Think you know Quebec wine?

Take a look at what's growing in our own backyard. Thanks to global warming, a spirit of innovation and plain old tenacity, a handful of winemakers are doing some very interesting things

As one of the big winners at the recent Coupe des Nations de Quebec, which recognizes excellence in both local and international winemaking, I came to Les Brome intrigued and left astounded. Courville is so confident about his wines that he was not simply content to just have me taste them, he wanted me to compare them with classic French bottlings that were at times more than twice the price. First up was an off-dry vidal, a grape almost always reserved for sweet wines. I tasted it next to a pinot gris from Alsace, and the similarities were remarkable. His cuvee Charlotte, a blend of seyval, geisenheim and chardonnay, held its own against - and I am not kidding - a Chardonnay from the fabled Burgundy appellation of Meursault.

Anyone who doubts Quebec can produce high-quality, elegant red wine has not tasted the de chaunac reserve. With help from one of the best winemakers from southwestern France, Madiran's Alain Brumont, Courville has perhaps found a home for this French hybrid, a grape that was developed in the 19th century.

Still in barrel, I tasted both the 2004 and 2005 cuvees which were overflowing with sweet field berries, a touch of licorice and mineral notes, all supported by a delicate tannic structure.


Never heard of these wineries? Don't feel bad. Neither have most Quebecers. Small-scale winemaking is a costly proposition anywhere, and because of the extra work required to "winterize" our vines, it's even more costly in Quebec.

Unfortunately, the SAQ has done little to help the industry. It employs the same purchase policy it uses for wines imported from outside of Quebec, and it doesn't offer preferential displays in its outlets. This means Quebec wineries must sell their wines at uncompetitive prices at the SAQ or lose thousands of dollars of much-needed revenues.

With no shop window except at the winery, these wines are inaccessible to the majority of consumers, thus hindering their sale and ultimately the evolution of the industry here in Quebec. It's a case where everyone loses.

Bill Zacharkiw is the head sommelier and caviste at the Relais-Chateau L'eau a la Bouche in Ste. Adele, owner of Fonduementale restaurant on St. Denis St. in Montreal and author of the Caveman's Wineblog,

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