Thursday, March 9, 2023

Tasting of wines from Nova Scotia, Canada

Masterclass by Sarah Drake, Flint Wines


You may not have heard of wines from Nova Scotia, on the eastern coast of Canada, and neither had I before I was invited to this tasting, a first in London, by Westbury Communication. Ontario, yes, British Columbia, yes, Prince Edward County, yes, but Nova Scotia? And yet it is there that wine was first made in Canada, in the XVII century. The first winery was planted at Bear River in 1611. The second winery was established at Petite Rivière in 1633. One would have to wait over two and a half centuries, until 1980 for the first commercially viable winery to start operations at Grand Prè under pioneer Roger Dial.

Wine production in Nova Scotia, like for the rest of Canada, was inhibited by prohibition in the early part of the XX century, and there were dry areas until 1980s where there was a legal need to hold a plebiscite to make wine. Despite these difficulties, altogether, 63 varieties are grown to produce 2,500+ metric tons of wine grapes (2021) over 485 hectares.

Nova Scotia is the home of a typical Canadian grape, the Arcadie Blanc, a hybrid crossing that was produced in the 1950s. It now makes for some 30% of all wines in Nova Scotia. 

There are now 35 wineries, and another couple of dozen growers who sell their grapes to them, all in all a small number for a population of 1m people. The geographical location is somewhat isolated which does not help with trade in general and wine trade in particular. In Canada each province is like an independent country, limited exports from one to another.

Climate difficulties are predictably severe, in March 2023 they just had frost at minus 25 Celsius, and lost almost all harvest. Harvest, when it does happen, is a long process because of the slow ripening of the berries at this latitude. Picking bunches from the vines usually starts in September and it can go on until well into November.

25% of production goes to sparkling wines, not surprising given the high levels of acidity resulting from the cool climate. Outside Canada export to many countries but small quantities. A rising share of production is consumed by local youth, who like some of the very low alcohol drinks that are even sold in cans to please soda drinkers.

There is one controlled origin appellation: Tidal Bay, a unique feature in all of North America. Wines must pass a panel tasting to be labeled in Nova Scotia, if they don't satisfy the judges the winemaker has to go back and modify the wine for another try. Officially launched in June 2012, it is a crisp, aromatic white wine. The name Tidal Bay was inspired by the fact that this is home to the biggest tidal differences of water level in the world.

Overall, Nova Scotia makes quite a few good wines and some excellent ones, and while more work may be required to catch up with some other Canadian provinces, it is an interesting emerging wine region to monitor in the years to come.

map from

Selected tastings

Lightfoot and Wolfville Tidal Bay 2021
50% Arcadie blanc et al
Zesty, hard sensations prevail, apricot in the nose. RRP £20
Score 86

Planters Ridge, Tidal Bay 2021
Blend of arcadie blanc, chard et al.
A crisp aromatic wine. RRP £34
Score 88

Luckett Vineyards, Tidal Bay 2021
Blend of arcadie blanc, chard, ortega et al
Rounder than the previous wines, longer. RRP £32
Score 89

Blomindon Reserve Chardonnay 2020
Barrel fermented for a round, balanced wine with good complexity. RRP £34
Score 90

Lightfoot and Wolfville Brut 2017 sparkling
100% chard
Light fragrance, on the fresh side but mod complex and long. RRP £35
Score 88

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2017 sparkling
Wild yeast fermentation in large French oak barrels produce a fragrant wine with a slight bitter ending. RRP £38
Score 87

Blomindon blanc de blanc 2011
100% chardonnay
Balanced and fragrant, still development potential. RRP £56
Score 89

Blomindon Grande Reserve 2008
100% chardonnay
Complex,  round and long with toasted notes. Only 11.4% abv. The best wine today, and it shows how Nova Scotia quality wines can age. RRP £78

Luckett Vineyards traditional method sparkling NV
arcadie blanc 100%
Fragrant, mod complex and long. RRP £37
Score 90

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