150 Years of Canada! Open the Syrah!
It’s Canada Day. We Canadians and our friends are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada becoming a country… For this reason, I’m taking a moment to share my review of a wonderful Canadian wine that I managed to acquire a few months ago.
In spite of being such a wonderful import market, Germany doesn’t get very many wines from Canada. In fact, most Germans, if they are aware of Canadian wines at all, only know of the ice wines – which can be magnificent. But Canada’s wine industry has grown, changed, and improved beyond all recognition even over the past 15 years. The vineyards where once only native North American or hybrid grapes were found are now planted with thriving vitis vinifera (the grape species from which all fine table wines are made) varieties.
The history of Canadian wine and winemaking is a post best written another time. Today is about the celebration of its success – and what better way to do that than to open a bottle made by a top producer (Poplar Grove) located in one of Canada’s best wine regions (the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan) filled with wine from a variety that is responsible for some of the most exciting reds to emerge from the county? That variety is Syrah – a bit of a surprise to anybody who feels Canada, as a cold country, should be incapable of ripening a Mediterranean variety like this.
Well. Those people are partly right. Syrah really succeeds only in the warmth of the Okanagan – but wow, does it succeed! At least when the vinification and viticulture are on-point. Canada, as a relatively young wine-producing country, has fallen victim to that problem familiar to all self-conscious, young, New World wine nations: the inferiority complex. With that inferiority complex comes a driving need to be able to “play with the big kids”…and this usually means lots of wood, over-extraction and overripe fruit.
Fortunately, this is changing – and producers like Poplar Grove are leading the way. With great acidity, perfectly ripe fruit and a deft use of wood, varieties like Syrah, Cabernet Franc or even Chardonnay are producing wines in Canada that are truly exciting, in addition to being unique expressions of their respective variety.
Located at the Southern end and the Eastern side of Lake Okanagan, Poplar Grove Winery has existed since 1993, bursting onto the scene in 1997 after winning a number of medals at the Okanagan Wine Festival with their debut wines that year. Founded and run by Ian and Gitta Sutherland, the winery originally specialised in Cabernet Franc (yay!) and Merlot. In 2007 Tony Holler was brought in as a partner, and the winery took on a new direction, increasing varieties, acquiring vineyard land and upping production capacity, while remaining one of the most ecologically-friendly producers in the region. Now owned and run by Tony and his wife Barbara, along with their sons Matthew and Andrew, all the wines are produced from estate-owned grapes coming from over 40 hectares of vineyard.
2014 Syrah, VQA Okanagan Valley
Syrah is one of the world’s great grapes. Everyone knows the versions from Australia (Shiraz), most people know it from Southern France, where it reaches, arguably, its zenith in the Northern Rhône in the appelations of Hermitage and Côte Rotie, among some others. But other countries are also making wonderful wines with this grape. I, personally, feel that, in Canada, it achieves a character that is unique among the worlds best producers; something that is only Canadian. It is a style of wine with excellent, healthy, ripe fruit that is not jammy, coupled with very good acidity and concentration, without being overly extracted, tannic or heavy.
This little beauty is made with Syrah aged for 15 months in French barriques – about 30% new wood, the rest second or third-use. After filling, the wine rested 12 months in bottle before being released.
It’s a youthful, deep ruby with exuberant aromas of rose hips, blueberry, black pepper and juniper, followed with hints of violet and sour cherry underscored by cloves and just a smidgeon of cedar. Vivacious and mouth-watering, it is neither heavy nor flabby. This wine is a dancer with just enough supple, fine and juicy tannin to complement its depth and length – a bit of dark chocolate, red currant and even some cranberry emerge on the palate to accompany the aromas from the nose.
This freshness of this wine is part of what makes it so delicious and fun to drink. You almost don’t notice how much it has to offer, but there is real complexity, finesse and potential if you care to look. This helps to make it a fantastic wine to enjoy with friends – there really is enough for anybody to enjoy, and it will be a wonderful companion at the table. But don’t take my word for it; if you can find it, try it!
The One-Line Takeaway
A superb, delicious Syrah that demonstrates the potential and character of the grape from an up-and-coming wine nation.