Sampling the Wines of Quebec

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. Montreal 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! Our tastings 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. The 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? From 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. Rendez-Vous, 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. I 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. The 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. Then 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. Two 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,…
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