With the quantity and quality of wines offered in restaurants, bars and grocery stores in Quebec City it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn it’s a very popular beverage. And while production continues to grow, French wines continue to be the dominant alcoholic beverage consumed by Quebecers and visitors alike.
Colleagues convened at the Hotel Manoir Victoria in Old Quebec one evening for the forthcoming Wine Festival in addition to excursions. The Restaurant Lounge Terrasse served Viognier, Domaine Cazel-Viel from the Rhone hillside in southern France. The light, dry, smooth wine has replaced the once heavy robust wines favored by laborers. It paired well with the roasted, herbed Cornish hen.
We set off the following morning for Orléans, an island founded by explorer Jacques Carter in 1535 and dubbed Îsle de Bascuz because of the wild grapes growing there. It became Île d’Orléans later in honor of the duke of Orléans. Today, the grapes are refined at the Vignoble Îsle de Bacchus, where the hardy varieties are suitable to the cold climate of Quebec. The vineyard is best known for its sweet ice wine, however, they produce smoky, low-tannin, full-bodied reds.
Under the tutelage of France Gagnon and Vincent Noël at the Boutique Cass Îsle d’Orléans we became acquainted with the production of vinegar. Following in the footsteps of generations of vinegar makers, Gagnon and Noël developed types that are made from a slow aging, naturally unfiltered, double-fermentation process. In 2009 their first successful organic blackcurrant vinegar was produced, following in 2011 by white- and redcurrant vinegars. We were given a tiny spoon and told to taste each with the tip of our tongues. The acidity of the sweet-sour brews ranged from mild to crisp to downright snappy. In 2012 the couple unveilled their concentrated blackcurrant balsamic vinegar.
The Bordeaux Wine Festival takes place every year toward the end of August in Espace 400e Bell, a glass enclosed warehouse-like pavilion on the wharf at the Old Port. I tasted a Chateaux Les Marnieres and a Chateau Prince Pomerol 2006. Both were very dry, oak aged, delicious and were very popular. Opposite the building, The Image Mill, the world’s most dynamic screen projected four centuries of Quebec history. I watched while standing in queues and then found a space at the raw oyster bar. The texture and salinity of the small, delicate Prince Edward Island crustaceans made my toes curl. Both shuckers and pourers could barely keep up with the demand. The festival continued for the next two days with tastings and lectures about wine in pavilions located on the dock.
Our next event the following afternoon was a cruise aboard the M/V Louis Jolliet along the St. Lawrence River, replete with hors d’oeuvres and a Bordeaux Calvet Reserve 2015 table wine. But to remain seated inside while sailing by the Montmorency Falls (it’s higher than the falls at Niagara) and the Côte-de-Beaupré was more than I could bear. I stood outside on the breezy forward deck as we passed these landmark sights.
The evening’s excellent dinner at Manoir’s trendy Chez Boulay Bistro Boreal was for me a prelude of many more visits to a city that’s rich in culture, food and wine.