This was my first taste of varietal Baco Noir, a French Canadian hybrid grape that we don’t get in Europe. I had tasted it blended whilst Poking the Bear, but here it was in its natural form, out in the wild you might say, and I really quite liked it.
I had purchased this bottle before leaving Toronto on the train to Jasper and had not had need to open it as there was such a good local wine selection offered on The Canadian. Now at Lake Louise it was the perfect time to open it and drink it in along with the splendid mountain views.
The bus journey from Jasper to Lake Louise with Brewsters is three and half hours long but with breathtaking views along the Icefields Parkway I was comfortably settled in at the Lake Louise Inn before I even had time to ask if we were there yet.
As glorious as the journey was, this Baco Noir was no disappointment on arrival. It was a vibrant royal-blood purple in the glass, as is perhaps befitting a country that still recognises its British Queen. It had a pleasant cherry nose and was Merlot smooth over the tongue with a luscious finish. Mr Baco certainly knew what he was doing when he grafted this variety. Give it time and it softens even more and comes to you with boxes of liquorice.
With such a good local wine in such a wonderful setting there was no doubt already that when it comes to Canada, and when it comes to Lake Louise, I will be back.
On my last day on The Canadian, I woke early to a misty morning as we travelled through the pine forests of Alberta. We were originally due to arrive in Jasper at 6:30am but we were obviously running late so I had time for a leisurely breakfast. By 8:00am we are still not even at Hinton which suited me just fine as my pickup from Jasper was not until after 1pm and I was not at all keen for my train journey to end.
It had been relatively flat all the way from Toronto apart from the odd bridge, but as we passed through Hinton the line started to elevate and we looked down on forested valleys and rivers. The forests of pine and birch continued in fifty shades of green as we approached Jasper. Large piles of logs lay like toothpicks for hungry giants.
We eventually arrived in Jasper about three hours late. I repacked my backpack and headed off for a short walk after waiting for the train to pull out so I could get one last glimpse of the silver fuselage that had transported me in style and comfort for almost four-thousand kilometres.
The wine tasting the night before had included three reasonable Canadian wines. The first was a 2016 Chasselas from St Hurbetus Winery Estate in the Okanagan Valley. Chasselas is a popular variety in Switzerland where it is known as Fendant. This Canadian variant was a pale yellow in the glass with a similarly watery finish. But there was a pleasant, if subtle, nose of crisp lemon and pear. 8/10
The next wine was a 2017 Pinot Noir from Konzelmann Estate Vineyards on Niagara Peninsular, one of their Lakefront Series. It was a transparent pale brownish red in the glass. The nose was cherry and fireworks with a dry, peppery finish. I am not a Pinot Noir fan and this would not sway me. 6/10
Our final wine was one our Entertainment Coordinator admitted she had trouble saying with a straight face, since a Frenchman had told her it is pronounced with a hard ‘ch’, as in ‘loch’. It was a 2015 Foch from Oak Bay Winery in the Okanagan Valley. Certainly not a variety we see in Europe. Almost black in the glass it had a sour plum nose and was as dry as oak sawdust on the tongue. There was some tobacco but the sourness overrode any vanilla so the finish was a little sour, like a difficult divorce. 7/10
Fortunately my journey from Toronto to Jasper on The Canadian was just an appetiser before a week in Lake Louise and Banff. So there was more wine to come and, as was probably needed after three days on a train, quite a bit of exercise.
On my third day on The Canadian travelling from Toronto to Jasper, I woke at 4:30am in time to see the sunrise over the prairies. It was a pleasant, if soon predictable, change of scenery, after two days of Ontario’s Christmas trees and lakes. We had stopped at Winnipeg, Minatoba during the night, the first of the three Prairie Provinces we would pass through.
I headed down to the Panorama car for a Continental breakfast of orange juice, coffee and a couple of pastries. Only my third day on the train and I already had a routine. It would be strange and sad leaving the train the next morning. I had dined in style with people from New York, Wisconsin, Toronto, Scotland, Cuba and Korea; I had read a book by John Grisham and finished a chapter in one of my own. Certainly I had not become bored of life on a train just yet.
As we passed through disused stations and disused countryside, railway lines lay like liquorice sticks and the landscape was often only coloured by graffitied freight wagons, shipping containers and silos. Barns and even little sheds had cute octagonal roofs like playthings from a toy farm.
After lunch I had a walk during our short stop in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It was hot and sunny in this, another prairie town. Like most of the places The Canadian stops there were no platforms and the passengers wandered the length of the train like hobos looking for a free ride.
After an early sitting for dinner at 5:00pm I enjoyed a free wine tasting in the Panorama car. We were treated to three reasonable wines, which I will outline in my next post, and an amusing presentation by the entertainments coordinator. There were regular events such as this throughout the journey: a guitarist one day, some yoga the next, and regular talks on the places we were traveling through. They were all informal and most people like me attended only as they happened upon them.
Now to this wine with the quirky label. I am usually dubious of wines that try and amuse me before I even taste them. And in this wine they have not only thrown every into the label, they have thrown everything into the wine as well, from Baco Noir to Foch, and four others besides. Six varieties in all, as if throwing possessions at a charging bear. But somehow it works. It is a thick red in the glass with a very cherry nose and it is very smooth in the mouth. That was, I decided, the Baco Noir pattern on the Merlot silk pyjamas. Indeed, this is a very versatile blend that you could have with your pork and your cheese cake. And if you forget your bear spray and are faced with a charging bear, I dare say it might even work there.
As if to reaffirm that my three night journey on The Canadian was going very smoothly, I chose a Merlot for dinner on the second night to accompany my veal.
Despite the train’s stop-start progress, as it gave way to freight trains, I had slept well if somewhat intermittently during my first night on board. Although the bed folds down over the toilet it is quite a simple task to fold the spring-loaded bed part way up in the night should you have the need. If you are of a certain age or have a certain interest in wine, as I do, then this is a very important and reassuring discovery.
In fact the whole cabin is of surprisingly good design, from the table over the sink like a caravan, to the hooks, overhead storage, power sockets and a pouch within easy reach for stowing books and charging iPads.
I found the cabin rather cool but the bed was warm and comfortable and with the extra hour as we crossed time zones I was up and dressed early ready for breakfast, despite the grey and drizzling day outside. They serve a continental breakfast in the dining car from 6:30am or you can help yourself in the Panorama car to pastries, fruit juices, muffins, fruit and coffee. Brunch is served from 9:30am which includes hot breakfast options as well as lunch items such as the shrimp and scallop skewers with salad that I enjoyed.
The scene outside was still wooded and swampy with one of the 250,000 lakes in Ontario passing by every few minutes, like a roll-call of extras for a Visit Canada advertisement. There were no power lines now, which blight the view on most other train trips I have done. There were however low telegraph poles at various points, often tilted or fallen on their side with wires variously drooping on the ground or threading through the branches of trees like wool in a loom.
Tea, coffee, biscuits, water and juices are available to serve yourself in the Panorama car throughout the day so it is doubtful that hunger will ever be an issue on The Canadian. You pay for soft drinks and bottled water as well as alcoholic drinks: 330ml beer CA$7, 150ml wine CA$9. There is also a drinkable water tap with plastic cups in the cabin.
The restaurant menu states you cannot consume your own alcohol on the premises. I am not sure if that just meant the restaurant car, but locked in your cabin I am not sure they would mind, or indeed know, if you had a quick snifter before dinner. I had brought along a bottle of Canadian red just in case, along with some snacks, but never had the need to open them.
In the afternoon we stopped for about fifteen minutes at Sioux Lookout. A day and a half into our journey and we were still in Ontario; in Europe we would have crossed three countries by now. It was sunny and mild and it was nice to step outside for a short walk beside the train. Nicer still, I found, to get back on board. I already knew that I would dread reaching my stop in Jasper.
A very relaxing day ended with this Merlot from the Okanagan Valley. The wine is a reasonable red in the glass but there is very little nose. I find this a problem with most Merlots and it is the reason they are best in blends to provide the silk of the pyjamas but not the pattern. There was also a slight vinegar taste on the tongue and a dry aftertaste. Not a memorable wine, but so far a very memorable journey.
As I left Toronto on the VIA train The Canadian this was the wine I chose for my first dinner on board, a very agreeable breaded cod. From the Niagara Peninsular, it proved a very good wine to start a great train journey.
The Canadian runs from Toronto to Vancouver (or visa-versa) over four nights. I was going as far as Jasper, a three night journey. Boarding at Union Station in Toronto for the 9:45am departure was efficient and friendly as seems the nature in Canada. I had only been in the country three days but already I was agreeing with those who had told me Canadians are some of the friendliest people on earth.
There are many categories of births on the The Canadian: Economy, seated passengers, are at the front of the train and are segregated from Sleeper class passengers who have cabins or bunks. Premium Sleeper class passengers are at the rear of the train, with a special bar area that other Sleeper class passengers can use after 4pm. In Sleeper class I had a single cabin, a rarity on trains and one of the main reasons I had chosen The Canadian for my first multi-night train trip: my Orient Express with hopefully fewer deaths.
With an arm chair, basin and toilet (which doubles as a padded ottoman) and a bed you can fold down yourself at night (once the wine has has taken effect), it is ingeniously designed and nicely self contained and reminded me of a smaller version of our family caravan or perhaps a roomier version of a Japanese capsule hotel.
More on the Canadian in future posts, but back to the wine. It is a medium coloured Chardonnay in the glass with ripe pear and floral notes. These are subdued on the nose but become wonderfully fragrant on the tongue where it arrives and departs creamy and luscious. Indeed, a bit like The Canadian.
🇨🇦 Inniskillin, Discovery Series East – West Cabernet Shiraz 2017
8/10 – Nothing Wrong with That
This wine from Niagara on the Lake is in fact a blend along with grapes from the Okanagan Valley. As I was about to make that journey myself from East to West it was a fitting wine to enjoy on my arrival in Toronto.
Like a sommelier with a cold, the nose was a bit closed on this wine, even after an hour to breath. It was also a bit pale on the tongue. It did at least have a nice deep, ruby red colour in the glass: rosy cheeked you might say. So there was hope for the wine yet. And yes, when paired with food, a French Brie in my case, there was a nice touch of vanilla and chocolate and it finally expanded on the palate like a jar of cherries dropped on a concrete floor.