Monday, August 5, 2013
Wines of Quebec and the Exquisite Vandal Cliché Grape
Quick Facts on Canadian and Quebec Wine
There are over 600 wineries in Canada, with the majority clustered in the Niagara Peninsula area of Ontario and the sunny lake region of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. However, Quebec has grown its wine industry over the past 20 years and now can boast over 60 wineries, with 15 of them surrounding the historic Quebec City settled in 1608.
Red wines are primarily made from Marchel Foch, St Croix, Baco Noir and Frontenac. The advantage of these types of varietals is they can withstand the cold snowy winters and the grapevines do not need to be buried as is required with vitus vinifera vines, e.g. chardonnay, merlot, etc.
Brief History of the Walled City of Quebec and the Isle of Bacchus
The French explorer, Jacques Cartier, first came to the territory of Quebec in 1535. He sailed up the St. Laurent River until he reached the area where the river narrows and is filled with islands. The term “Quebec” is the Indian name describing, “where the river narrows.”
Over the years they built a wall around the city, and today it is the only walled city in North America. In 1763 France ceded Quebec to the British at the end of the Seven Year’s War, but in 1840 Quebec regained it’s independence when the Province of Canada was formed. Today it still retains much of its French roots, including the French language and cultural similarities.
Wine Tasting Near Quebec City
While visiting, I had the opportunity to taste the wines of four different wineries. The first 2 were on the Isle d’Orleans, a15 minute drive from Quebec City, and filled with charming farms selling fresh berries, duck foie gras, cider, crème de cassis, and local vegetables. The other 2 were located closer to Montreal, and I tasted the wines in the Farmer’s Market and a restaurant.
Vignoble Isle de Bacchus – a small adorable winery with a very friendly tasting room and outdoor restaurant overlooking the vineyards and river. They produce around 50,000 bottles per year (around 4,000 cases), and use 16 different types of hybrids in their winemaking.
The 2012 Rose of St. Pierre was interesting blend of St. Croix (red grape) and Vidal (white). It had a dusty raspberry nose that carried through on the palate with a crisp acidity. The remainder of the reds was rather sharp on the palate with strong acid and tannins, but I fell in love with their Isle de Bacchus Vidal Blanc 2011 Ice Wine, which had a lovely floral nose, kiwi on the palate, and a very long finish.
Vignoble Sainte-Petronille – is a larger winery located only about 5 minutes away from the Isle d’ Bacchus winery. This one also has an outdoor patio where you can buy small snacks and a glass of wine while viewing the vineyards, river, and a waterfall in the distance (Chute de Montmorency). It is a lovely setting. The tasting room reps told me they now have 6 hectares with 17,000 vines, but didn’t have case production information.
Here I tasted 8 wines for the very reasonable tasting fee of $3. Again my favorites were the whites made with Vandal Cliché, with the 2011 Voile de la Marine (75% Vandal Cliché) and the 2011 Reserve de Bout de Isle (100% Vandal Cliché); enchanting me with the floral nose and citrus palate. The rose here was bitter and sharp, and the reds followed suite. The 2011 Vandal White Ice Wine, made with Vandal Cliché and Vidal, was stunning, and I immediately bought a bottle.
Domaine de Lavoie – I was able to taste the wines of this domaine in the Farmer’s Market in downtown Quebec City on the port. It is open from 9am to 5pm every day in the summer and is a delight to attend with all of its local products. This winery is located closer to Montreal, and also produces cider. I tasted 6 wines with no tasting fee, and found the quality to be at varying levels. There was no Vandal Cliché here, but the 2012 Seyval I tasted was lovely, and the 2011 Vidal Ice Wine was exquisite. No one can do Vidal Ice Wine as well as Canada!
Altogether I would say that the Quebec wine industry has found a new star in the Vandal Cliché grape and they should consider publicizing it more. Also their Vidal Blanc ice wines are wonderful, but most of the world already knows that Canada produces lovely vin de glaces.
Restaurants and Wine in Quebec City
In general, the local specialties of the area include: foie gras, caribou stew, Quebec venison pie, and salmon with maple syrup. In addition there are some interesting local cheeses, and many dishes with fresh berries.
Quebec City and the surrounding area have more than 450 restaurants, but the population is only 600,000. There are many tourists, but I still wondered how so many restaurants are able to stay in business. Despite all of these restaurants, it was rather hit and miss in terms of quality. The first two days we found restaurants that had both poor food and service, so we consulted Trip Advisor and found their recommendations to be “spot on” in most cases. In the end, our favorite restaurants were:
#2 La Pizzaoi – the most amazing and creative thin crust pizzas I’ve ever eaten. A cute little restaurant with indoor and outdoor tables. Not fancy, but excellent with a very friendly owner who explained how he developed his unique recipe.
#3 Graffiti – outside the old city on the Rue Cartier, a famous shopping street with many charming restaurants. Excellent food and wine list. Nice décor with outdoor seating.
#5 – La Gallette – a Lebanese take-out place hidden amongst the flashy Grand Allee bars and restaurants. It looks like a dive from the outside but for $7.75 you can have an incredible “Lebanese burrito” with fresh ingredients and incredible spices that will fill you up for most of the day. Delicious and messy!
#6 Bistro Bissou – the friendliest service we found and decent food for a decent price. On Rue St. Joseph outside of the old city. Consider the daily lunch special for only $11.50.
#7 Les Ancêtres – on the Isle d’Orleans has one of the best sunset views around and overlooks the St. Laurent river. Though the service is iffy, the food is beautifully presented with local herbs and edible flowers.
In general, Quebec City restaurants do a good job at offering at least one local wine on their wine lists. This made me happy, because one of my pet peeves is restaurants that do not feature local wines. Indeed at Lapin Saute, when they did not have the local rose they advertised on the menu, they opened a bottle of Vandal Cliché and poured me a glass for a very decent price. Now that is good service, and very supportive of the local wine industry.
I should mention the very high tax rate of 15% that shocked me when I received my first few bills. This coupled with an expected tip rate of 15% on top of the tax rate, can make your meal much more expensive that it first appears on the menu. Food and wine prices, in general, are similar to the US, but the additional tax rate makes it seem much higher.
Local Sites & Activities
There is plenty to do around Quebec City. Some of the highlights include just wandering the streets of both the high and low part of town to see the historic architecture, old walls, winding streets, and colorful shops and restaurants. Horse drawn carriages give it an air of by-gone days, and you feel as if you are in a European city. There are several museums, and this summer is the last time the Cirque du Soleil will do its free shows. We had the opportunity to see one, and it was fabulous.
We also spend a whole day exploring the Isle of Orleans, which I think was one of my favorite places with all of its charming farms with old barns painted white and red. There are many places to stop and taste wine, cider, crème de cassis, local jams, fruits, and foie gras. A truly enchanted island.