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Five ways we love Ontario wines

July 19, 2017

By Dick Snyder

This is an extended version of a blog originally posted at wine delivery company kwaf.ca — our pals who deliver the best wines right to your door. And since I’ve got more to say, here’s the 2.0 version. Hope you enjoy!

At the Vancouver International Wine Festival this past February, Canadian wines were the starring attraction. And for good reason. Our wines are getting more and more attention on the international stage, with major international wine reviews such as Oz Clarke and Jancis Robinson bestowing high praise on our wines. At the VIWF, wines from Nova Scotia made a huge splash too. Bet you didn’t know they make wine on the east coast. Well, they do, and they are terrific — especially the sparkling wines and bright, fruity whites.

In Toronto, it’s gratifying to see more bars and restaurants proudly serving Canadian and Ontario wines — especially when you can sample by-the-glass and get a wider exposure to the variety of styles. Here are some suggestions of wines to look for and why.

Cooler than cool
Why? Our wines were cool-climate way before it was hip to be chill. What does cool climate mean? Well, the short answer is that cool climate wines come from places with greater temperature variations, which usually means cooler weather as the grapes ripen (think: lovely sun-drenched fall days that grow quite chilly overnight). Cool climate regions include Northern France and Italy, Germany, Chile, Oregon and New Zealand (to name a few). Basically, Canada is perfectly poised — we’re pretty much on the same parallel as Burgundy, for instance — to make great wine. And with crisp, lively and brightly fruity white wines leading the charge, our Chards and Rieslings kill it at tastings around the world.

What to look for: Crisp white wines (and some cool fruity reds too) from Norman Hardie, Henry of Pelham, Stratus, Rosehall Run, Adamo and Pearl Morissette.

Dark & delicious
Why? Used to be a time when folks would say we couldn’t make “big reds” in Ontario. That time is way past. Folks don’t talk that way in these parts no more! But given our cool climate, it’s not always that easy to ripen the “big red” grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. In Ontario, the warmer areas of Niagara can do it, so look for wines from Niagara-on-the-Lake and some of the warmer areas of the Bench.

What to look for: Big juicy Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and some Cab Sauv) from Domaine Queylus, Chateau des Charmes, Stratus, Two Sisters, Hidden Bench, Bachelder, Malivoire, Creekside (who also make a nice Syrah). The Old Third in Prince Edward County make a tremendous Cabernet Franc, in tiny quantities.

Think pink
Why? Rose is really the most versatile of wines. It’s great all on its own. It’s great with just about all kinds of food, from raw seafood to roast meats. You can find rosés that are more full bodied and some even have tannins. Though we embrace our short summers with plenty of rosé we also like to drink it year-round (for a shot of summer in the dead of winter). In Ontario, our best come from Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cab Franc in styles ranging from dry and food-friendly à la Provence to rich and fruity à la California. (But always uniquely Canadian, eh?) We recommend that you experiment and try as many rosés as you can — right now there are tons of them on the shelves at the LCBO. Find some styles that you like, and stock up (winter’s coming fast…)

What to look for: Malivoire, Stratus and Henry of Pelham make more than one style of rosé, so you can have fun trying them all out. Good rosés also come from Creekside, Hidden Bench and Rosehall Run.

Sparkle & shine
Why? We don’t need to import Champagne anymore. We make bubbles just as good in Ontario, B.C. and Nova Scotia. And in a lot of cases, better and cheaper. (But they aren’t all cheap… you can pay $45 to $85 for Canadian sparkling wine if you want to, and they are outstanding). For the cost-conscious, it’s easy to find spectacular sparkling wines under $30 for our friends below. Remember: civilized people always have bubbles on hand.

What to look for: Blanc de Blancs (that is, made from Chardonnay) from Hinterland, Henry of Pelham, Kew and Benjamin Bridge in N.S. (gotta give a shout out to our East Coast friends) and Flat Rock Cellars. Most of these wineries also make sparklers from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir too. If you see any sparkling rosés, grab them!

Sweets for the sweet
Why? Icewine… we may not have invented in, but we sure as hell perfected it. And it’s not all crazy sweet; recently some wineries are toning down the sugar to make more crisp and delicate icewines. They truly are a Canadian gem, and shouldn’t relegated to the special occasion fridge. Drink them often, on their own or with a lightly sweet dessert. Foie gras is considered the perfect pairing.

What to look for: Perennial award-winners come from Peller, Stratus, Inniskillin, Henry of Pelham, Angel’s Gate, Konzelmann and Thirty Bench.