Regions and Appellations Canada

Canadian Wines and Whiskies

Canada – the world's second-largest country by area – is far from the most obvious of wine-producing nations, and yet its vineyards are capable of producing both quality and quantity. Powerful Cabernet blends and aromatic dry Rieslings play an important role in country's wine portfolio, but lusciously sweet ice wine (mostly white but also red) is unquestionably the flagship Canadian wine style. Making the most of their reliably cold winter temperatures, Canadian wine producers have become world leaders in ice wine production.

The Canadian wine industry exists primarily in four provinces: Ontario and British Columbia, which are responsible for 98 percent of quality wine production, and Quebec and Nova Scotia, which are emerging winegrowing regions and have a small but loyal local following. Despite Canada's huge geographical size, its annual wine production is just 2 percent of that of the United States.

Vines in the Okanagan Valley in BC
?Wines of British Columbia, WineBC.com

Some viticultural areas in Canada experience hot, sometimes humid summers and extremely cold winters. All the major Canadian wine regions are in close proximity to climate-moderating water sources that are critical to vines' survival in freezing temperatures. The Niagara Peninsula, on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, is arguably the most famous wine region in Canada, although the dry, almost desert-like Okanagan Valley in British Columbia has made a play for glory in the last few decades.

Flanked by the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, and with more coastline than any other country in the world, Canada's climate and landscape are heavily influenced by water. This is not just true of coastal areas, however, as inland Canada is home to numerous lakes of various sizes.

The Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) is a regulatory body that represents an appellation-based approach to Canadian wine. Membership allows winemakers to use the VQA logo on their wine, and this provides a degree of quality assurance to prospective consumers. The VQA's focus is on vinifera varieties, of which Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the Bordeaux varieties are popular. Selected hybrids such as Vidal and Marechal Foch are also permitted to bear the VQA designation. Canada produces an enormous range of grape varieties, wine styles and blends, with more regional specialties developing every year.

This system of quality control is not without controversy. Wines labeled as 'Cellared in Canada' are regarded by many as the most dubious exploitation of antiquated wine law. The classification allows foreign pre-fermented grape must to be imported and vinified in Canada. In British Columbia, 100 percent of the grape must can be imported, while in Ontario, a minimum of 30 percent must be locally produced.

Canada's winemaking history may date back more than one thousand years. Around 1000 AD, the Viking explorers, led by Leif Eriksson (son of Eric the Red), encountered native grape-producing vines in great numbers during their journeys of discovery in Canada's north-east. It is widely believed that this species, Vitis riparia, influenced the Norsemen to name the new land Vinland. It is unclear if Scandinavian settlers ever made wine from the native grapes they encountered in modern-day Newfoundland, but if they did, it would almost certainly make them the first winemakers in North America.

European settlers tried their hand at viticulture in Canada in the early 1800s but met little success with the Vitis vinifera they had imported from Europe. Canada's extreme continental climate was unforgiving and the pioneering winemakers soon turned to the native species riparia and labrusca. The resulting wines were typically described as foxy or musky to taste, though ports and sherries carried the flavors more agreeably and helped to establish the winemaking industry in Ontario and the north-east. The tradition of sweet wine made from labrusca grapes persisted well into the 1970s.

Canadian Prohibition (1916–1927) had a mixed effect on the Canadian wine trade. Small areas like Pelee Island – where Vin Villa Estates had established the country's first commercial winery in 1866 – were adversely affected by the loss of their export market, but the overall wine community in Ontario actually grew during this time, thanks to a Government exception made for wine. Despite sustained growth in the industry, no commercial wine permits were granted from pre-prohibition until 1974, when Inniskillin opened its Riesling, Chardonnay and Gamay vineyard.

Perhaps the most significant year in the development of the Canadian wine industry was 1988. The Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement offered opportunities to Canadian winegrowers and marked an ideological shift in the industry. Following the deregulation of trade between the two countries, the Canadian government recognized the need to adapt in order to compete, and offered an incentivized scheme to remove native vines and replant with Vinifera varieties. Finally, the VQA was established in Ontario in 1988, paving the way for Canada's appellation system. British Columbia followed suit and launched its own VQA in 1990.

Wine is not Canada's only alcoholic endeavor: numerous ciders and beers are made in each of the country's provinces, and Canadian whisky has a cult following around the world.

Canadian Whisky

Canadian whiskies tend to be lighter and smoother than other whiskies, although there are various styles available. The majority of Canadian whiskies are multi-grain blends, including barley, corn and rye on the mashbill and it must be mashed, distilled and aged for a minimum of three years in Canada. Despite many still being labelled as "rye", there is no legal minimum requirement of that grain in the actual mashbill. Rye is still used, as it imparts a distinctive flavor, but it is usually a small proportion of the blend.

Canada's distilling history goes back more than 200 years and is as long as that of the USA. It has a more distinctive Scottish influence, which explains why it spells whisky without the "e".

John Molson is usually acknowledged as the first distiller, opening his stills in 1799. There was a distillery operating in Quebec in 30 years earlier, but it is unclear whether it produced whisky. By the middle of the 19th Century, there were more than 200 distilleries operating in Canada.

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Most Popular Canadian Wines and Whiskies

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Grape
Popularity
Score
Avg Price
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye Whisky, Canada Whiskey - Rye 213th $377
Crown Royal 'Red Waterloo Edition' XR Extra Rare Whisky, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 489th $1,116
Alberta Premium Rye Whisky, Canada Whiskey - Rye 587th $18
Crown Royal Peach Whisky, Canada Whiskey - Liqueur - Flavored 732nd $28
Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Whisky, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 1,236th $1,050
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel Canadian Whisky, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 1,598th 89 $67
Mission Hill Family Estate Oculus, Okanagan Valley, Canada Bordeaux Blend Red 1,697th 90 $109
Peller Estates Signature Series Vidal Blanc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada Vidal 1,760th 90 $95
Sortilege Liqueur de Whisky & Sirop d'Erable - Maple Syrup & Whisky Liqueur, Quebec, Canada Whiskey - Liqueur - Flavored 2,152nd $30
Inniskillin Niagara Peninsula Vidal Icewine, Ontario, Canada Vidal 2,230th 91 $106
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada Riesling 2,413th 91 $146
Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley, Canada Bordeaux Blend Red 2,443rd 89 $45
Crown Royal Deluxe Blended Canadian Whisky, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 2,586th 89 $27
Empress 1908 Indigo Gin, British Columbia, Canada Gin 2,596th $38
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Merlot, Okanagan Valley, Canada Merlot 2,719th 89 $30
Crown Royal Limited Edition Whisky, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 3,204th $60
CN Tower La Tour Whisky, Toronto, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Grain 3,386th $398
Crown Royal Salted Caramel Flavored Canadian Whisky, Canada Whiskey - Liqueur - Flavored 3,591st $27
Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine Reserve, Niagara Peninsula, Canada Vidal 3,617th 88 $70
Crown Royal Monarch 75 Anniversary Blended Canadian Whisky, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 3,634th 90 $171
Black Hills Estate Winery Nota Bene, British Columbia, Canada Bordeaux Blend Red 3,651st 90 $52
Canadian Club 1858 Premium Extra Aged Blended Canadian Whisky, Ontario, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 3,679th $8
Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, Canada Whiskey - Liqueur - Flavored 3,849th $16
Inniskillin Gold Label Oak Aged Vidal Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada Vidal 4,077th 91 $141
Schenley O.F.C. 8 Year Old Blended Canadian Whisky, Canada Whisky - Whiskey Blended 4,244th $251
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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