In the spirit of Canada's 150th Birthday this year, I thought I would shed some light on our amazing and diverse home grown wine talents. I find Canadian's in general under appreciate our wine almost to the point that we are afraid to be too proud of our accomplishments. It may be a Canadian trait not to be too proud or brag too much....but darn it, be proud and wave those bottles!
This post is going to focus on our very own province of Ontario. There are three main wine appellations and they are;
1. Prince Edward County
2. Niagara Peninsula
3. Lake Erie North Shore
Watch this: VQA Wines of Ontario
Ontario wine is considered "cool climate", and not because of our cool jazz festivals. Our climate, although hot and muggy at times in the summer, is relatively cool compared to say the Rhone Valley in France, Napa valley in California or Barossa Valley in Australia. Our winemakers therefor grow grapes that are accustomed to cooler climates like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc to name just a few. I would say a good amount of producers in Ontario tend to focus on Chardonnay for white and Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc for red. While you will find a plethora of other grapes from sweet Ice Wine made from Vidal to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon we tend to focus on what works best. On the international side of things, Ice Wine is what we are most famous for. In Japan, China, South Korea etc people know us for our Whisky and Ice Wine. My thoughts on that though is.... "Have you had our Chardonnay?"
We know Ontario is "cool", we know the main grapes, what about it's different wine makers? Take Prince Edward County and "Norman Hardie".....the somewhat unofficial yet official face of PEC. Norman Hardie specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which are pretty well respected. If you make it there check out the pizza made in a stone oven on sight! Fun fact, did you know PEC is the coldest wine growing region in the world? It gets so cold in winter that the grape growers have to bury the vines under earth in order to survive the harsh cold winter. Wine from PEC has a very unique character to them and some would describe it as almost a "Match-stick like" or "PEC Funk". This comes from the terroir of PEC which is often described similar to Burgundy, France. One of my favourite wineries in PEC is Closson Chase which specialize in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I also like Hinterland, which only do sparkling wine. Hinterland's logo is a deer head with antlers...if this isn't our very own Canadian "Champagne" i'm not sure what is. PEC is a Canadian success story which is only just beginning that will help put Canada on the world wine map.
In Niagara you may know some of the big wineries such as Jackson Triggs, Chateau Des Charms, Trius, Inniskillen etc. Have you had a bottle of Stratus Red or Thirty Bench Reisling or Flatrock Pinot Noir? There are a bunch of smaller to medium sized producers that make some pretty killer wine. It's just over an hours drive from Toronto and you can sip all day (ensure you have a designated driver) and be back in the city home for a late dinner...minus the traffic. Fun fact, Niagara is the largest wine making region in the country. There are bicycle tours, cute hotels, even cuter B&B's, amazing restaurants with a real focus on local produce and more than enough activities to keep you busy for a few days. I love Niagara because if you want a $95 Cabernet Franc from a winery like Stratus in a designer bottle to an awesome chardonnay for $14.95 you can find wine to match your budget. Every summer Niagara hosts a "International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration" which draws plenty of cool climate chardonnay wine makers and even more cool climate chardonnay lovers into one weekend of all things cool chardonnay! Check it out http://www.coolchardonnay.org
One of my favourite and practically unheard of wine regions is Lake Erie North Shore. This area has some of the hottest weather in Ontario so the chance to grow cabernet sauvignon and bigger wines is very possible. Check out Viewpoint Cabernet/Merlot 2010, this wine will make you think you are sipping a big California red with a Canadian touch, of course. We all have a friend who has said "I don't like Ontario Red", in this case point them to Lake Erie North Shore for the biggest full body red's we have. I understand why it's so undiscovered, when I hear the words "Lake Erie" I don't usually think of wine either. The benefit of trying some wine from here is that because not many people are familiar with this area, you get a very good quality/price ratio per bottle! One interesting part of Lake Erie North Shore is Peele Island which is Canada's most southern land mass. Yes, literally a "wine island" you can take a ferry to, which will satisfy all of your wine thirst and make you wish you were "cast away".
Take a weekend trip to Prince Edward County, Niagara or Peele Island and enjoy all of the splendour our province has to offer. If you can't get away, why not try a Ontario wine this summer with friends on the patio. You may be pleasantly surprised that "Good things grow in Ontario".