I am not writing these in chronological order (a rebel….that’s the kind of Gal I am) and the first winery that I stopped at on the Thanksgiving week-end was Les Côtes d’Ardoise. My father used to operate in the same hospital as the winery’s owner, Dr. Jacques Papillon, and I was lucky enough to meet and speak him (Dr. Papillon…not my Dad…we interrupted his lunch and he was very gracious about it…again, Dr. Papillon, not my father).
Of all the wineries in the Eastern Townships, Les Côtes d’Ardoise must have the most beautiful location. The last ice age created a depression over much of Ontario, Quebec and the Northern United States, followed by the Champlain Sea. The result is a fertile area with hills (perfect for skiing) and escarpments (perfect for growing wine) South-East of Montreal. (Who knew – high school geography at Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s School for Girls (yes, really, that is the name of my alma materl!) did come in handy). The winery rises gently (and this is important as we hiked around the vines and I hate hiking….even if it is amongst grapes) with a commanding view 80 kilometers to the distant towers of Montreal (and on this clear day we could see Mount Royal and the skyscrapers of downtown).
This winery is 30 years old, the oldest in the area and, for the past ten years, has exhibited dozens of sculptures on its property. This year’s exhibition displayed over one hundred art works.
On Thanksgiving Sunday, the winery was full of visitors, admiring both the art of the winemakers and of the sculptors. My favourite piece was a whimsical line of laundry entitled “Pas de secrets pour personnes #2”.
Every so often, our conversation would be be interrupted by the sound of air cannons, and the recorded sounds of Red Owls, dogs and other noises to scare away any birds who might be looking for a late season snack. Les Côtes d’Ardoise was just finishing the harvest of the ?? grapes. These would be placed in nets, on top of the vines until January when they would be made into ice wine (one usually thinks of the grapes being left on the vines but all the wineries I visited in the area pick the grapes).
Stéphane, who told me he usually works in the fields, led me through a tutored tasting of 1 rosé, 2 reds, 3 whites, and 6 fortified or ice wines on offer that day. (While the climate has a lot to do with so many sweet or ice wines being produced, as I mentioned in my last post, Quebec does have a sweet tooth!).
My favourites were the red Côtes d’Ardoise, the rosé Charmes et Délices (if only for the name), the sweet wines: Givrée d’Ardoise and Douceur d’Arsoise.
Charmes et Délices, a blend of Seyval Noir and Chelois grapes, is not a traditional easy-quaffing rosé. Unfamiliar with the Chelois variety, I looked it up (Google, where else?). It is a red hybrid from France, only 60 years old. It does not seem to be commonly used but appears to be hardy to colder climates. This rosé was almost a dessert wine in its sweetness and viscosity. A light pink colour, it had longer legs than one would expect in a table wine, a clue to its sweetness. It has pleasant notes of small berries in the mouth, a hint of tannins but not enough to allow it to stand on its own. I would drink it with some very dark chocolate: 75% or more.
The Côtes d’Ardoise, Stéphane’s favourite, is a fabulous table wine. I tasted the 2008 vintage and, although immediately drinkable, I will confidently cellar the six bottles I bought for a few years. The wine has a lovely, deep rich colour, with a pronounced, pleasant pepper aroma, combined with a slight coffee taste on the palate. It is a nice combination of Gamay (hence the green pepper), Maréchal Foch and Lucy Khulman (another new one to me – this is a cold weather resistant hybrid), the latter added for deepening the colour, I assume. It is an excellent wine for any dinner at which you would serve a Bordeaux, I think.
The two sweet wines were the Late Harvest, Douceur d’Ardoise and the Givrée d’Ardoise, an Ice Wine. The former is a second pressing of the Vidal grapes used to make their ice wine, once the grapes have started to thaw. As a result, it has sugars that are less concentrated. It makes a good alternative for those who find ice wines too sugary and aromatic. I recommend this wine, with its notes of pineapple and lychee, with a nice fois gras (as luck would have it, Brome Lake ducks are available just a few kilometres away!) or with a sweet dessert. I enjoyed it.
The Givrée d’Ardoise is a 100% Vidal wine. I was surprised to learn that the grapes are picked in late October and placed on top of the vines in nets until January. (I was not abut to suggest that this seems likes cheating but it does!). the one I tasted was a 2007 vintage and I was struck by the immediate sweetness on the tongue, followed by an almost petroleum quality, reminiscent of a rieslong. This was followed by a note of grapefruit and a lingering honey tastes in the mouth. Not my favourite ice wine, it is very popular with the visitors that day.
To my question about his favourites, Dr. Papillon responded that he was most proud of his rosé ice-wine, Côtes d’Ardoise being the only producer in the area of such a wine, and of the above-mentioned Côtes d’Ardoise red.
Dr. Papillon, a well-known Montreal plastic surgeon is a man who has clearly worked very hard to prove that Quebec can produce quality wines, I suspect against great odds and skepticism. Certainly, the large number of people present is testament to the reputation that he has earned. Les Côtes d’Ardoise won its first award in 1986 and has continued to garner praise, in including in France. (Dr. Papillon commented on how, despite this international recognition, the wine market in France remains difficult to penetrate – more for us!).
Many Côtes d’Ardoise wines are available at the Société d’Alcool du Québec (SAQ), just a hop away and I recommend you make the jump.
Vineyard Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise
879, Bruce street (Route 202), Dunham (Quebec)
(450) 295-2020 or (514) 845-4683