October 17, 2010

highway 202, sculptures in the autumn vineyard

Like probably most Quebecois there is a strange affinity to highway 202. I realize that over the years I have travelled this 150 km stretch in bits and pieces, ever returning, ever enjoying, if not the landscapes, than the incredible amounts of artisans who line it. I was not exactly in the mood to visit much this sunday; the grey sky, dramatically windy, half of the leaves fallen off the trees, but a tiny sense of solidarity pushed me off. One does not really have to plan visits when on 202. This time I limited myself to the tiny area close to Dunham. Orpailleur, Cidrerie fleurs de pommiers and Domaine des Cotes d'Ardoise.

I have always resisted visiting the vingnoble Orpailleur, probably one of Québec's most popular wineries, but today I found myself in their large tasting room cum museum cluttered with the ABC's of wine. Out the corner of my ear I heard some people tasting, no, rather drinking. Looking around I realized that probably most of these people (a pitiful judgment based on half reliable experience) have a bottle or two of baby duck stashed in their fridges. (Baby Duck was a sparkling cheap product of the Canadian Andres vineyard which sold around 8 million bottles a year in the 70`s and 80's which was often described to please a wider range of people with relatively unsophisticated palates.) I suddenly felt surround by exactly that. I think the girls giving the tastings also, because they seemed a little broken and mechanical. In fact everyone seemed to be treated as some numbskull moronic tourist. I always found it strange when a business crosses that line of mass appeal. The one interesting product I tasted though was their Vin gris (a white made with the red grapes although Orpailleur uses Seyval, New York Muscat and Geissenheim (white). This is pale rosé wine, more pearl coloured, and described as a semi sweet grey wine. On the nose intense fruit (peaches, melons, apricots) and herbs, with a fairly round mouth feel, buttery and pleasant. Good for an apéro. The experience as in many places was equally frustrating because there are no spittoons.

Right next door was the Cidrerie Fleurs de Pommiers. This time I ask for a spittoon before any tasting started and she laughingly made the comment that she was up late too. Good start. I was taken through the tasting with La Réserve and Blanc de Pomme which were a dry and light cider which were fresh enough to drink with some raw scallops are some such thing. I was even told that I could warm it up like sake...well, sure, the low end kind! We blitzed through some fruit flavored ciders which I could tell were remnants of another age of approach to drinking(think Baby Duck) and then finally their Pommeau d'or. This is a sweet apple liqueur made in a similar way to maple syrup. An intense caramelized apple, baked pastry nose with a butter baked apple flavour without being too sweet makes for a very interesting product. They are one the few to use this method and I saw it marry well with some intense blue cheese. I am informed though that the business was sold and would be changing its names, although the Pommeau d'or would survive the purges. I spit, feeling awkward because so few do in Québec.

Not too far along route 202 I drive into Domaine des Côtes d'Ardoise. I sit there a moment not exactly certain that I want to taste anything. I notice though some sculptures in the vineyard and this motivates me. I take a quiet walk through supposedly Québec`s first vineyard. Exposed are the sculptures of some 50 artists. Walking along the tiny paths being introduced to these Québec artist is a pleasant surprise.

They are one of the few to use the Riesling grape in Québec and their white wine is exactly what this climate gives, something quite sec, acidic with little sweetness, and for a Riesling it is quite surprising. Their riesling ice wine with light tones of litchis, pears and floral, fairly sweet, lightly smoky, pears peaches and dead leaves is very good. I suddenly wished I had a spare piece of creamy blue cheese to taste it with, and as hunger imposed itself I decided to leave the rest of 202 to other hopefully many days to come.

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