We’re back from vacation with a look at wine (and beer, eh?) in the Great White North
Recently back from a magical several weeks in the Canadian Rockies has us missing the wonderful views, fresh mountain air, and wildlife encounters already. Although our goal was to get as many outdoor experiences as possible, we did manage to sample the state of wine in Canada as found in the the province of Alberta.
The First Thing About Wine In Canada.. IT’S EXPENSIVE!
Canada now has a decent amount of domestic wine that is slowly gaining some accolades (their Ice Wine is particularly gaining attention) but the vast majority is imported from the U.S., South America, and Europe. That is the first reason for the high price. The second is the taxes… as much as 19% of the retail price in some provinces. The final blow comes from the fact that all alcohol must be sold in liquor stores only and the distribution is mostly handled by the government.
When we arrived in Calgary, we immediately hit the Safeway Supermarket for supplies and found to our astonishment it did not sell wine or beer. This single fact is probably the biggest contributor to the high price. Supermarkets, as much as their wine selections are derided in the U.S., keep prices down by being able to move volume. Add drug stores and big discount chains like Costco to the mix and it does keep good ol’ supermarket finds at a low price. Pure liquor stores in Canada (and in the U.S.) can’t match those prices especially because of the government monopoly on distribution in most provinces (Alberta now has some private sector inroads in this area but not to the point of greatly easing prices).
Most average value wines are no less than $11 or $12. Mid tier wines such as a Seghesio Zin is $28 versus $19 at Costco in the U.S. Rodney Strong Chard? Just under $25 compared to $8.99 here. So the moral is: If you want to drink wine you will pay for it. We did manage to find a few domestic Canadian value wines that were quite nice. We’ll also cover some the tasty beers we enjoyed.
Wayne Gretzky Estates 2012 Okanagen Chardonnay
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Source: Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys – British Columbia Canada
Since we don’t have any knowledge of Canadian wine we started with a familiar name: Wayne Gretzky! Mrs. DdV and I are huge hockey fans (go Sharks!) so on a lark we decided to try an offering from The Great One.
Although known as the greatest hockey player ever, Wine has been a big part of his life as well. The story goes that his grandfather, a Russian immigrant, made wine in his basement in Ontario as a hobby. Gretzky Estates began in the Niagra region and has won numerous gold medals for both their reds and whites. We decided to try the Okanagan Chard from B.C.
This is a very tasty cool climate Chard similar in character to the Washington State offerings. On the nose citrus peel and pear greet. Plenty of lemon, bright apple, and pear on the mid with a nicely subtle hit of oak and mineral on the finish. Very nice find and paired great with our grilled citrus chicken!
Peller Estates 2009 Cabernet Merlot
Blend: Merlot (48%), Cabernet Franc (27%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (25%)
Source: VQA Niagra Peninsula – Ontario Canada
This is a soft medium bodied red blend that did very nicely with some Alberta rib eye steaks. On the nose red cherry and smoked meat give way to soft plum, dark berry and dark cherry. Finish is a touch short with notes of oak and tobacco. A nice grill wine that will pair with a number of grilled food.
So How Boot Some Beer, Eh?
One thing we always look forward to in Canada is the beer! Long before U.S. breweries began making good beer the tasty stuff was only just across the border. Here’s some of our favorites..
This the most refreshing beer out there! A pilsner style lager that is super light and crisp but with plenty of body and nuance. Perfect after a long hike in the mountains.
Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale
Alexander Keith Brewery Nova Scotia – Canada
A great IPA that is much different from those we’re used to in Northern California. This is a much lighter style than that of Racer 5 or Pliny the Elder but is still quite tasty and pairs with burgers, sando’s, and sausages perfectly.
Big Rock Traditional Ale
Big Rock Brewery – Calgary Alberta Canada
A stunning medium bodied brown ale in the old tradition. Creamy, nuanced and just the right amount of hops has made this a favorite for quite awhile.
Big Rock Warthog Ale
Big Rock Brewery – Calgary Alberta Canada
We had this on our first trip to Vancouver about 25 years ago and it has been a favorite ever since. The great deal for us is that BevMo routinely carries it so we don’t have to wait to visit Canada to enjoy some. A lighter shade brown ale that has plenty of nutty flavors with bright spicy hops and a great balance. Highly recommended.