For years, Montreal menus have displayed jaw-dropping delicacies like reindeer sausage, butter whelk and duck fat poutine – a delicious legacy of hundreds of years of French colonial influence, pioneering spirit and freezing winter temperatures. Today, drinkers and diners in “the city of 100 steeples,” as Mark Twain called the city in his more pious days, have embraced the lighter side of Quebec cuisine. Chefs are pairing fresh produce with natural wine, resulting in a real wine bar boom.
Thus, the still very French city on the St. Lawrence River has become the North American capital of natural wine. Many of the top players, from bar owners to importers, are women. They’re behind the scenes, often working together, creating such fierce buzz that it’s increasingly rare for a new restaurant to open without natural wine on the menu.
Old world influence meets Quebec flavors
The natural wine movement started in Paris as early as the 1980s but really blossomed in the early 1980s. The momentum only increased. More of a philosophy than a set of strict guidelines, so-called “natural” winemaking favors organic farming techniques, lesser-known grapes, no added sugar, native yeasts, and other less interventionist winemaking practices.
According to Grand View research, organic wine, which can be considered under the umbrella of natural, is expected to grow 10.2% per year to become a $21.5 billion industry by 2030. Despite the link culinary between France and Quebec, it took a few years for Montrealers to grasp. So when UK-based, French-born Travel Channel host Isabelle Legeron first visited the port city nearly a decade ago, she was “blown away” by the number of bars and shops selling natural wine.
Legeron, who created the Raw Wine festival and was France’s first female Master of Wine, attributes the boom to the city’s historic emphasis on epicureanism. “The French connection is powerful and natural wine has always been linked to gastronomy,” she says, noting that natural wine often captures the imagination because it requires a bit of storytelling and passion. “Montreal is one of the most exciting places to visit as a natural wine lover. It’s never hard to convince people to come, especially brewers.
As one of Quebec’s most famous sommeliers and owner of Thirsty Wine Bar, Véronique Rivest believes that the growth of natural wine is linked to the openness of the region. “Quebecers…are big food and wine lovers, and underlying that is a love of conviviality: spending time around a table, eating, drinking and talking,” she says, noting that his favorite bar is Pullmanwhich many consider to be the city’s first great natural wine bar.
Kim Urbain, head sommelier of the famous food laboratory— known for his seasonal menus served at the avant-garde headquarters of the Society for Arts and Technology — says natural wine is “fun, surprising and full of color,” like Montreal. As to why so many women are her driving force, Urbaine admits she isn’t sure. But, she notes, natural wine attracts “thinkers and revolutionaries, and, inevitably, women. We challenge old ways in the wine industry and society. There is a real change taking place. »
Urban and Foodlab host women-only tastings year-round, including wines produced by women supplied by the importer Wine in the Sails. “I’m drawn to natural wines because I like to feel a connection to the land,” says Le Vin co-founder Julie Audette. “I love the magic of winemaking. Maybe it’s innate to grow something and nurture it. It may be a question of authenticity, to be more in tune with our emotions.
Either way, Audette believes the rise of natural wine in Montreal has a lot to do with local sensibilities and its appeal to young and experienced chefs, inventive sommeliers and ambitious restaurateurs. “In Montreal, she says, people care about what they consume.
A city to toast
Of course, you don’t have to be a woman or even have any knowledge of wine to experience the city’s burgeoning natty revolution. Every Saturday, locals and visitors flock to Hotel William Gray to sample natural frizzantes and crispy fresh shrimp overlooking Place Jacques-Cartier at the rooftop bar and Perché terrace. At Ratafia in Little Italy, natural Ribelle and Riesling perfectly complement the delicate reams of fresh prosciutto and melon. Meanwhile, new spots, like Un po’ di Pi, offer small bites and organic bubbles with river views. Restaurant Pastel champions Quebec products selected by local farmers, paired with crisp whites and crisp orange wines.
One standout spot is the recently expanded Vin Mon Lapin, the brainchild of sommelier Vanya Filipovic, former beverage manager of famed Joe Beef, and her husband, chef Marc-Olivier Frappier. They combine their in-depth knowledge of natural wines with small local dishes such as Gaspé halibut with sunflower seeds or sea urchin omelette.
At Vin Papillon, the duo’s sister venue, more than 300 carefully chosen wine labels encourage a leisurely tasting evening. Entering the scene with a pop, Barbara, a white-hot new spot from chef and restaurateurs David Pellizari and Catherine Draws, serves fine Italian cuisine and wines creatively categorized by character and emotion rather than color. And at longtime favorite Candide, wine director Emily Campeau and chef John Winter Russell combine local, seasonal produce with rustic St. Martin Street charm.
It’s also worth driving the Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route, 90 acres of lush vineyards dotted with traditional farmhouses just 20 miles from downtown Montreal. Many farmers in the region have turned to natural wine as demand continues to grow – a trend also seen in Europe, where most natural wine is produced. According to Beverage Daily, the area dedicated to growing organic wines in Spain has increased by 522% in the last decade.
Clinking glasses in the City of Saints has never been easier for San Diegan residents, thanks to an all-new direct Air Canada flight that operates three times a week. In September, it increases to five, more likely to more easily transport snowbirds from Quebec to the beach. But raising our city’s taxes is also our taste gain. Cheers!