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Take Ontario Home with Our Top 5 Wines

August 13, 2017

By Erin

Walking down Toronto’s busy streets, I like to note how many foreign license plates roll by: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio … Florida(!). And that’s just the people who drive here. Pay attention (some might call that eavesdrop, but whatever) to the conversations buzzing at a downtown coffee shop or restaurant and it’s a symphony of languages, accents and dialects.

It’s neat to think I’m sitting two feet away (well, let’s be real: in a hipster Toronto resto, more like 5 inches away), from someone who may have started their day in another country.

I’m lucky enough to get away a few times a year and discover thriving cities around the globe: Madrid, Rome, San Francisco, Munich … every place I fall in love with the food, drink, people, the energy of the city. I recreate my experiences back home, cooking the meals and drinking the drinks that make a particular city so unique and enticing.

I’ll skip the t-shirt and postcards, and instead blow my budget and fill my suitcase with interesting wines, unique spirits and tasty foods (dutifully declaring it all, of course).

I suspect I’m not the only traveller who does this. And, if I was a betting girl, I’d wager visitors to Toronto and Ontario are doing the same.

From the conversations I’ve had with tourists, many are surprised to find Ontario has a thriving, bustling wine industry making world class wines of grace and class – that are just downright tasty. Not everyone can make it out to our wine growing regions of Niagara, Prince Edward County or Lake Erie North Shore, but luckily, no matter what city you’re in, you can grab something local to take home with you from the LCBO.

As I wrote in my book, “Lake Ontario Uncorked: Wine County Road Trips from Niagara Peninsula to Prince Edward County” Ontario produces dozens of different wines, in many different styles. However, I think five varietals have really surged to the head of the class: ¬†Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. And while Icewine may be the style we’re most known for around the world, our traditional method sparklings are not to be missed.


For the last six years, Niagara has hosted the annual I4C – the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. An event, as you might expect, that celebrates Chardonnay grown in cooler climates around the world. Dozens of wineries from around the world including France, New Zealand, America, and, of course, Canada come out to celebrate these crisp, focused and bright Chardonnays.

In Niagara, Henry of Pelham, one of the region’s pioneering wineries, excels at a rich yet focused Chard that’s a perfect pairing for everything from lobster to Sunday’s roast chicken.


Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay, VQA Short hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula 2015 $19.95


Riesling is a true calling card of Ontario – with our limestone soils and cool climate, we’re ideally situated to produce crisp, fresh Rieslings that are full of verve and energy. Norm Hardie, the rockstar of Prince Edward County, produces a delicious and vibrant version that bursts with mouthwatering lime and slate notes.


Norman Hardie Riesling, VQA Ontario 2016 $21

Pinot Noir

Whether it’s our mineral laced soils, temperate climate or spectacular vineyard sites, Ontario makes world class Pinot that has winos-in-the-know going gaga for our fresh, focused, and streamlined Pinot Noir. But luckily for you, you don’t have to be a swirling, sniffing sommelier to know when you’ve got the good stuff in your glass. Domaine Queylus is a relatively newer winery in Niagara that’s dedicated to producing top-quality, Burgundian-inspired wines. With Burgundian specialist winemaker Thomas Bachelder at the helm, who also has projects in Burgundy and Oregon, Queylus’ wines are contemplative and complex, and totally yummy.


Domaine Queylus ‘Tradition” Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula 2013 $29.95


Gamay is having a bit of a moment right now. But just a bit, a many still have yet to discover this enchanting red grape (which is the main grape of Beaujolais). It can be fruity and fun, or produce more spicy, age-worthy, serious examples, and I tend to prefer the latter. No matter what your style, with Gamay’s high acidity and low tannin, this is a perfect food wine – brilliant with everything from grilled salmon to roast ham.13th Street in Niagara has been making intriguing Gamay since the start, focusing on peppery, meaty examples that offer weight and punch.


13th Street Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula 2015 $19.95

Cabernet Franc

I absolutely love this grape, so you can imaging how much I enjoy the fact that it’s made just hours from my Toronto home. Rich and elegant with dark fruit and herbal notes, it’s ancestral home is Bordeaux, but Ontario does magical things with it as well. Tawse is an organic winery that concentrates on showing the terroir, the place where the wine is made, in every wine. While they make exceptional examples from their wide ranging portfolio, I’ve always had a soft spot for their premium Cab Francs.


Tawse “Grower’s Blend” Cabernet Franc, VQA Niagara Peninsula 2013 $28.30