Winemaking in Ontario has been going on for well over 200 years but the wines did not always have a good reputation.
Ontario wines were made from native vitis labrusca grapes like catawba and concord which became the backbone of Ontario wine in those early days. Concord grapes are now better known for being used in jellies, jams and grape juice.
About 35 years ago a few Niagara vineyard owners planted European vitis vinifera vines and began changing the reputation of Ontario wine. Vinifera such as chardonnay, riesling, cabernet franc, merlot and pinot noir began to replace the “grapey” tasting wines made from labrusca grapes.
As the quality of Ontario wines began to improve a group of Ontario wineries created the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) to set out geographic appellations and introduce strict production standards. This system is similar to the regulatory systems in France (AOC/AOP), Spain (DO), and Italy (DOC/DOP).
The vqa logo on a bottle of Ontario indicates several things, but most importantly that 100% of the grapes used to make the wine were grown in Ontario. This past October a new and updated Ontario vqa logo was introduced.
The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario (WMAO), in partnership with Ontario’s Wine Appellation Authority (VQAO), revealed the modernized and striking “New and Next” Ontario VQA logo, the emblem used by Ontario vqa wineries as a mark of origin, quality and authenticity. The vqa logo guarantees that only Ontario-grown grapes go into every bottle of Ontario VQA wine.
“We are thrilled about the new VQA logo as it embraces Ontario’s wine growing region, climate and status as an exciting New World wine destination. It evokes a feeling of boldness and creativity, showcasing how Ontario winemakers have forged their own style. VQA Wines of Ontario are truly on the cutting edge of cool,” said Sylvia Augaitis, Executive Director of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario. “Ontario’s time to shine is now and this new contemporary vqa logo communicates confidence, building on how Ontario VQA wines continue to win international respect and acclaim. The modernized VQA logo helps convey that story to consumers.” The new logo should soon start to appear on bottles of Ontario wine.
The wine and grape sector contributes $515 million to Ontario’s gdp and supports more than 9,000 direct jobs. Grape production from almost 500 Ontario growers is used to make vqa wines, which had $374 million in sales in 2018–19.
For this issue I have selected wines from each of the three wine appellations of Ontario: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and Prince Edward County.
Flat Rock Pink Twisted Rosé 2018
Vintages #39974, $17.95
A blend of pinot noir, riesling and gewürztraminer. Slightly off dry. Juicy raspberry, red cherry and strawberry fruits, white flowers, spice and supported by intense acidity to make this a deliciously sippable rosé. Pair with a walnut raspberry or tossed salad and raspberry vinaigrette.
Reif Estate Meritage 2015
Vintages #149005, $39.95
Using “Meritage” on a bottle of Ontario wine is a protected VQA reserved term. Only VQA approved wines can use this term. Other protected terms include Icewine, Late Harvest Wine, and Estate Bottled.
A blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot and 10% cab franc, aged in French, Hungarian and American oak for 24 months. This is a big, full bodied red wine. Ripe red fruit, blackberry, and cedar. This is a wine that is best served several hours after decanting. Pair with roast lamb and grilled vegetables.
Prince Edward County
Exultet Royal Road Recipe Pinot Noir 2017
Vintages #10755, $44.95
Located in Ontario’s northernmost wine region, which has a shorter growing season, limiting the type of grapes that can be harvested. Pinot noir and chardonnay do well here and are excellent reflections of cool climate wines.
“Royal Road Recipe” is named after the road Exultet winery is located on. This is an earthy pinot noir. Dried leaves, forest floor and turned soil and fresh herbs. Red cherry fruit. Medium body, lively acidity, a style that craves food! Pair with salmon, roasted chicken or beef bourguignon.
Hillier Creek Gamay Noir 2017
Vintages #372839, $16.95
Gamay has long been flying under the radar here in Ontario, and is another grape that excels in cooler climates. Hillier Creek’s gamay is fresh, lively finish with mouth-watering cherry and strawberry notes. Light bodied and off dry with 33 g/L. Pair with meat and cheese charcuterie plates.
Lake Erie North Shore
Cooper’s Hawk Reserve Cabernet/Merlot 2015
LCBO #328013, $18.95
A blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes from vineyards located in Canada’s most southern wine growing region. The warm 2015 summer provided the roadmap to full grape ripeness. Plum and red fruits, fine structure, tannins and acidity. Pair with tagliatelle pasta with Bolognese sauce.
Cooper’s Hawk Cabernet Franc 2017
LCBO #585950, $19.95
Without question cab franc is a grape that produces some of Ontario’s finest red wines. This one delivers. Ruby colour, red and black fruits, light spice notes, with a silky lingering finish. Pair with roasted pork, burgers or meatballs in tomato sauce.