The scenic Cantons de L’Est or the Eastern Townships are Quebec’s prized wine region, a mere forty minutes drive from Montreal. This bracing countryside paradise was an open air theatre for us offering autumn thrills of a unique, aromatic kind.

Boutique wineries in this small region have made a significant mark with their indigenous grape varietals, especially Canada’s pride, the ice wine, a hugely successful export to international shores. Wine worshippers lined up the tasting cellars, marquees and sunshine patches of the green vineyards and gardens of the oldest operational winery in Quebec, ‘Domaine des Côtes D’Ardoise Vignoble’ in tiny Dunham.

For our oenophilic experience, an entire array of sunny whites, medium-bodied reds and exquisite dessert wines were presented. Singular labels made their impressive mark as our unhurried pace gave us the distinct flavours and bouquets of grapes not known elsewhere.

A medley of marvels

Their crisp and light Riesling with a flirtatious spring nose brought a smile. The 2009 fruity fragrance and floral notes of petunia and jasmine edged by freshly squeezed lime was characteristic of the mellow summers here. On the tongues we were treated to lightly acidic, soft buttery and citrusy flavours, complemented with well-structured passion fruit and rind. Another super white, the Domaine des cotes D’Ardoise ‘Seyval Carte D’Or’ 2007, from the local varietal ‘Seyval’, a cold climate grape with prominent citrus elements, had mid-level acidity and oaked malolactic fermentation which leaves a lingering, well rounded taste akin to lychee and very light fennel!

The bright sunshine didn’t seem to warm up the environment. With fleeting autumnal rain the climate stayed pleasantly skittish. So we graduated to their award winning 2009 Cotes d’Ardoise’ cuvee –superb old vine clusters in a bold combination listing the exuberant hybrid Gamay Noir, Marechal Foch and Lucy Kuhlmann in peppery and spicy communion. The nose was pine oaky and lingering roast chestnut. Splendid! Their teasing red ‘Haut Combe’ 2007 displayed a light, peppery palate of well balanced tannins, lightly acidic but ripe with dry, smoky burntwood and tobacco flavours. The bouquet was unmistakably terra cotta, black currant and light almonds.

A very crisp ‘Seyval Carte D’Or’ 2007 had white rose and succulent pear aromas that gave way to thrilling green apple and citrus flavours. Then came the super nectarine Maredoise 2008 that enchanted with fine petunia and jasmine overtones, complimenting a distinct honeysuckle palate. Their award-winning honey dew scented 2008 ‘L’Or D’Automne dessert wines offered unbeatably striking bouquets and flavours - a lot of character that lilted with mild acidity going onto a light, orange finish.

On-site oomph

The vineyard magic of this small yet assertive wine region extended further into the sprawling ‘Vignoble D’Orpailleur’, a very prominent name in some of the best boutique wine labels at Dunham. Overlooking rolling meadows and gentle hills, we settled on the grass to watch a wedding being solemnized on the green.

Our detailed tastings overwhelmed our expectations as the intrinsic fragrances of Quebecois apricot, sultanas, honey, nectarine and mango came alive in their magnificently crafted, award winning 100% Vidal ‘Vin de Glace’ - Ice wine, a signature offering with Blue cheese. This superlative dessert number is pressed between -8 degrees and -12 degrees Celsius. The over ripeness of the frozen grapes producing limited nectar between October and January each year produces national and international gold medal winning wines that can be treasured for even 20+ years!

The remarkable 2009 ‘Orpailleur Rose’ is a blush with outstanding bouquets and aromas of white rose and lily, while flavours of strawberry and raspberry punctuate its smooth, mid-acidic fermentation. We then tasted the 100% white 2009 Seyval ‘Orpailleur Classic’ with its light straw tones and a palate of fresh olives, honey, grass, lemon and summer fruit. The vineyard experience is unique with tastings of the 2008 ‘L’Orpailleur’ red –a thrilling combo of Frontenac, Marechal Foch and Seyval Noir. This cheery wine displayed an uncharacteristic nose of peony, black currant and snuff (!) added with a kaleidoscope of flavours beginning with an immediate burnt tobacco leading onto a long finish of impressive tannins-fed leather and well rounded after taste of mushrooms. We raised our Riedels to an appreciative ‘Sante’.

Distinction of the ‘Firsts’

With bountiful, quality horticultural produce in this fertile corner of Eastern Canada fuelling niche enterprise, the result can only repeat success with juicy recognition of the exclusive breed. Entrepreneur Charles Crawford consistently ensures unrivalled global recognition for his family-owned apple orchards and apple winery in Richford, Frelighsburg. His prized ‘Domaine Pinnacle’ creates truly outstanding, platinum quality still and sparkling apple wines that are the world’s finest and a spirited tasting of the just-launched Brut sparkling numbers inched up our enthusiasm.

The discerning and often mystically enticing aromas of juicy apples gave way to lingering flavours of freshly picked lily, a sprinkling of jasmine and discerningly light honeysuckle. The mild acidity of the ‘Pommes Rouge’ (red apples) added body to the fermentation which pronounced chlorophyll and green grass after tastes. Their award-winning ‘Domaine Pinnacle Ice Apple Wine’ without any additives and picked during the freezing winters of Quebec spoke a thrilling language of six apple varieties with clean, crisp long finish. Their fantastic ‘Domaine Pinnacle Crème de Pommes’ with one-of-its-kind richness in the regal after dinner pleasure series creates butter and velvet smooth opulence in it’s faint honey undertones. Charles Crawford packs in passion in his ‘Reserve 1859 Domaine Pinnacle’ a distinguished aperitif that blends apple ice wine and apple brandy in remarkable proportions in Appalachian oak barrels! The result is a connoisseur’s delight of a rare pedigree, an aperitif with a very long finish, redolent with deep musky and velvet tones on the taste buds.

That evening we feasted on fine dining country specialties like ‘Pork Tenderloin with apple sauce and white wine’ and ‘Leg of Duck, cranberry and red wine’ with exceptional wine varietals at the Restaurant Le Tire Bouchon l’Orpailleur’. Taking the day with it, the sunshine would return the next day to colour and bathe the Cantons de L’Est and its well-nurtured landscape of plenty.

(The authors are International Wine Writers and Wine Awareness Consultants)

(This article was published on July 3, 2012)
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