Why Nova Scotia wines stand up to Europe
Column by Chris Makin
Vacay.ca Wine Columnist
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — France … Italy … Nova Scotia?
Could wines from this Maritime province be placed in the same company as those produced in some of the best regions in the world?
As a sommelier and wine educator, I have been reluctant to anoint Nova Scotia wines to such lofty status. But a funny thing has happened on the way to the wine store. While I still have a fondness for Italian wines — they are so very food-friendly — I find myself looking more and more to our local heroes when thinking white.
Enter the newest wine initiative outside of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) — Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay appellation. While the VQA strictly controls wine standards in the British Columbia and Ontario wine regions, the Nova Scotia appellation is based on the European model similar to the French Appellation d’Origine Controlee or Italy’s D.O.C wine classification. Hailed as the first true wine appellation in North America, Tidal Bay is designed to encourage winemakers to produce a product with qualities and characteristics unique to its Nova Scotia origins. It is hoped that it will also increase consumer awareness and add to the appeal of the region’s wines (think of Chianti as a viticultural region that has successfully branded itself to the world).
Produced only as a still white wine — Tidal Bay is a fresh, crisp, off-dry wine with bright, signature Nova Scotia aromatic components. The wines show an abundance of expressive fruit on the nose, along with a brisk minerality, a refreshingly crisp palate, and a sensible (food-friendly) alcohol level of between 10%-11.5% to match perfectly with Atlantic Canada’s seafood cuisine.
How Tidal Bay Makes Nova Scotia Wines Unique
My first experience with Tidal Bay wines took place last year as part of the Atlantic Canada Wine Awards competition. Although the new appellation was not officially launched until May 2012, several wineries were already bottling wines from the 2010 vintage and waving the Tidal Bay flag.
The wines were a revelation of sorts — aromatic, well made, fresh and crisp. Not that these characteristics were a huge surprise – the NS wine industry has grown leaps and bounds in the last decade with new wineries coming on stream (17 to date) and local winemakers electing to stay and work in their backyard rather than cutting their vinous chops elsewhere. We even have winemakers and consultants from (gasp!) other parts of Canada and the world actually wanting to come here and see what the fuss is all about. What is different from the past is that the Tidal Bay wines hit all the right notes consumers expect in quality winemaking and are distinctly Nova Scotian in character, reflecting a unique flavour profile that cannot be found anywhere else.
These wines display the terroir, maritime coastal breezes, cooler climate and shorter growing season of our vineyards.
These award-winning wines offer world-class craftsmanship but are difficult to pin down as profoundly Nova Scotian, which is the focal point of the Tidal Bay appellation.
To achieve this flavour profile the majority of the grapes used in the final blend must be one or more of L’Acadie, Seyval, Vidal and Geisenheim 318, but more than 20 other grapes are also permitted. There is a 15% maximum of aromatic grapes like New York Muscat.
Residual sugar must be kept to a maximum of 20 grams per litre, or twice the acidity, but otherwise, there is leeway in winemaking style. Wines hoping to bear the Tidal Bay appellation are judged by an independent tasting panel to determine whether they merit the awarding of appellation status.
World-Class Atlantic Canada Wine
For the 2011 vintage, 10 wineries met the tough criteria for the right to produce a Tidal Bay label. They are listed as follows:
- Annapolis Highlands Vineyards
- Avondale Sky
- Benjamin Bridge
- Blomidon Estate Winery
- Domaine de Grand Pré
- Gaspereau Vineyards
- Jost Vineyards
- Luckett Vineyards
- Petite Riviere Vineyards
- Sainte-Famille Wines
While the Winery Association of Nova Scotia likens the new appellation to that of Bordeaux or Burgundy, I suggest it has more in common with regions producing a distinct wine style such as Valpolicella and Chateauneuf-de-Pape.
These regions have identified a unique blending of varietals and combined this with enough production guidelines to ensure a recognized standard of quality while still allowing winemakers the ability to tinker with the blends to achieve a desired regional style.
The creation of the Tidal Bay appellation and official release of the 2011 wines has been an overwhelming success with critics and consumers. It’s an exciting step forward for Nova Scotia wines seeking to claim a place on the national and world stage.