Think of pinot noir, and you think immediately of Burgundy, the premier region for the wine. Think of other benchmark areas, and you might come up with Oregon’s Willamette Valley and New Zealand’s Central Otago. Other places, such as Tasmania in Australia and Russian River Valley in California, have also made their name.
When will Canadian wine regions join the list?
Canadian pinot noir is well known to many wine aficionados, but in general it’s far too little appreciated. Who would have thought that it will soon become the most-planted wine grape variety in British Columbia? It has trailed merlot for some years, but the area planted in pinot noir is rising quickly, while merlot has stalled. If this disparity in growth rates continues, pinot noir will surpass merlot by 2025.
In Ontario, where the wine and grape industries don’t provide such basic information as how many hectares are planted in each grape variety, pinot noir is the top Vitis vinifera variety in terms of red wines labelled by a single variety. It’s surpassed by baco noir, a popular hybrid variety, and from what we know, cabernet franc is more widely planted than pinot noir. But pinot noir is very important in both the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County.
In the rest of Canada’s wine regions, pinot noir is less important. It’s a very minor grape in Quebec, where hybrid varieties dominate, but climate change is making southwest regions of the province more suitable for varieties such as pinot noir. In Nova Scotia, pinot noir is often used (with chardonnay) for the impressive sparkling wines the province is becoming known for, and a few producers make varietal pinot noirs.
Because of the range of growing conditions across the country, Canadian pinot noir comes in several distinct styles. They vary, of course, not only because of climate but also because of the weather each year, how vineyards are managed, and winemakers’ decisions. While some winemakers say they make the wine each vintage gives them, others have a particular style in mind.
In general terms, there’s a marked difference between pinot noirs from B.C. and Ontario. Those from the Okanagan Valley tend to have greater fruit intensity than pinot noirs from Niagara Peninsula, but both present good, balanced acidity. Yet some from more northerly B.C. regions such as Lillooet and from Vancouver Island are less fruit-driven. And in Ontario, Prince Edward County pinot noirs are often a little lighter than those from Niagara Peninsula. As for Quebec and Nova Scotia pinot noirs, they are generally even lighter in colour (a translucent red) and fruit with more assertive (yet balanced) acidity.
Wine-lovers might gravitate toward one style, or they might appreciate all styles for their respective strengths. It makes Canadian pinot noir an easy go-to (that is, if you can access out-of-province wines) in a world where the price of pinot noir from places like Burgundy has increased dramatically. Pinot noir has its own cachet, and Canadian pinot noir is often not cheap, but many are very good value.
Some top Canadian pinot noirs
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Old Eastern Block 2020 (St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula)
Domaine Queylus Réserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2018 (Niagara Peninsula)
Flat Rock Hexa Pinot Noir 2020 (Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula)
Martin’s Lane Winery Fritzi’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 (Okanagan Valley)
Hidden Bench Estate Winery Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 (Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula)
Keint-he Winery & Vineyards Greer Road Pinot Noir 2018 (Prince Edward County)
Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018 (Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia)
Sperling Vineyards Organic Pinot Noir Reserve 2020 (Okanagan Valley)
Tightrope Winery Rubis Pinot Noir 2020 (Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley)
Unsworth Vineyards Saison Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 (Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island)