nova Scotia thought it would be a smart move on it’s part to have a signature style of wine evocative of the terroir and climate of Nova Scotia, and consistent from winery to winery.
So, Tidal Bay is not unlike the appellation system that is observed in many old world countries, like France, where the title Bourgogne, or Burgundy (which makes white wine with Chardonnay and red wine from, mostly, Pinot Noir,) is a large viticultural area that to a certain extent, makes wines of the same style with the same grapes as their winery neighbors.
To call a wine Tidal Bay in Nova Scotia it must be of a certain blend of grapes, all of which are grown in NS, and each year wineries are approved by a tasting panel to see that they fit the harmony.
The ideal Tidal Bay should showcase the bright, zingy, aromatic and crisp style of the province. The unique characteristic that makes Nova Scotia wine, and Tidal Bay, so distinguishable is the high acidity, but with simultaneous ripeness. Some joke that the acid is so pronounced that it will eat right through your teeth.
Every good story needs a complicating incident, and it’s no different for wine. When grape vines struggle, they become stronger, and consequently more complex. Tidal Bay, and all other wines in Nova Scotia, speak of wind, long winters, stunted springs and slow heat.
The vines here have resilience, like those in the Rhone Valley where incessant wind and oppressive heat can test their strength, and when they are able to overcome extreme climatic factors it creates more complexity in the wine, says Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, winemaker at Benjamin Bridge. “When the growing conditions are a walk in the park a wine can be good, but can never be great.”
After tasting through the Tidal Bay wines of all participating wineries, at their booths, there were a few stand outs, but I wanted to test myself and not have any bias, so I went over to the blind tasting bar, put on by the Bishop’s Cellar staff, to taste through the same wines. Luckily my assessments were the same and I felt like I gave the wines a fair trial.
I was genuinely surprised by some of my favorites from this year, as some of the wineries with the best expressions of Tidal Bay from past years were the least pleasing to me, with the exception of Benjamin Bridge, which seems to have just as strong a grasp on consistency as they do on quality.
The Best of the 2014 Tidal Bay
Avondale Sky 2014 Tidal Bay
Blend: l’Acadie Blanc, Vidal, Geisenheim, Osceola Muscat, Petite Milo
This iteration of Tidal Bay was the most surprising to me, and shows that Avondale Sky, and their young winemaker, Ben Swetnam, means business. The wine showed notes of grapefruit, grass, gooseberry and lime, which carried over to the palate. It had a zippy acidity that was matched by pronounced and complex flavor. Although it seemed more akin to a Sauvignon Blanc than a Tidal Bay, and had more body than expected, it’s still my favorite of the vintage, and one of the best wines I’ve had from Avondale Sky. This wine makes me crave a pile of perfectly crunchy fries and a lightly battered fish, with a zesty herbaceous remoulade.
Benjamin Bridge 2014 Tidal Bay
Blend: l’Acadie Blanc, Ortega and Muscat
Once again, Benjamin Bridge dazzles with their elegance and refinement. This Tidal Bay was at once bright, showing characteristic acidity, but also soft and extremely well balanced. Notes of green apple, lemon juice, orchard blossom and wet stone predominate. This wine would be the ideal accompaniment to a briny, yet sweet oyster with a berry mignonette, or, as Craif Flinn of Chives did with arctic char, fiddleheads and beurre blanc made with Tidal Bay.
Gaspereau Vineyards 2014 Tidal Bay
Blend: Seyval Blanc, Vidal, Pinot Gris and Muscat
A beautifully aromatic wine with notes of wild rose, passionfruit, lychee and peach. On the palate, ripe stone fruit, lemon juice and passionfruit with a vivacious, mouth-watering acidity. I would pair with a summer salad topped with figs and pan-fried salmon.