Whites, reds, still, bubbly, sweet - all balanced by a refreshing cool climate freshness - Ontario’s appellations have it all
Ontario is fortunate to be able to grow many widely recognized wine grapes, and there are widespread plantings of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet varieties and Pinot Noir. The local conditions support great strength in varieties that are traditionally grown in moderate climates and set the stage for balanced, complex and elegant wines. Ontario has a thriving wine and food culture that supports a great diversity of wines and food from all over the world. Within this global culture, local wines occupy a special place, both as the perfect match for local food and with great affinity for all those cuisines that come together in Ontario.
Local Flavour, Local Identity:
Topography, climate and the physical properties of soil, such as drainage, composition and even the degree of light reflection, are defining features of a unique terrior that have significant impact on grape quality. This impact extends to the quality and characteristics of all foods grown in a specific region. Inherently complementing one another, regional food and wine often makes for perfect pairing, showcasing all that is distinct in a terroir.
The majority of all wines produced in Ontario are dry table wines. As a cool climate region, the wines present a fruit character that is expressive of the particular grape variety but also show an elegance in structure that comes from the balanced acidity and minerality that shines through. These wines often exhibit more complexity and nuance that wine grown in warmer climates where the fruit character can dominate.
Dry wines are made from over 40 grape varieties, with production split approximately 60% to white wine varieties and 40% to red varieties. The most common varietal wines made (those where the varieties appear on the label) are Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Other white grape varieties of note are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Vidal Blanc while reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Syrah (also known as Shiraz) and Baco Noir. Baco Noir and Vidal Blanc are unique varieties, developed in North America and two of only eight such hybridized varieties allowed for production within the Ontario appellation system. Both have proven to produce fine wines, and in the case of Vidal, exceptional Icewine.
Ontario Icewines are iconic sweet wines around the world. Beginning in 1989, when an Ontario Icewine won top honours at a prestigious French wine competition, Ontario rapidly became a world leader in Icewine. Icewines are unique in that they are made from highly concentrated juice that is pressed from grapes that have been left on the vine well into winter. Once they are frozen solid, at -8 ° Celsius or colder, the grapes are pressed to give up a sweet concentrated juice. The resulting wine is sweet but balanced by a natural acidity that makes Icewine an opulent sweet wine but not cloying. Although Ontario is not unique in producing Icewines, it is the only major wine region that has the climate to allow the production of Icewine almost every vintage.
Icewines exhibit aromas and flavour of succulent ripe tropical fruits, exotic spices and are sweet and full on the palate with a nice balancing acidity. Icewine is enjoyed year round as an accompaniment to rich foods such as blue cheeses or foie gras, or with fruit desserts – or just by itself. It is also a premium ingredient that is used to enhance foods, both savoury and sweet, and to add to a wide range of trendy cocktails.
Similar in character to Icewines, but with less pronounced sweetness and intensity, Late Harvest wines are made from grapes harvested after the regular fall harvest but before Icewine harvest. They range from Special Select Late Harvest (sweet and almost like Icewine) to Select Late Harvest to Late Harvest (usually just sweeter than an off-dry or medium table wine).
Dry Sparkling Wines, made in the traditional way with fermentation in the bottle, are emerging as a significant strength for Ontario’s appellations. The cool climate conditions are eminently suitable to produce flavourful but not too ripe grapes early in the season and the traditional varieties – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – thrive in all of the appellations. Production of dry sparkling wines is on the rise and their character is usually comparable to the international classic, with refined biscuit and yeasty aromas and palate cleansing bubbles. Ontario also has created a very unique sparkling wine called Icewine Dosage, where a dry crisp traditional sparkler is topped up with a small dosage of Icewine, resulting in a barely sweet wine, with just a hint of the unmistakable Icewine character.