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BERGER: Rise of quality wines from Canada

Readers of wine columns rarely ask much of wine columnists, but one stern request has become my Basic Rule No. 1: Please don't recommend wines that we cannot get.

A fair request. Over the years, I've avoided writing things like: "This is a fabulous wine and it's reasonably priced, but the winery sold out of it an hour ago."

As a result I have almost never written about Canadian wines, even though Canada makes some smashing stuff that is often very well-priced. I've tasted these wines frequently over the last 20 years and have seen an industry blossom with world-class wines.

And not just the white wines, which in the 1980s wowed me with personality. Today, some of the reds are getting to a point where they are ready to do battle with the best wines in the New World.

But Basic Rule No. 1 intervenes: So few Canadian wines are exported to the United States that I have had to stifle myself, almost Edith Bunker style, even though I get weak-kneed when thinking of the quality of some of the wines.

Tasting room visitors to Canada's Ontario or British Columbia wine areas know of the excitement these wines can generate. Among the wines that can be truly dramatic are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, many types of ros? red wines like Syrah, Gamay, and Merlot, and even Cabernet Sauvignon. And then there are the startlingly great ice wines.

I have driven through many areas of Canada tasting dozens of wines over the years, and have judged at wine competitions where the wines are entered. Many are so exciting I want to rush to the keyboard and tell someone.

But that would violate the Basic Rule, so I have taken a different tack: I've pleaded with the owners of various Canadian wineries to begin shipping small amounts of these dramatic wines to the lower 48. Even if they send small amounts, I can begin writing about them, which may well spur sales and allow further importation. When the Canadian dollar was worth far less than the U.S. dollar, Canadian wines would have had to sell for a lot more here than they do at home, and high prices combined with the cost of shipping made such a prospect unreasonable.

Today with the two nations' currencies at near parity, the economics pose less of a problem. Moreover, today's younger buyers (Millennials) seem eager to try new and different things, and appear willing to look favorably on unknown regions as an adventure. Some past generations had no such view.

As a result, the British Columbia International Trade and Investment Office, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has begun actively investigating what can be done for B.C. wine to be sent here.


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