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Ontario Wines: Why You Should Give Them a Try!

After visiting a few wineries this weekend, and then attending the Somewhereness wine tasting hosted by Wine Align, I felt inspired to write about why our Ontario winemakers deserve some love and credit for the fabulous wines being produced in our own backyard.

About 10 years ago, I would have not given you this advice, it seemed as though the wine industry in Ontario was trying to be everything to everyone- growing grape varietals that just didn’t thrive in our climate, and pushing ice wine as their trademark wine style that left people scratching their heads and wondering what to do with this syrupy lusciously sweet dessert wine- often gifting bottles to people on special occasions (don’t get me wrong it has its place). But in the last 10 years, winemakers in Ontario have truly found their identities and learned what their strengths and weaknesses are- kind of like an adolescent growing into their adult life and maturing.

Unfortunately, the generation before me (yes my parents generation) tends to have the same outlook on wine made in Ontario, and shy away from buying wines from their own backyard. Which is astounding to me, because when you visit cultures around the world in wine regions- most only drink what they find in their own backyard, to the point where the grape varietal isn’t even on the label, because the expectation is that "you should just know" what kind of grape is in the wine. We don’t have the same loyalty or appreciation for our Ontario wines (although this is improving- especially with the events like Somewhereness), and I would love to change that! So, let’s give our Ontario producers some love, give these wines a try- you will truly be pleasantly surprised!

Varietals that Grow Well in our Climate

The wine industry in Ontario has, for the most part, given up on trying to grow warm to hot climate grape varietals and bottling what usually tasted like tobacco, tar and a whole lot of green pepper- this is the main tasting note of a cab sauv. grape when grown in a cool climate- this grape varietal needs a lot of sun and warmth to ripen and create that juicy red and black fruit character California is so great at producing.

So, stop looking for what other people can grow in the warm, hot, long summers. Instead, look for grape varietals that grow really well in our cooler climates- these include Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, Cab Franc, and Pinot Noir. These grape varietals are grown in cool climates all over the world- Oregon, Burgundy, Germany and some cooler areas of California, etc.

Ontario wine producers are making some excellent wines with these grapes. I urge you to go out and get a bottle. Some of my favourite producers: Tawse, Norm Hardie, Westcott, Flat Rock Cellars, Kew Vineyards, Hidden Bench, 13th Street (to name a few).

You Get What You Pay For

It’s important to keep this in mind when buying wine- even from your own backyard! I have run into many people who think because the wine is from Ontario, it should be “cheaper” and they end up buying a $10.00 bottle of wine that isn’t so great, and casting an all-out assumption that all wines from Ontario are the same quality. This is simply untrue, and like anything in life- you get what you pay for.

Many of our winemakers are handpicking their grapes, dealing with May frosts (after bud burst has happened), and trying to stop the use of any pesticides on their crops. Not to mention ageing wine and storing it before it is sold; using winemaking styles like appassimento method to give us full-bodied reds; or, hand riddling sparkling wine. This means that the cost to produce a quality bottle of wine costs more money. If you care about what you put in your body and are conscious of where food comes from, how it is grown and treated, your consciousness shouldn’t end at the grocery store- it should extend to your LCBO visit.

Don’t believe me? Buy a $10 bottle of wine from Italy, France or California; the quality of that wine isn’t going to be that great. So why do we have a double standard for our local producers? Instead, spend a little more, (there are so many great bottles of wine for under $30.00) and enjoy some quality in your glass.

Don’t Compare Apples to Oranges

This has a lot to do with what grape varietals we grow as I mentioned. You can’t compare a juicy red, full-bodied California Cab Sauv to a medium bodied, fresh Pinot Noir from Ontario. There is nothing the same about these wines- it would be like comparing an apple to an orange. Winemakers in Ontario are embracing typicity of the climate and creating some amazing wines, if you want to compare, look at comparing a few Pinot Noirs or Chardonnays from different wineries, or different vintages, to determine what your preferences are when it comes to Ontario wines. But please don’t expect all wines to have lots of red and black fruit and have 10 g/L of residual sugar. It is an unfair expectation to have when embracing the wines we can produce here.

Sparkling Wines are a hidden Gem from Ontario We have a cool climate- that means we can grow the key grapes in Champagne- Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Many Ontario winemakers have started making sparkling wine using the same method as how Champagne is made. It is creamy, and buttery, with lemons, apples and bright acidity. Any time I am asked to recommend some “champagne” for a special occasion, I am drawn to some high quality Ontario sparkling. It is special, and made with extreme care; many would not believe you if you told them the wine is from our own backyard.

Mass Producers are everywhere

In every winemaking region around the world, there are wineries that focus on volume, and a snappy marketing campaign that draws your attention with a name or a cute label, and those that have more focus on quality and process, and don’t have the budget to spend on the frills. It is no different in Ontario. Many of our smaller wineries aren’t always found in the LCBO- with the minimum number of cases that need to be produced-which makes it difficult to meet. But the silver lining is that many of our wineries will ship to your home, and, if you live in the GTA, a visit is just a short car ride away!

So, next time you are cooking a burger on the BBQ, try a Gamay from an Ontario winemaker. Celebrating a wedding or special occasion? Reach for a sparkling wine from your own backyard. Looking to pair a wine with grilled salmon, reach for a chardonnay from the Beamsville Bench, support local, and enjoy!

If you want to learn more about Ontario wine, why not host a wine event? Pick some friends and let's get together and drink some wine! Contact me, and follow me on Instagram @NewAgeNonna.

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