The first time I went to the Ottawa Wine and Food show, I was a complete noob to the world of wine. Beyond distinguishing red from white by looking at the glass, I couldn’t have found my way out of a Tetra pak. ‘Noble rot’ sounded like the demise of the monarchy. Petrol belonged in a gas tank, not a wine, and cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush sure as hell wasn’t too appetizing. I didn’t know malolactic fermentation from page two, and I was forever getting “gewürztraminer” (wine) and “weimaraner” (dog) mixed up. But somehow I muddled through, and fell in love on the spot with all that wine had to offer.
That’s the best thing about the show – you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy it. This is the perfect chance for people who don’t normally drink wine to try it out, or for enthusiasts to sample something new before committing to a full bottle (or case, depending on your budget.)
With the afternoon stretching out invitingly before us, we diligently worked the room, staking out old favourites and intriguing newcomers. We took our time, savouring and asking questions and taking copious notes.
Large and small, from the next province over or from the other side of the globe, winemakers flock to this annual event to compete for glory and to share their liquid gold with the masses. We tasted a good balance of reds and whites – I skipped the dessert wines and port this year, although that took a tremendous amount of effort. Most came from New World areas, including California, New Zealand, Australia and New York. (That one was a delightful surprise – Osprey’s Dominion 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Long Island. Wow. Who knew?)
France was the main theme of this year’s show, which gave me a whole plethora of celebrated names and emerging trends to try, from one of the oldest wine-producing nations in the world. Bottles were graced with gold and silver medals around their long necks. Soft Parisian accents spoke of complex bouquets of tanned leather and subtle berries, all reflective of the terroir in which the grapes grew. One of the samples I had, a Chateau de Courteillac 2006 Bordeaux, was quite lovely, complex and well-balanced, and very nicely paired with the 76 per cent cocoa dark chocolate I was nibbling on. But I still don’t quite “get” Bordeaux. What's the appeal? Why do people fawn all over this wine, remortgaging their homes to buy an ancient bottle? Maybe my palate is still too new to this stuff, or maybe I have yet to try the right one. On to the next booth …
I have to admit, I have a bit of a bias towards Canadian wines, so I’m always pleased to see reps from across the country proudly displaying their wares. Maleta, one of our Niagara favourites, won several medals this year with their VIEW 2005 Old Vines Brut, the trendy Grape Brain Cabernet Merlot, and their signature wine, a 2003 Meritage.
Hands down, Maleta Winery produces the best Meritage I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. Every vintage since 1998 has been spectacularly flawless. It is the benchmark by which I judge all others; there has yet to be a competing Meritage that can even stand up to the task. (I even went so far as to ask Rod Phillips for his take on the wine while at the show, but he had yet to try it. Apparently he stopped by to quaff a bit later on – still waiting to hear the verdict.)
Suffice to say, the event was a success, as always, and we went home with four delectable selections for our cellar:
Wild Horse Canyon Sauvignon Blanc (West Coast Appellation)
- a multinational blended wine from vineyards in Washington and British Columbia; bright, clear yellow colour; citrus on the nose; refreshing and tart with a spicy finish
Dopff & Irion 2006 Gewurztraminer (Alsace, France)
- deep yellow; intense, pungent aromas of orange blossom; high acid up front, followed by sweet honey with mint, perhaps a bit of cilantro; apricots on the long, acidic finish
Maleta Winery 2003 Meritage (Niagara, Canada)
- decadent aroma of roses, cherries and chocolate; perfectly balanced tannins and acid; as complex in the mouth as on the nose, with a long, smooth finish
Greg Norman 2005 Shiraz (South Australia)
- slam-you-over-the-head berries, jam, leather and licorice; a huge mouthful of syrupy cassis, heavy red berry and peppercorn that follows through on a long, sweet finish