Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! Fellow wine drinkers and supporters of Canadian wineries are probably already aware that Canada has its own set of wine laws to enhance and protect our industry but for those that may not be in the know, there is a regulatory body known as the VQA which is important for many reasons. You’ll notice right away that most liquor stores have two separate areas in the Canadian wine section: Wines of Canada (often simply labeled as Canada) and VQA wines (usually labeled as VQA or Canada VQA). What is the VQA and why are the wines different from “Wines of Canada”?

First up, is the wines of Canada area. Surely, buying a wine that says Canada on the label is the best way to support our burgeoning wine industry, right? Not quite. While part of the wine found in these bottles is in fact from Canada, a large quantity of the wine can legally come from almost any country in the world. What you are most likely drinking when purchasing a wine like Copper Moon, Wine O’Clock, Black Label or even Jackson Triggs (entry-level) is a product of Chile, Argentina, Spain, France or many others. This type of wine is known as a “product of Canada” and can be a blend of many different vintages, vineyards and countries.

If you take a closer look on the back of the bottle, the back label has to state by law that a “Product of Canada” wine includes domestic and imported wines in the blend. What the label doesn’t tell us is that the percentage of imported wine can reach as high as 65% in many brands. That’s correct, the majority of flavor you’re getting from these wines is in fact imported wine which has little to do with Canada at all. So why mention these facts? The BC sector of our wine industry is struggling due to unusual weather patterns which wiped out the majority of wine-making grapes in the region and while current sales seem strong or steady, trouble could be on the horizon for upcoming vintages after a very poor harvest. If you care about the survival and well-being of Canadian wines, it is more important than ever to support them right now.

This brings us to the VQA aka the Vintner’s Quality Alliance which regulates and authenticates the quality of Canadian wines. To cut to the chase, if you want to buy a 100% Canadian wine, the VQA symbol on the label is a guarantee that it is verifiably only from Canada. The region shown on the label also indicates that the wine came only from that region within Canada. Some brands will put “VQA” in large, obvious letters but those with true marketing genius like the Hatch winery use high-quality art to entice buyers with the VQA printed in smaller letters on the back label.

Speaking of VQA wines, Pearl from the Hatch is quite interesting indeed. It was almost impossible to find solid information on this wine including pricing, availability or the varietal blend. To make it even more interesting/confusing, the back label states that this is a “Red Wine/Vin Rouge” while the appearance of the wine is clearly lemon (with a bit of orange creeping in). My suspicion is that this is a white wine made from red grapes. Yes, you read that correctly, white wine can be made from red grapes as the color of wine comes from the skins of the grapes. Red grapes can be very gently pressed to avoid leeching color pigments into the juice. The juice is then fermented without the addition of grape skins to the maceration.

I was impressed by Pearl, and I loved the mystery of trying to figure out what it actually was while tasting and analyzing the color of the wine. Here are my wine picks of the week!

Magnotta 1925 Sparkling Chardonnay: (VQA Ontario, Canada). Dry sparkling white with a pale lemon color and small, effervescent bubbles. The medium-intense nose is creamy and fruity with sour peaches, apricots and fresh cream (hints of butter). To the taste, the wine is frothy with a full-bodied, creamy mousse. The bubbles are very active and create a creamy texture which blends with quick flavors of apple, peach and pear. After a quick flash of fruit flavor, bitterness creeps in and continues throughout the duration of the quick finish. Medium acidity adds a bit of zip, but the flavors of mineral (creamy, bitter chalk stone) leave an overlying note of bitterness. Notes of creamy cheese like brie or camembert can be tasted by retro-haling the wine (breathing out through the nose while tasting). This wine would be best shared with a group of friends, so make a toast and have it with appetizers but be aware, it is simple and not overly complex. Average. $24, 12.5% ABV

Pearl 2023 (Hatch Winery): (VQA BC, Canada). Dry to off-dry white, pale lemon color with a slight hue of orange. While the nose technically has medium-intensity, the scents are lively with zesty grapefruit, pomelo, citrus oil, orange blossom, meadow flowers and an herbaceous twist. On the palate, the wine displays a delicate, silky character with medium-minus body, medium-minus acidity and an easy-going, fruity profile of citrus fruit (grapefruit, lemon and mandarin). Medium intensity and light concentration would usually add up to an almost flavorless wine, but this one captivates with subtle tones of flower blossoms, honeyed fruit and field flowers (lavender, chamomile). That herbaceous quality comes back around and carries into the medium-plus finish leaving grape skins and vegetal notes. Soft, mellow and smooth, this one is the perfect deck-sipper with friends on a sunny day. The label art is enchanting, and this bottle will impress with food pairings like chicken/pesto pizza, spinach-stuffed puff pastries or parmesan crisps and bacon (lardons) in a salad with light a vinaigrette. Very good! $35, 12.6% ABV  

Cheers and thanks for reading!