I noticed, when I worked as a wine merchant, that wine enthusiasts love a challenge.
Occasionally a customer would come into the store, and relate a menu he or she was planning for a dinner, and ask for advice about wines to serve.
Invariably, two or three of us would huddle, pose more questions of the customer, and start to bounce wine possibilities off of one another.
So, when a reader e-mailed my editor recently, her question piqued my curiosity.
Sara wrote, “Can you ask Peter to write an article about good organic and ‘local-ish’ RED wines available at the Whitehorse liquor store? There are … [a] few gooders I’m sure. I am desperate to convince my mother that there are good Canadian red wines. I’m trying my best to eat and drink as locally as possible and Australian wines are killing my conscience.”
A worthy challenge, and it sent me off to the Yukon Liquor Corp. to try and find an answer.
Some discussion with the store manager confirmed what I had recalled from earlier exploration of the Canadian wine section. In Whitehorse, you can buy Canadian wine or you can buy organic wine, but you can’t have both.
“No wine for YOU!”, to misquote the Seinfeld “Soup Nazi”.
So here’s the deal: organic wines, in general, take a long time to be created. In order for a farm to be considered organic, it has to be free of the application of any inorganic chemicals for at least three years. As well, such fields need to have an eight-metre-wide buffer zone around them.
To start a new vineyard, it often takes one to two years to get your vines, then five years for them to grow before you can harvest your first grapes, and then one to two years of ageing before you can bring the wine to market.
To go organic would add an additional one to two years to that process, PLUS you would lose the equivalent of three to four rows of vines on each side of your vineyard to create that buffer around your organic patch.
Given these considerations, I am astonished that anyone can afford to make organic wine. There may be some organic vineyards in BC, but none of them are currently sold in the Yukon.
You could take a look in the BC registry of wines, and the Yukon Liquor Corp will custom order by the case if you ask them to. I’d try to find a way to “try before you buy,” though.
Given that it sounds like you’re currently drinking Australian, you can substantially prune your wine’s carbon footprint by defining “local-ish” as the whole west coast.
Preferably BC, but given that we in the Yukon are definitely out of any wine growing “terroire” or region, I’d not let the US border be a barrier to you.
San Francisco is 2,700 kilometres from Whitehorse, and Washington State and Oregon are even closer, while Ontario wine country, the other Canadian region to consider, would be over 4,000 kilometres, as the crow flies.
If you are prepared to look south of the Canadian border, rather than just the Yukon border, two very good reds to try would be the Shenandoah Vineyards Special Reserve Zinfandel, from Amador County ($20.55 locally) and the Bonterra Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino County (also $20.55), both from California.
I picked those two up because I expected both to have the robust flavour that you find in the Australian reds that you likely have been drinking and enjoying. I’m not sure what your Australian red(s) has/have been, but they are likely in the Shiraz or Cab range.
Both the aforementioned Zin and Cab have many of the same characteristics, and will pair with many of the same foods.
If you read my last column, you’ll know I’m partial to Zinfandels, and this one is pretty good. It has the dark plummy bouquet that I associate with good Zinfandels, and the taste has a fruit-forward richness with a slightly peppery finish or aftertaste that I find makes it so interesting, and makes it work with such a range of foods.
The Bonterra was a very pleasant surprise, with far more depth and seriousness to it than I remember from tasting it some years ago.
Bonterra has made nothing but organic wines since 1987, and I have to say that I would pick up more of their cab … it would be awesome with a well-grilled steak.
With a pronounced bouquet, it had a good stout, dry taste to it, and reminds me of a decent French Bordeaux wine. It has good tannins, but without making your mouth all pucker up … just right for washing down a bite of steak, and cleansing your palate for the next bite. And the finish is long, smooth and fruit-filled. Definitely worth a taste.
Sara, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to find a Canadian organic red (yet), but I’ll keep my ear to the ground. In the mean time, you helped me to identify two organic reds from California that will help you cut your wine’s carbon footprint at least in half, with no sacrifice in quality.
Let me know whether you like either of them, and thanks for asking the question!