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Ontario Wine

Food & Wine

Taste Ontario

May 13, 2018

I know, it’s been a while since the last post. Life is busy and I’m juggling way too many things, so the blog has taken a hit in terms of updates. I’m super lucky that awesome people like Bill Wittur are still providing great guest posts – like the one below on the recent Taste Ontario event.

Want to taste some great Ontario wine after reading this? Shawn and I are checking out the annual Sip & Sizzle event in Niagara on the Lake next weekend and you still have time to get in on this great event, which runs every weekend in May. We love exploring this beautiful area of Ontario while stopping in at participating wineries to try a sample wine and food pairing. You can learn more (and buy tickets – including designated driver passes) on the Wineries of Niagara website. I’ll be live tweeting our adventures on Saturday, May 19 so be sure to follow along to get our tips on the best pairings.

And now, over to Bill!

Taste Ontario Notes and Recommendations

Early in the new year, the folks with Wines of Ontario bring out their newest releases and vintages and this year I had the pleasure of attending the Taste Ontario trade tasting.

Nearly 50 of Ontario’s best VQA producers were on hand at the Royal Ontario Museum to present some of their latest products and vintages.  Most of these wines are either sold directly to the consumer at the winery or, in some cases, are only available for licensees and restaurant owners to sell to their guests.

I’ve done my best to focus on those available to consumers, and will make a note if something is available only at restaurants or the winery (and, if possible, which locations so you can try these wines as well).

Here’s a quick review of some of my favourites. All are recommended buys.

13th Street

13th Street Winery is celebrating its 20th year of operation in 2018 and their wines are definitely worth trying if you want to expand your range of Ontario selections. They produce most of their wines from the 40 acres of property owned just west of St. Catharines in Niagara, but occasionally source small lots of grapes from other local producers. Many of their products are available at the LCBO, but you can also participate in their Wine Club programs, including the popular ‘Cellar Door’ and ‘Staff Pick’ options.

Premier Cuvée 2012 – If you’re looking for a great ‘celebration’ wine, look no further.  This sparkling wine spent a minimum 4 years on lees, or ‘sur lattes’ as the French say. In the case of the 13th Street Cuvée, the dosage added was only dry wine (i.e. no extra sugar), resulting in a very dry, but bright finished wine. Of note is that the final nose delivers very slight ‘bready’ or ‘toasty’ notes compared to other sparkling wines. I enjoyed this feature, as I feel it would match better with a broader range of food on account of the tense acidity coupled with hints of lemon and tart apple. The wine is 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. It can be ordered directly from 13th Street at a retail price of $34.95 per bottle ($29.34+HST licensee).

Meldville Wines

Meldville Wines is the relatively new project of one of Ontario’s great winemakers, Derek Barnett. Derek helped build the range of products and boost the level of quality with Lailey Wines. He currently balances winemaking duties at Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County and at his own venture, Meldville Wines.

Chardonnay 2016 – 2016 was a tough year for a lot of white wine producers in Ontario, as it was very hot. While most of us were out playing in the water or catching up on our vitamin D, wine growers had to take measures to try to prevent their vines from shutting down from heat exhaustion. Despite this, Meldville’s Chardonnay is a delight. The grapes were sourced from Lincoln Lakeshore, which managed to dodge the more intense heat of 2016. The Chard is 100% barrel fermented in older, 100% French oak barrels. This yields a very subtle oak finish on the wine, but nothing like the exaggerated style you get from mass-produced wines. The colour is a light yellow with a delicious, balanced finish. Aromas deliver notes of stone fruit (peach, apricot) with flavours of citrus and a hint of cream and toffee. The wine is available as a direct order product from the Meldville’s partner site and costs $20.00 per bottle ($16.89+HST licensee). It can also be found at Maple Leaf Tavern and Victor Restaurant at Hotel Le Germain (although that list is quickly growing).

Fielding Estate Winery

Fielding Estate Winery is located on the Beamsville Bench in Niagara. On several occasions, the winery was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 10 wine producers.

Brut Traditional Method Sparkling – Traditional method sparkling wine is made using the same process as Champagne. There’s what’s called a ‘dosage’ or ‘cap’ of yeast and sugar that are aged with the wine product. This addition to the wine is what creates the bubbles in sparkling wine, much like how yeast and sugar create air pockets in bread. The Fielding sparkling wine is made up of Chardonnay (63%) and Pinot Noir (37%). The result of this blend is a bright and fresh wine with notes of citrus and apple. The bubbles are fine and the finish is very clean and light. The wine retails for $37.15 / bottle ($31.20+HST licensee) and can be ordered directly via Fielding’s website.

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

The Chestnut Tree Cabernet Franc 2015 – Initial notes are typical for Cabernet Franc wines: dark red, smoke and hints of green pepper on the nose. On tasting this smooth and elegant wine, I got hints of coffee / cocoa. The acidity is controlled and moderate and the mouth feel is a medium body wine that will go great now with foods with just a hint of spice or seasoning (e.g. roasted chicken, sausage, burgers). Expect this to improve over the course of 2-3 years. Retail price is $34.95 / bottle and the licensee price is $29.34+deposit and HST. Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery has a wine club program and orders can be placed direct by visiting their order page.

Reif Estate Winery

Reif Estate Winery is a splendid ‘pit stop’ between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Their first vines were planted in 1977, making them some of Ontario’s oldest.  The property has grown to more than 125 acres of different varietals.

Chenin Blanc 2016 – 2016 was a challenging year from Ontario producers because many experienced very hot conditions for white grapes. This did not have a negative impact on the 2016 Chenin Blanc from Reif, where the finished product is a shimmering silver-white wine with a hint of residual sugar and balanced acidity and mouth-feel. If someone asks for a ‘summer sipper’, this wine would definitely fit that bill! The Chenin Blanc retails for $19.15 per bottle ($16.75+HST licensee) and is available via Reif’s website.

Chardonnay Reserve 2014 – This is a delicious, balanced Chardonnay that was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, delivering subtle notes of butter cream, apple and baking spice.The retail price is $22.15 per bottle ($19.40+HST licensee) and again is available via Reif’s direct order wine club.

A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for his reviews of this year’s Taste Ontario event! Learn more about Bill on his website: BillWittur.com

Find out Krista’s Top 5 Ontario Wine Destinations!

Featured, Wine Travel

Top 5 Ontario Wine Destinations

January 9, 2018
Niagara in winter

In our wine travels, Shawn and I have had the pleasure of visiting so many of Ontario’s best wine regions. We often get asked to suggest our favourites, so here is a brief overview of where we think you should go for an Ontario wine adventure.

Twenty Valley

Angel's Gate WineryWhen friends ask us what wineries to visit in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we often suggest the Twenty Valley area as an alternative. Most of our favourite wineries are found in this cluster of beautiful vineyards just a short drive from Niagara-on-the-Lake and it tends to be a little less touristy than the better known region. Plus, the area is just stunning. Visit Vineland Estates to take home some wine and stop into their excellent cheese shop, pop into Megalomanic for a bottle of Bubblehead and take in the extraordinary view, head over to Tawse to check out some of the best made wines in Canada and then cap it off with a wine and art adventure at 13th Street Winery. Add on to that visit stops at Creekside Estate Winery, Westcott Winery and Fielding Estate and you have a pretty fantastic day of tasting ahead of you – to be honest, there are so many amazing wineries in this region that it’s a great idea to book yourself into one of the area’s many bed and breakfasts so you can enjoy them all.

Norfolk, Ontario

Norfolk County

If you follow me on social media, you know about my love for Norfolk County. It’s a beautiful area that’s earned its name as Ontario’s Garden. Shawn and I had one of our most magical wine adventures when we were invited to take on a Zip ‘n’ Sip experience at Burning Kiln Winery and Long Point Eco Adventures. Spending a night in their gorgeous glamping campgrounds, checking out the stars in the observatory, enjoying lunch on the Burning Kiln patio and taking a zip line tour through the beautiful forest were just a few of the many, many highlights of our visit. Add in a stop at Blueberry Hill for some of their delicious cider (and fresh blueberries in season) and a stop at Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm and you have the makings of one of your most memorable weekends away.

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Chateau des CharmesYou knew we’d be including this one, right? One of our favourite things to do in NOTL is to visit during one of the many wine festivals and pick up a tasting pass. Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake tasting passes are an excellent value – offering a wine and food pairing at all of the participating wineries – and they’re a great investment for a weekend visit (I highly recommend getting a designated driver pass if you are taking your vehicle). We recently visited for the Sip ‘n’ Sizzle event, as well as Taste the Season and we can’t wait to return for the annual Icewine Festival. Our favourite stops always include Chateau des Charmes, Ravine Vineyards, Two Sisters, Stratus, and the Niagara College Teaching Winery. Although, to be fair, we often choose our routes based on the pairings offered and that has led to some fantastic discoveries along the way!

Prince Edward County

Angeline's InnShawn and I love PEC so much that we almost bought a house there. What stopped us was the influx of tourists that have taken over this spot since we discovered it years ago. Now it can be hard to get a reservation at our favourite inns and restaurants, but the region is no less lovely to visit (just be prepared to plan way ahead). From Lighthall Vineyards to Huff Estates and everywhere in between, there is no shortage of great wine (and now beer) in the County. You can enjoy great shopping in each of the small town’s that make up the area and create a map that will help you get from Rosehall Run to Hubb’s Creek and out to Three Dog Winery on an excellent Ontario wine adventure.

Lake Erie North Shore

Oxley Estate WineryWant to hit an Ontario wine region a little further afield from Toronto? The LENS region might be perfect for you! It’s a beautiful, scenic area with lots to see and do. Shawn and I stayed at The Iron Kettle Inn in Comber, Ontario and absolutely loved it (you might recognize chef and owner, Benjamin Leblanc-Beaudoin, from his stint on Chopped Canada) and we had a fantastic time exploring the local wineries – Oxley Estate has a beautiful patio for lunch, as does Viewpointe Estates and the Wolfhead Distillery has great food *and* fantastic spirits. There’s also lots to see and do in the small towns and cities that make up this area. We can’t wait to go back again.

What are your favourite wine regions in the province? Is there anywhere you think we should check out? Share your suggestions with us in the comments below or on social!

Holiday Cheer

Holiday Wine Time

December 10, 2017

So you need a wine for that holiday event – from entry-level to totally unexpected, these four are options worth considering.

Chateau des Charmes 2016 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
Chateau des Charmes is a favourite of ours and I often recommend their wines to friends who are new to Ontario wine – they consistently deliver at a reasonable price point. This Chardonnay has notes of pineapple, peach and mango on the nose and creamy pineapple and apricot notes on the palate. Such an enjoyable wine with or without food.

Donna Paula 2015 Estate Malbec
Trying to find a food-friendly red that everyone can agree on? This Donna Paula 2015 Estate Malbec is a great choice for an earthy meal featuring mushrooms or black olives. It’s got damp earth, fig and black olive on the nose and a savouriness on the palate that’s cut through with notes of plum and dark cherry. Shawn and I both gave this one the nod of approval.

Sperling Vineyards Brut Sparkling
Tart and pretty with loads of green apple, this B.C. sipper is a great option for your holiday party guests—especially if they include wine nerds like me. Made with great care by this family-run operation, Sperling wines are very terroir driven and drinking this lovely sparkler reminds you of beautiful Okanagan Valley vistas.

Ferox 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
I love this wine. It’s expensive, but it’s unique and fantastic – there’s tropical fruit, mango and melon on the nose and it’s much creamier than I expected. It’s an elegant wine with pineapple, mango and peach on the palate – very different than any other Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted (even from Ontario) and I can’t wait to have it again.

 

 

Food & Wine

Bubbles Make Everything Better

October 9, 2017

I was recently asked if I had to choose one type of wine to drink exclusively for the rest of my life—my desert island wine—what it would be. It was a tough question, but my head and my heart kept going back to one thing—Champagne. Not sparkling wine or Prosecco or Cava (although I enjoy all of them in the right circumstances), but the beautiful bubbles that only one region in France can truly perfect. Champagne has always tugged at my heart and on a desert island it would pair well with a diet of fish and mango, wouldn’t it?

Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut ChampagneOn my recent trip to Spain I drank quite a lot of Champagne. Starting an evening with a glass of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne or their delicious Rosé Champagne was a decadent treat and a perfect way to kick off an evening of Spanish tapas and the bold Tempranillos of Campo Viejo (our hosts for the trip). Sitting in my hotel lobby chatting with new friends and enjoying the nuanced flavours and aromas and the delightful fizziness of well-made bubbles, it’s hard to imagine anything more perfect.

That may be why I found the sparkling wine tasting I attended a few days after my return from Spain a bit anti-climactic. Not that I expected bubbles on the level of the PJ I enjoyed on my trip, but so much of what was on hand was underwhelming. When done well, sparkling wines can be transformative—and they can transform food into an exciting and unique experience. But so many I tasted that evening were overly sweet or dry but lacklustre or overly acidic. Some were, frankly, just unpleasant.

But I hate being *that* wine writer, the one that complains about the cheap sparkling wine after spending a week drinking wines that retail for $70+ at the LCBO (and for good reason, since Champagne is painstaking to make) and there were some standouts at the tasting, so let’s talk about those:

Four sparkling winesPiper-Heidsieck Champagne Cuvée Brut – OK, so I just talked about reasonably-priced wines and I’m starting with one that retails for $50+, but hear me out – it’s delicious. There’s tart fruit on the nose, the wine is balanced and flavourful and for a celebration (or a night when you just want Champagne), this is a good option.

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Rosé Brut – This long-time favourite of mine continues to stand up. It’s well-made and so drinkable. I love the hints of raspberry and apple on the palate and how balanced it is. This is a go-to in our house for celebrations and movie nights when you just want something perfect to pair with popcorn or potato chips (yes, we’re those people).

Labouré-Gontard Cremant de Bourgogne Brut – If you’re looking for a less-expensive, but still dependable sparkling wine, Cremant do Bourgogne often works well and this is a great example of that. With citrus and brioche on the nose, this pleasant, dry sipper had a nice balance of fruit and acidity on the palate.

Jackson Triggs Entourage – This was an unexpected find for me, as I’m not always drawn to JT wines. But the Entourage surprised me with its ripe summer fruit notes and hints of sweetness that were refreshing. Reasonably priced, this is a good option for patios or parties.

Ulysse Collin Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Les Pierrieres Another stand-out I tried in Spain was the Ulysse Collin Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Les Pierrieres Champagne, which we discovered at a lovely little boutique wine shop and enjoyed on the last evening of our trip as we wound down from a decadent and somewhat overwhelming meal. It was a wonderful experience to try such a unique Champagne from one of the region’s more avant garde producers and I wish I’d been more awake (in my defense, it was 2 a.m.). Any chance to try a wine from one of the more experimental winemakers in the region is quite intriguing. I know I enjoyed my glass immensely and it gave me much to ponder, as it held so many of the characteristics I love about Champagne, but had an almost earthy quality counterbalanced with pronounced acidity that was delightful and unique. I hope to have the opportunity to taste more of this producer in the future.

What are your favourite bubbles? Are you all about Champagne too or do you prefer something sweeter? Maybe you love dry Ontario sparklers or go crazy for a good Cava? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social!