Thursday, May 30, 2013

Quebec Wines: Great Wine, Cider, Beer, and Poutine!!

OK, so this post is late. My apologies to all those Quebec wineries, cideries, and breweries that thought the accolades would come sooner. They will be coming all summer long, believe me.

I attended, with more than 30 others, Taste Camp 2013. We stayed in Montreal during the stay, but spent most of our time in the Quebec country side. I was very excited. I’ve been drinking Canadian wine since the late 1990s, when even Canadians gave me a sideways glance when I asked where I could buy some. But I have always been a fan of Canadian wine. Unfortunately, a local policeman detained me before our first tasting of the event...ooops. Gotta pay that one...ugh!

According to, “Quebec, a wine region? Yes. Absolutely. In fact, there are over 30 wineries in Quebec located in five distinct regions. Although grapes have been cultivated in Quebec for centuries, it is only in the last twenty years that local wine production has taken off in a big way. Few people outside the region are familiar with Quebec wines because the majority of production is consumed domestically. Many wineries sell out their inventory simply by marketing to visitors of the winery… Most of the wineries are small family run operations. The wineries are run less as a business and more as a labor of love. You'll immediately get to see and understand that for yourself if you visit the properties.” That’s all right on target!!!

Quebec counts six regions where vines are cultivated. They are the Eastern Townships, Montérégie, Québec, Basses Laurentides, Lanaudière, and Centre-du-Québec.

According to Wikipedia, “When French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed the St. Lawrence River, he noted the presence of wild grapes (Vitis riparia) on Île d'Orléans and for this reason named it Île de Bacchus, in honor of the Roman God of wine and drunkenness. In 1608, when Samuel de Champlain settled the site where Quebec City would later flourish, he planted French vines (Vitis vinifera) and discovered that they did not resist the winter very well. Small productions were nonetheless tried here and there over the years and in the 18th century, the inhabitants of the French colony were in the habit of making wine out of the wild grapes and other fruits. While the production remained small, the import of wine bottles from France was quite important (775,166 bottles in 1739 for an above-15 population of only 24 260 persons).”

Fast forward to the 20th century. By the 1970s, some farmers began experimenting with hybrid varietals, both white and red. Early successes at developing quality products, prompted many others to follow and the 1980s and 1990s. In 1987, the first few Quebec wine growers formed an association. The successes of some of its members ultimately caught the attention of the French and in 1995, the Association des Vignerons du Québec and the Syndicat viticole des Graves et Graves supérieures of the Bordeaux region united in a professional partnership.

The only thing holding Quebec back for years had been the weather. While Ontario benfits from the warm lake effect of the great lake, Quebec has no such buffer. Winter kill has been a serious issue since day one.

The grape varieties grown in Quebec, both white and red, all have common qualities needed by the harshness of the winter season, including resistance to winter temperatures, resistance to spring freezes and being early ripening. Some 40 varietals are grown in Quebec, with the most commonly planted being Seyval Blanc, Maréchal Foch, Frontenac, De Chaunac, and Vidal. Like other northern regions, the Minnesota varieties like Frontenac and Marquette and Frontenac Gris among others are starting to catch on.

So what do you want to try if you’re visiting Quebec? Great question. 

Ice wine is something these folks have down pat. Yes, I know, the famous, giant producers in Ontario were first, but the ice wines from Quebec were every bit as good. Delicious in fact! Too many producers to mention here. Just know, that where every you go, the region has ice wine down pat!

I tasted some of the best Seyval Blanc and Seyval Blanc blend white wines I have ever had. Bright, fresh, crisp, huge acidity, somewhat like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio or a Vihno Verde. Lovely! Some wines that impressed were Vignoble de marathonien and Les Prevenches. There was a lovely Vidal from Val Caudalies. Another great was the Gagliano Frontenac Gris, which makes another lovely, highly acidic, refreshing food wine.

Of course, if you can make great bright wine like that, you can make sparkling. The sparkling from l’Orpailleur was absolutely a knock out. Bready and yeasty when you opened it with hints of tropical notes and green apple, the wine was as elegant, complex, and delicious as any sparkling wine you’ll find. A great celebration wine. Another nice sparkling was La Fa’ Buleux.

Diversity is the name of the game in Quebec. Quebec wine makers have developed a large array of products. The first big thing to come out of Canada was ice wine, and Quebec being an apple growing region grafted n with Apple Iced Cider wine, Neige, made by La Face Cachée de la Pomme. This is still one of the hottest wines in all of Canada, and is a cutting edge leader in apple growing and wine making.

The other thing to know is that Quebec has one of the most virant brewing scenes going on in all North America. In one night we tried eight or nine producers. Each one was better than the other. Tremendous stuff!!! Notable producers were Le Castor, Brasserie Dieu de Ceil, Glutenberg (a massive surprise!), Brasserie Dunham, and Le Troududiable among others. All were impressive.

There were also good red wines, the best of which were made at Vignoble Carone, especially their Classico and Double Barrel reds.

And, of course, Quebec is one of the most exciting cheese production regions in North America. Perhaps it's the French influence, but if you love cheese check out our section devoted to the specialty cheese producers of Quebec.

But the biggest surprise to come out of Quebec for many of the camp goers was Poutine!

Poutine (/puːˈtiːn/; French: [putin], Quebec French:[put͡sɪn] ( listen)) is a common Canadian dish (originally from Quebec), made with french fries, topped with brown gravy and cheese curds. Sometimes additional ingredients are added.

This Québécois fast food dish can now be found across Canada (and is also found in some places in the northern United States). Poutine may also contain other ingredients such as beef, pulled pork, lamb, lobster meat, shrimp, rabbit confit, caviar, and truffles. The dish originated in rural Quebec, Canada, in the late 1950s. Several Québécois communities claim to be the birthplace of poutine, including Drummondville (by Jean-Paul Roy in 1964), Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Victoriaville.

La Banquise in Montreal serves twenty-five different varieties of Quebec style poutine.

In the basic recipe for poutine, French fries are covered with fresh cheese curds, and topped with brown gravy. In a Quebec poutine:

Fries: Usually of medium thickness, and fried (sometimes doubly) so that the inside stays soft, while the outside is crispy.

Cheese curds: Fresh cheese curds are used to give the desired texture. The curd size may vary but is usually slightly smaller than bite-sized.

Gravy: Generally a light and thin chicken, veal, or turkey gravy, mildly spiced with a hint of pepper, or a sauce brune which is a combination of beef and chicken stock, a variant originating in Quebec.

To maintain the texture of the fries, the cheese curd and gravy are added immediately prior to serving the dish. The hot gravy is usually poured over the cold cheese curds, so that the cheese is warmed without completely melting.

Suffice to say, several of us would have been happy to become aficionados of the dish. And we were amazed at our own hankering for it late at night, after a few social drinks.

It was a fantastic visit. And I came back begging my wife and kids to go back up to Quebec before the winter set in. Hoping they will go for it. In the meantime, I'll have to satisfy myself with drinking the bottles I came home with, and writing my many reviews to come! Promise!