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I was surprised to learn
that the world’s second French city, after Paris, is Montreal. With the
Canadian dollar at a 25% discount to the American dollar, it was
clearly time to visit our friendly northern neighbor. And having been
delighted by the wines of Ontario, it seemed logical to follow up with
a tasting of the wines of Quebec.
was a delight, and not only because it was reasonably priced. The Vieux
Port area was France, with its superior restaurants and historic charm.
At the Place Jacques Cartier, a well-planned provincial store displayed
and sold the art works of native Canadians. On the advice of a
knowledgeable friend, we dined at Chez Queux in Old Montreal, 158 rue
St. Paul (tel: 514-866-5194), and recommend it highly for excellent
food, perfectly served, with Chopin played by a professor of piano
music to soothe the spirit. We stayed at the Hotel du Fort, 1390 rue du
Fort, which was most reasonable and convenient, with stunning
Continental breakfasts. And I didn’t miss the televised baseball
playoffs, greatly enjoying hearing the first Red Sox-Yankees playoff
game in French!
were well arranged by Danielle Chabot of the provincial monopoly, the
Societe des Alcools du Quebec, which has started to promote Quebec
products. Our host was Director Maxime Desjardins of the Marche Atwater
SAQ retail store at the western edge of the city not far from our
hotel. It’s fun to linger in this market. The fresh produce, fruits,
vegetables and cheeses are displayed with care—almost, one would say,
with artistry. Mr. Desjardins also showed us the many local products on
sale at their separate retail outlet at the Atwater Market, Gout du
Terroir (Local Products), which carries all the products that we
sampled. We later enjoyed swapping wine lore at the SAQ Signature
outlet at 677 rue Sainte Catherine Ouest with Stephane Renaud, Wine
Consultant. That would be your destination for a fine selection of
rather pricey prestige wines, including rare magnums of Bordeaux.
problem with wine cultivation in Quebec is of course the climate. It’s
not too far north, but the winters are severe. Over the years, attempts
to grow the classic French grapes, such as chardonnay, merlot, and
cabernet sauvignon, have not worked out. And so other grapes, including
cayuga (native to the region) and seyval blanc, have been grown with
success. (They do not as yet appear to have produced first calibre
white wines. But why not do what has been done with such success in
Cognac and the Armagnac regions of France, and distill the products of
these rather ordinary grapes? It might be well worth a try.) And
then–a touch of inspiration. Why not cultivate the fruits that grow
well here, as a base for drinks?
Rougemont, near Montreal, we began with a light rosé cider produced by
Cidrerie Jodoin. Made from rather unusual red-fleshed Geneva apples, it
was refreshing, with about half the alcohol content of most wines. It
would be nice with hors d’oeuvres. I would also recommend it with
crêpes for luncheon. Next came a Le St Laurent from Cap St. John near
Quebec City, a much stronger cidre fort or hard cider, dry and
substantial. I was surprised by Le Blanc de Brome, from La Brome in the
Eastern Townships, a hard cider that was actually more winey than
cidery in taste. It might go well with poultry or some fish dishes.
from Beauharnois near Montreal, was stunning. This recent product, just
$10 Canadian, is a honey wine, and would be just perfect with baklava.
It’s made from fermented honey (clover or blueberry, the main Quebec
honey, we were informed), pollen and water. Surprisingly, it’s not
overly sweet. You could easily also use it to make cooking glazes. It’s
a fine product, and we bought some to take home.
rather liked La Closerie, a new product from the Vignobles Morou at
Napierville. This medium sweet white wine, a blend of cayuga and seyval
blanc grapes, reminded me of French Vouvray wines. We sampled the 2001
vintage. Dietrich Jooss, from Iberville near the Vermont border, uses
an elongated bottle like those of the winemaker’s native Alsace for his
white wine. Mr. Jooss was one of the first Quebec winemakers. This
wine, aged in wooden casks, was richer than the previous one, and would
accompany somewhat fuller dishes. We sampled the 2002, which retails
for a bargain $17 Canadian. The Vent D’Ouest from the Domaine du Ridge
at the Vignoble Saint-Armand, also near the border, is a rather
full-bodied dry wine, not unlike a well-made dry Graves. We sampled the
2000, thought to be a good vintage here. We would serve it with
swordfish, or perhaps a tuna filet.
Vendange de Glace (“Ice Vintage”) from Dietrich Jooss was next, and at
$64 Canadian, the priciest wine we sampled. This “Selection Imperiale”
was more acid, not as sweet as comparable Ontario wines. A little goes
a long way. This may be one to watch for the future.
came the most memorable wines. I heartily recommend an unusual product,
the Iced Cider, Cidre de Glace Frimas. This was called “la Face Cachee
de la Pomme” (in France might they have said le Visage)? It is made
from frozen apples, and it was delicious. The story is told that a
producer’s apple crop froze one year, and so he made eiswein from the
resulting frozen apples! It has a fine, inviting color, and would go
beautifully with, say, crème brûlée or foie gras. Some twenty producers
are now making this product. The Frimas was well and fairly priced at
$45 Canadian. I asked whether this is something that Normandy might now
emulate, the mother country learning from the new! That seems unlikely,
was the reply, for different apples are grown in Normandy (“the wrong
ones”), and it doesn’t get cold enough there.
more products were served. An aperitif wine, La Marquise de
l’Orpailleur, is a white wine made from seyval blanc grapes, fortified
with alcohol and, in the traditional French manner, macerated with
fruits and spices. It was fruity, but not too sweet, and would go well
with nuts. It had a real gout de France and a fine unctuous quality.
Serve it to your French friends as a surprise from the new world,
whenever the French would serve porto. (Later, at the Gouts du Terroir
outlet, a sweet fruit wine from the Ile d’Orleans, Le Framboisier, was
served. At 20% alcohol, this apple and raspberry mistille was a very
nice tipple. I can see the charming ladies from “Arsenic and Old Lace”
serving it nicely chilled to their gentlemen callers when they run out
of their own special elderberry wine!)
Caligo de Rougemont from the Cidrerie Jodin is apple brandy, and at 40%
alcohol (80 proof), by far the strongest beverage we tasted. At first,
this Canadian product was called “Calvados,” but that couldn’t be
allowed, for proprietary legal reasons. It was strong and very
flavorful, rolling off the tongue, and at $39 Canadian, a good bargain.
I recommend it. They are considering making it in special blends, cask
Montreal was a lucky one weatherwise. In mid October at the height of
the fall foliage season, we also enjoyed the scenery of the Laurentians
north of Montreal, and then drove through the Eastern Townships, and
northern Vermont and New Hampshire. Not that far away, and anxious to
welcome the visitor, Quebec won’t upset your travel budget and will
delight you with echoes of France and its own sturdy Canadian character.
Bill Shepard is Bonjour Paris’s wine editor, and the author of Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines: Taste Is for Wine: Points Are for Ping Pong.