For Canadian winemakers, imitation probably isn't the sincerest form of flattery.
Imagine you’re a businessperson on a trip to China. You manage to be able to buy a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild from a wine list in a restaurant to impress a prospective client. The server then takes the bottle and smashes it.
It’s an effort to ensure the bottle can’t be refilled and passed off as the high-end wine. Counterfeit wine is big business in a world where the value of a bottle is so high for some people that they will buy and sell a case of it the same they would a stock or bond. And passing off wine as more expensive than it actually is has become a major problem for Canadian producers.
China currently accounts for 55 per cent of all ice wine exported from the Canadian market. Domestically, there’s little taste for it, but the Chinese are big fans of ice wine. In 2013, Canada exported $8 million of wine to China.
Out of fear of counterfeiting, restaurant staff smash ice wine bottles to protect the integrity of Canadian brands. That’s because, according to Canadian winemakers, as much as 50 per cent of ice wine on the market in China is counterfeit.
A couple of years ago, I tasted a bottle of counterfeit ice wine. There is nothing flattering to the producers about these counterfeit bottles. But because there are so few people who drink ice wine on a regular basis, it becomes easy for counterfeiters to create clones. The average consumer probably wouldn’t notice a difference between the counterfeit wines and the real thing.
We are fortunate in Canada. While I remain critical of the LCBO as the sole retailer of alcohol in the province, I recognize the value of having government oversight over the sale of alcohol. Products that enter the market in Ontario need to pass a lab screening at the LCBO to make sure that they are safe for the public. The government monopoly in Ontario protects buyers from worrying about counterfeit and unsafe wine. You can buy that bottle of Mouton Rothschild and not have to worry that a shady character has refilled a bottle with plonk.
So, what is being done to help protect the integrity of Canadian wines? Pondview Estate Winery has taken steps to fight back against counterfeiters. Their ice wine now includes a special tag on the neck using technology from a company called i-Proof that allows buyers to track each bottle of wine individually. The tag can be scanned using a smartphone app, displaying information about that specific bottle to confirm its authenticity.
But if you are buying your bottle of wine from the LCBO or a local producer, you can buy with confidence. Here are a few bottles you can try this week.
2013 Kabang Gewurztraminer – Vintages 442012 – $17.95 – ****
Gewurztraminer from Niagara is something to get excited about, because I’m not sure how much more of it we’re going to see. The winters in 2013 and 2014 were not kind to the varietal, and many wineries that made delicious Gew have already replanted their devastated vineyards, so these wines should be enjoyed while they still can. The nose is bright tropical fruit and perfumed rose petal. This isn’t quite as heavy on the palate as an alsatian gewursztraminer, and it’s not off-dry like a german gewurztraminer—the style is something distinctly Ontarian. This wine is quite dry with just a hint of sweetness on the finish, and it is balanced with perfect acidity. This will make a great match to spicy food.
2013 Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay – Vintages 616466 – $29.95 – ****+
Soft, balanced, complex and elegant: there is a lot going on in this bottle, but it all feels restrained and calculated. The nose is apples, peaches, vanilla, butterscotch, and hints of smoke. The flavours bring everything you get from the nose and a bit more with the fruit moving from ripe orchard varieties to roasted pineapple. The finish on this wine is very soft, with hints of spice, but the acidity leaves the palate refreshed. The long finish leaves you with vanilla and butterscotch. Make sure not to serve too cold or the oak flavours will overpower all the fruit. Instead, serve this after 30 to 45 minutes of refrigeration.
2014 Tawse Gamay – Vintages 322545 – $19.20 – ****+
This wine was good from its first release a few years ago—and every year it gets better. The nose is heavy black cherry with a bit of spice and floral notes. The fruit is concentrated with intense cherry, raspberry, and strawberry. Coming in at under $20, this is a great wine for your dinner party when you want to dress up the table without spending a fortune. This gamay will make a great match to beef or lamb, but is also light enough to go with fish and chicken dishes. The finish on this wine has nice acidity and leaves with just slight hints of pepper.