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J.D.M. Stewart: 2022 will be a year to celebrate Canadian achievement

Commentary

This past Saturday, January 22, was the 30th anniversary of a great achievement for this country. Roberta Bondar became the first Canadian woman in space when the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told her she had touched the lives of Canadians more than she could know, while her backup astronaut, Ken Money, said that “in any other country she would be a full-fledged hero but in Canada we think of ourselves as rather ordinary.”

Humility is an estimable quality, but in 2022 it is time we remember that this country has a lot to be grateful for and no shortage of moments to celebrate from its past. Rather than apologizing and engaging in too many bouts of national self-flagellation, let’s use this year to take note of significant occasions from our history and celebrate them. Roberta Bondar’s stellar accomplishment is just the start. 

Canadian astronauts Ken Money and Roberta Bondar get a feel for zero-gravity during training onboard NASA’s KC135 aircraft on Dec. 18, 1984. The aircraft does a roller-coaster style ride, giving passengers the feeling of weightlessness for about 30 seconds at the top of each roll. The Canadian Press/UPC.

In April, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have the irresistible opportunity to shine a light on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which will be marking its 40th anniversary. Despite the negative publicity surrounding the use of the notwithstanding clause in Quebec and Ontario, the Charter is widely held as an important component of Canadian identity and pride among citizens. 

“Every nation needs a basic statement of what it stands for,” then-Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin said in the  2014 Brian Dickson lecture. “For Canada, the Charter was that statement. The Charter affirmed in express language the values implicit in the BNA Act of 1867—our democratic rights and our respect for difference and diversity.”

There is the added historical bonus that the 1982 document integral to this country’s sense of itself was the product of the leadership of the prime minister’s father, Pierre. This coincidence at the hands of Clio, the muse of history, will add a significant human touch to any celebration the government undertakes to celebrate this formative moment. 

Not all anniversaries in 2022 are uplifting. This year will also mark 80 years since the Raid of Dieppe in the Second World War. While the Trudeau government does not exalt the country’s military history in the same way Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s did, no one should ignore August 19, 2022, when it comes around. More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed on that day and another 2200 were taken prisoner. Mona MacTavish Gould put it well in her 1943 poem, “This Was My Brother,” writing in the first stanza:

​​This was my brother At Dieppe 

Quietly a hero 

Who gave his life 

Like a gift, 

Withholding nothing.

Justin Trudeau is well aware of the moment. At the 75th anniversary of the raid in 2017, the prime minister dramatically ended his speech by putting away his umbrella despite a thunderstorm at the National War Monument in Ottawa. 

“As we sit here in the rain, thinking how uncomfortable we must be as our suits get wet, and our hair gets wet, and our shoes get wet, I think it is all the more fitting as we remember on that day in Dieppe, the rain wasn’t rain, it was bullets. As we stand here 75 years later with this duty and act of remembrance, it is all too fitting.” 

Perhaps the most significant anniversary this year, however, involves neither the constitution nor the military, though it was a war of a different sort—and one any Canadian 56 years of age or older will likely remember: Paul Henderson’s winning goal in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series versus the Soviet Union

There will be no shortage of reminiscing when September 28 approaches, the day Henderson—with just 34 seconds remaining in the game—slid the puck past Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak while Foster Hewitt yelled that “Henderson has scored for Canada!” Some will have chills just reading that phrase. The goal, for those not around at the time, gave Canada the victory in the Cold War showdown (4-3-1), coming from behind after winning just one of the first four games on home ice. 

“The Summit Series remains one of the few athletic events that transcended Canadian sport to become part of our collective consciousness,” noted Chris Webb in the 2009 book 100 Photographs That Changed Canada. Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen even suggested it might be the greatest day in the nation’s past. 

That kind of history is political gold, and the prime minister will be wise to associate himself with it. According to a 2021 poll by Angus Reid, more than 90 percent of Canadians agree that hockey is part of our identity—and those who identified as visible minorities were just as likely to agree. All of this is in the government’s wheelhouse. 

This year has much for the Dominion to celebrate—it need only look to its past. There were achievements in science, acts of bravery in war, progress in rights, and dramatic victory in the game the country holds so dear. And if literature is your thing, you can always pick up a copy of Mordecai Richler’s greatest novel, Barney’s Version. The 1997 Giller Prize-winner marks its 25th year since publication in 2022. 

Malcolm Jolley: Five Italian white wines worth your while

Commentary

Italian Whites (Part One)

In the years before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I travelled (in real life) a fair amount professionally, mostly for wine. I travelled mostly to Europe, mostly to Mediterranean Europe, and mostly to Italy. Sometimes I travelled on my own steam, mixing a little business with tourism and pleasure. But mostly I travelled as part of a press trip, at the invitation of a consortium of wine producers from a particular recognized appellation.

Press trips are almost always busy affairs, one’s hosts want to make the most of one’s time there, and the schedules are packed from early in the morning to late at night with events like tastings, winery and vineyard visits, and organized meals. Still, there is almost always a few hours, here and there, of free time, usually in the late afternoon and early evening between the day’s itinerary and dinner. Some journalists use this time to retire to their hotel rooms to work or nap or call home, but I use them to explore wherever I am.

Wherever I am is very often in a not too big provincial town or small city, like Alba, Verona, Perugia, or Siracusa. A couple of hours is usually just enough time to walk around within the old walls, visit a church or two, and then find a caffè or bar on a piazza for a glass of wine and whatever small free snack that comes with it. The wine will always be white, crisp and refreshing.

What the wine will not likely be, even if I am in Bolzano, is Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio’s success in taking over the world of white wine by the glass is laudable, and there are beautifully made wines from it, but Italy has over 400 identified indigenous grapes, about half of which make white wine, so the wine will be something more interesting.

So, on a snowy winter day in Canada, as I surf Google Maps taking an on-screen sentimental journey to sunlit piazze, here are just a few of the delicious white wines of Italy that come to mind and keep me dreaming until it’s time for an aperitivo.

Arneis

Arneis from Piedmont, like Viognier from the Northern Rhône, was nearly rendered extinct before being revived in the 1970s and 80s. Now, nearly every Barolo and Barbaresco producer makes some, often Roero Arneis DOCG, from the eponymous and now prestigious appellation. This is good and bad from a North American consumer’s point of view. It’s good because the wine has become the region’s standard white grape, and it’s being grown made very well by accomplished vintner’s in of Italy’s fanciest wine regions. It’s bad because it’s often hard to come by, at least on retail shelves. I suspect most of it gets bought up by restauranteurs when they order their expensive Barolo and Barbarescos. With a comparably lower acidity than most Italian whites, look for notes on the core fruit spectrum (from apples to pears) and citrus.

Catarratto

Today Sicily is best known for its reds, from everyday Nero d’Avola to rarified Nero Mascelese grown the high altitudes of Mount Etna. It’s easy to forget that the island’s wine exporting history was once all about Marsala. Cattarratto was widely planted across Western Sicily to make the sweet, fortified wine. Among the grapes that are blended to make Marsala, Cattarratto has the potential for much higher yields. When tastes changed in the late twentieth century and Sicilians began making greater quantities of dry white wine, Catarratto was generally disparaged for its workhorse ubiquity, and many winemakers still prefer to tout the more aromatic native white varieties of Grillo and Inzolia. Happily, more and more producers are focussing on premium Catarratto, especially made from its “Lucido” clone, making mineral-driven, fresh, fruit-forward wines. Like Chardonnay, Catarratto can be a strong expression of any combination of terroir, viticulture, and vilification. Look for crisp, stainless steel elevated ones, with notes that range from lemony citrus, through peachy stone fruit, or even tropical fruits.

Falanghina

A fresh Falanghina reminds me of the lemon groves of Amalfi and the vibrant seafood of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Some of the best ones, though, come to the inland Sannio Valley, northeast of Naples. Like most Italian whites, Falanghina is rapidly transforming from bulk wine, of the sort that might come out of a tap at a taverna, to a fine one, as co-operatives, like La Guardiense in Sannio, move from an emphasis on quantity to quality. Grown in Campania’s volcanic soils, good Falanghina expresses a touch of saline mineralogy and fresh lemon to bitter orange citrus notes that reach out from some weightiness on the palate.

Friulano

I have never been to Friuli, and apart from a handful of tasting over the years, have only discovered Friulano by trial and error at the store or off a wine list, but I have yet to be disappointed. Friulano whites are, in my mind, the least aromatic and most fruit-forward of the wines from this very northeast corner of Italy that borders Slovenia. Still, the good ones often have a floral character to the nose and a slight almond bitter finish that sandwiches big stone fruit notes. A well made Friulano, that sings on the mid-palate, is a bit like a vinous meal unto itself, though like all Italian whites it will do nicely with a salty snack.

Trebbiano Spoletino

In gastronomic circles, the picturesque medieval hill town of Spoleto, in Umbria, three-quarters of the way from Rome to Perugia, may be best known for the quality of its locally grown and made olive oil. But in wine circles, it’s known for lending its name to a grape the locals will emphatically tell you is not to be confused with the commonplace Trebbiano Toscana. In any event, grown on only 200 hectares of vines, Trebbiano Spolentino, like Catarratto, can be made to varying styles. The ones I seek out are (of course) a little pricier, and have had some time in oak. The result can be like a rich yet fresh white Burgundy, like Meursault with enough heft to pour through multi-course lunch, with plenty of fruit to stand up to grassy, bitter, or peppery olive oil.

In Italian Whites Part 2, I will take a quick look at five more varieties: Cortese, Pecorino, Pinot Bianco, Suave, and Vermentino.