Eugene Mlynczyk MW of Arterra Wines Canada ponders Canada 150.

Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli in Toronto, November 2016.

I’m sitting at my kitchen table looking at the puddles in my very wet backyard, and reflecting on where we have come from and where we are headed. I mean this both from a national and community perspective, where the community in question includes our local Niagara wine region.

A hundred (or even fifty) years ago, Toronto was a very different city, and not the multicultural city that it is today. Back then, Canadian wine was largely forgettable, with nary an acre of vitis vinifera planted (alright, maybe there was a bit, but to use a technical term, it was just a “smidgen”).

Fast forward to 2017, and Canadian wine is really beginning to arrive on the world stage. The fears of free trade have been largely dispelled and the best wines of Niagara, the Okanagan and elsewhere compare favourably to those from similar regions globally. This is nicely evidenced by local events like Terroir and i4C, and though outside wine media voices are still important, I feel that we aren’t as much in need of their praise to legitimatize our “arrival” as a quality wine nation.

Having said all this, facing me among a set of small plates of food on my table are two bottles of red. One is a local hero (for me), the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Red Meritage, and the other is a California powerhouse, The Prisoner red blend from Napa Valley. I’ve been tasting and taking my usual studious notes, and though the wines are both red, they are otherwise very different. I think of this pair in a way similar to meeting two people who are almost opposite personality types, and yet somehow still loving them both.

Initially, I was thinking of this juxtaposition as a Canada vs the World wine showdown, but on the occasion of our 150th birthday party, a better way of viewing these two wines is as excellent examples of their respective styles.

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Red Meritage is crafted by Marco Piccoli, native of Friuli, Italy but now firmly planted in Niagara for more than a decade. He loves wines which are ripe and supple, but I’d also say full of complexity and possessing that fine acid seam which is a hallmark of our cool climate.
Here’s my tasting note on the 2014 edition of this stellar Niagara red: Deep ruby purple in the glass. Possesses an inviting, intense nose with lots of cocoa notes and new vanilla pod oak, alongside savoury Mediterranean herbs. More mid- than full-bodied, with firm, fine tannins on the flavourful mid-palate. Chalky and new leather notes with additional red currant and plum emerge in the glass, with a lengthy finish, eventually shutting down due to the firm tannin presence. The Jackson-Triggs Red Meritage is a keeper and obvious mid-term cellar candidate, with likely improvement over the next 7-10 years. A real Niagara beauty.

The Prisoner red hails from the iconic Napa Valley in California, and though I call it “full bodied,” others might gleefully call this “gargantuan.” Fans of The Prisoner love this wine to the point of cult status, and The Prisoner basically rules the ultra-premium red blend segment in the US market and is making significant headway here in Canada. It is in a new release at Vintages, and at $50 embodies the heart of Napa Valley luxury reds.

Here’s my note on the 2015 vintage. Once again, deep, almost opaque ruby purple: very concentrated. Pretty and intense coffee notes hit right away with dark fruit, brambleberry and wild strawberry flavours dancing in the glass. Not overly tannic, true to its Zinfandel core, with an extremely round and plush mid palate texture. There is an extended finish here as well, with warm, licorice candy and blueberry flower notes to conclude. Dry, with mocha, dark toffee and a high level of (new) French oak, integrated nicely with the fruit presence. Big and bold, I can easily see why The Prisoner appeals to so many: intense, multi-faceted and ultimately a wine which people notice, both on shelf and in the glass.

To wrap up this kitchen table Canada 150 special, I’d like to recommend both of these wines. The Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Red Meritage is almost sold out, but the similarly built Grand Reserve Merlot is available through the winery, online at GreatEstatesNiagara.Com and at select Wine Rack locations. The structure here hearkens back to Bordeaux a bit, but I’d also like to say there is some savoury herb of Tuscany or the Rhone as well. Ultimately though, this wine is all Niagara.

As for The Prisoner, for many wine drinkers, it doesn’t need an introduction. Appearing twice a year on Vintages shelves, this unabashedly flavourful red blend will always strike up a conversation in the backyard with the summer grill. California and Canada – both nice, though today I have to give a special nod to Niagara and Jackson-Triggs, in honour of our very special birthday.

Happy Canada Day everyone!

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