Quebec Wines Becoming Quaffable

Quebec Wines Becoming Quaffable

LIQ_Mag_Nov2013_CoverThis column first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.
Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering the Quebec region and is currently published at least 3 times per year.
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By Peter Black

In September, 1535, Jacques Cartier named the big island east of Quebec City Ile de Bacchus in recognition of its abundance of wild grapes, though he never actually made any wine from them. Thinking it would be wiser to butter up his benefactor, he later renamed the place Ile d’Orleans in honour of one of the king’s sons.

Some 480 years later, Cartier’s bacchanalian fantasy has come true to a certain extent, with Ile d’Orleans producing what are reported to be some tolerably quaffable wines. One is even named for the French explorer.

The wineries that have sprung up on Ile d’Orleans are part of the impressive surge in wine production across southern Quebec, on what Voltaire dismissed prematurely as quelques arpents de neige. Indeed, Quebec has experienced the greatest growth in wine-making of all provinces, including bountiful British Columbia and balmy southern Ontario.

This fact is noted in a lovely new book just off the (wine) press by Toronto Star grape guru Tony Aspler. It’s called Canadian Wineries and in it Aspler notes that “Quebec is a generation behind Ontario and British Columbia in terms of the selection and of varieties that are best for its terroir.” Still, the wines Quebec produces, though “lean and tart” by comparison, “work well if you carefully select your accompanying dishes.”

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousOf course, wine-making is in the French blood that colonized and populated the land. Alas, despite the patience and persistence of vintners over the centuries, the land rebuffed efforts to grow decent grapes that could withstand the brutal winters of La Nouvelle France.

Now, thanks in part to the upside of climate change and the renewed determination of growers employing the latest in agronomic science, Quebec now boasts some 87 wine producers, cultivating some 800 hectares – a drop in the proverbial wine barrel compared to Ontario with 6,500 hectares.

Relatively few vineyards produce wine in large enough quantities to be much of a factor in the export market and even relatively few of quality find their way to the shelves of your local SAQ. This summer we decided to offer our Ontarian wine connoisseur family a couple of bottles of local vintage and were informed by a surprised (and we daresay snobbish) régie staffer that the Quebec reds were not to be given to anyone you liked.

Thus Quebec wines, despite ever-increasing in quality through the savvy of growers, still suffer the reputation of being piquette, which might be roughly translated as the Tang of wines, or reminiscent of Monty Python’s review of Australian wines, the Chateau Chunder being a favourite – “a fine wine which really opens up the sluices at both ends.” Mind you, no one mocks wines from Down Under nowadays.
Quebec wine may sound as oxymoronic as Florida maple syrup, but, as a recent front page piece in L’actualité magazine trumpeted, the province is well on its way to producing world-class wines. Indeed, some have won international awards over the years.

According to Tony Aspler, though, the secret to the true success of the Quebec wine industry is for Quebecers to hold their noses and drink the local stuff. And then, of course, there’s the matter of pricing at the SAQ, but that’s a whole other discussion – best had with a couple bottles of cépage québécois.

About Author

Peter Black

For years Peter Black was the producer of Breakaway, on CBC Radio One in Quebec City. Before arriving in Quebec City in the 1990s, he lived and worked in Ottawa and Montreal. Peter is married and has two sons.

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