But this is the Great Canadian Wine Challenge. Italian wines need not apply for the next few months.
What Canadian wine would sub in well for the traditional chianti? While chatting with Shawn about my dilemma, we agreed that a gamay would be a fair match with the pasta. I pulled out an Eastdell 2010 Gamay Noir (Niagara, provided by Diamond Estates) to pair with my mushroom-studded marinara sauce and a loaf of rosemary foccacia. The fragrant, sweet raspberry nose gave way to currants and prunes, with woody and herbaceous notes throughout. The light body, dusty mouthfeel and muted fruit on the finish was well balanced against the acidity of the sauce.
So then I started thinking about other popular international wine types (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Aussie shiraz, etc) and what "Canadian equivalent" would fit the bill.
If I want Burgundy ... Lots of people these days are talking about the "burgundian terroir" found in Prince Edward County, on the archipelago extending out from Belleville into Lake Ontario. Between the climate and the soils, places like Norman Hardie have created sublime pinot noir that can be quantified more as vinous experiences than mere thirst-quenchers. For chardonnay, Bacheldor and Tawse (Niagara) can't be beat.
If I want Bordeaux ... You can pick up the classic cab franc/cab sauv/merlot blend pretty much anywhere. The desert heat of interior British Columbia yields show-stopping heavyweights from Osoyoos Larose, Tinhorn Creek, Nk'Mip and Black Sage; here in Ontario, the red blends done by Maleta, Daniel Lenko, Southbrook and Karlo Estates (to name but a few, because OMG there are so many good ones!) are phenomenal.
If I want Champagne ... While you can't legally call Canadian sparkling wine "champagne", some of the bubblies produced here are on par (some might say exceed) that which comes from France's elite region. One of our favourites is Peller Estates Ice Cuvée (Niagara), created in the traditional method with a dosage of icewine added in. Glorious. Stellar's Jay (BC), Hinterland (PEC) and Benjamin Bridge (NS) are also making exceptional vintages, with a full shelf of trophies and medals to prove it.
If I want New Zealand sauvignon blanc ... Ontario's cooler climate seems to serve this varietal well, giving the southern hemisphere a run for its money in terms of cat's-pee-on-a-gooseberry-bush. Creekside consistently makes mouth-puckering, brilliantly acidic sauvignon blanc on par with its southern hemisphere cousins.
Of course, this is just one person's humble opinion, and this list is hardly exhaustive, with so many styles and varietals to explore. Share your favourite Canadian-made counterparts in the comments below. What are YOU reaching for tonight?
(P.S. If you're looking for a bright and juicy Beaujolais Nouveau this November, no need to look further than Niagara's Chateau des Charmes or Rief, which craft delightful gamay nouveau each year.)