Welcome to Second Ferment! Wine pairs well with life ... and food, travel, people, work and play. Grab a glass and join me as I explore the wine scene in Ottawa, Canada, and beyond. Love hearing from my readers, so please leave a comment. Cheers! - Bethany

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Who knew you only had to drive 30 minutes out of Ottawa to get to Wine Country? For those of you who find the haul to Niagara or even Prince Edward County to be too long, pack up a picnic and head to ... Navan.

Yes, I said Navan.

There, you will find lush vineyards bookended by green fields; big oaks lining the driveway up to a sprawling farmhouse; and a welcoming patio overlooking the bucolic splendour of this hidden gem. Oh, and a garage full of wine barrels. Domaine Perrault, the 11-year-old side project of dairy farmer Denis Perrault and the passionate focus of winemaker Bernard Martineau, was more than just a pleasant surprise. It totally blew me away.

With Holly Bruns as my guide, we took to Highway 417 heading east and along country roads of increasingly narrow and dusty passage. We pulled into the Domaine and I felt like I had travelled to some spot along the Peninsula or just outside of Picton. Heck, it could have been the south of France - and I've never even been there! I thought I knew the Ottawa Valley fairly well. Clearly I have some exploring to do.

The subterranean tasting room was painted in bold blues and oranges, chasing away both proverbial and literal gloom. Our hostess juggled a rush of customers while pouring us samples of pretty much everything they had to offer. Holly and I didn't mind; we did our sniffing and sipping and writing of notes without any cause for rush.

I'll admit to setting my expectations to "average", but was surprised to find exceptional quality and finesse instead. The wines are all blends of local, hardy hybrids and Niagara fruit, their percentages varying from one batch to the next, and then again between vintages. These were mostly from 2009, with the exception of the 2008 cab sauv. I couldn't help but snatch up an armload of bottles, and then smiling to myself when I realized I could easily hop in the car and zip on down here again when I run low.

And I definitely plan to: during a visit earlier this year, Holly got to join Bernard for a barrel tasting of their 2010 Reserve blend (cab sauv, cab franc, merlot and syrah), which is expected to be bottled in August. I added my name to an already lengthy waiting list.

Time to eat. Glasses of rose in hand, we tucked in at one of the wrought-iron bistro tables outside. Holly, in addition to being a savvy wineau and talented writer, is also an amazing chef. She said she was bringing some "snacks to nibble on" and showed up with a feast: a ricotta-based tart topped with caramelized onions, bacon and dates, and a baby spinach salad dressed up in a light vinaigrette.

Our fabulous day got even better when Bernard rolled in for what was supposed to be a quick stop and which turned into over an hour's leisurely conversation. He talked about his wine, his recent trip to Italy, his comments on whether pinot noir would manage here or not. (This is the part I love the most - when winemakers sit down, lean in knowingly and speak without reservation, as though we are kindred members in an exclusive oenological fellowship. This is a unique privilege of "the biz"; I doubt I could ever grow weary of it.)

The food, the view, the summer breeze rolling over the vineyards, the amazing wine. And all this just a short drive beyond city limits? Get out of town! (No, really, get out of town and come see this place for yourself.)

Notes on my favourites:

Marilys 2009 Rosé - Not at all sugary, this has crisp acidity with merely a hint of ripe-berry sweetness. Subtle aromas of strawberry and cherry.

2009 Saint Pepin - Done with the same blend of Vidal and white hybrids as their heftier white (Zanzibel), the Pepin is floral, perfume-y and exhibiting notes of linen and herbs. The palate is light and clean. Total package is quite similar in weight and texture to a sauvignon blanc.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon - Glorious bouquet of licorice, cassis, with a bit of a chemical undercurrent that is not unpleasant. Exquisitely smooth mouthfeel, with slightly tart fruit and soft, round tannins on the silky finish. A classy, dignified wine.

2009 Shiraz - The labels were still wet on the glass, but you'd never think this had just been bottled the day before. A substantial nose of beefy smoked meat, resin, cherry and cassis, with the meatiness following through on the palate. It's a fat (phat?) wine - thick, jammy and juicy. But coming in at less than 13 per cent, it's not a hot, alcohol-driven weight. The finish is long and lingering. Bought two bottles, just so I can see what it's like in two and 10 years.

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