Backyard Bounty

Of course it's not news that we should buy local, especially during this time when so many businesses are hurting. I've always been a big fan of Ontario wines and so I admonish myself for not writing this piece earlier! But as I seem to be fond of saying in these days, when time seems somewhat nebulous: better late than never.

You can of course get many Ontario wines from the LCBO, but it has been my experience that the better way to discover Ontario is to go to the wineries, as many of the best wines they have to offer never find their way to LCBO shelves. While visiting a winery is not possible at the moment, many wineries do have great online stores, many have begun wine clubs offering pre-selected mixed cases and most of them are shipping all across Ontario, often free of charge.  This is a great time to try some new Ontario wineries and get to know some of the amazing wine produced here.

Here are some of my favourites, in case you need a place to start!

Ontario is a cool climate region, meaning some grape varieties in particular do exceptionally well here. For white wines, this includes Riesling and Chardonnay. Cave Spring, which is considered one of the foremost producers of Riesling in North America, offers a great introduction to this grape. The winery produces both dry and off-dry (a little bit sweet) wines from different vineyard plots that bring unique characteristics to the wines. The dry Riesling at the LCBO is a good value, very drinkable and food friendly. If you want something more special, you should visit when the winery reopens and see if you can get any back vintages - Riesling is a wine that ages well and can be very complex with a few years in the cellar.

Another great producer of Riesling in a very crisp and dry style is Charles Baker, who is affiliated with Stratus winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I love the sharp intensity of these wines and would say it is well worth spending a bit more to buy the wines bearing the vineyard names Ivan or Picone, especially back vintages. With age these wines joyfully express the flinty, mineral, petrol notes of Riesling and are amazing food wines.

If you are a Chardonnay drinker, you have many options in Ontario from more mineral driven styles from Prince Edward County and the Beamsville Bench area of Niagara to more lush and full-bodied wines from Niagara-on-the-Lake. I have been a fan girl of 16 Mile Cellar in Jordan for a long time and continue to love their oaked styles of Chardonnay, brimming with ripe fruit, bright acidity and a kiss of toast and butterscotch. Their wines are really well-priced for the quality: the entry level Rebel Chardonnay delivers much more than its $22.95 price tag and the elegant Civility is a steal at $29.95. I have vintages of both, some as old as 2012, and they are still drinking beautifully.

My wish-list Niagara Chardonnay has to be Pearl Morissette's Cuvée Dix-Neuvième. I have had the good fortune to have a few vintages of this wine in my modest collection and they are standout. Even after more than a decade of cellaring, these wines show beautiful complexity, vibrancy and precision with layers of flavour and texture. At $48 the wine might be out of reach in what are leaner times for many of us. However, if you want an introduction to the truly unique world of Pearl Morissette wines try the Cuvée Metis Chardonnay ($22): not necessarily comparable but delicious and the ethos is definitely the same.

For red wines, Ontario is at its best with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. The Portage series Pinot Noir from Keint-He in Prince Edward County is a taut, tart and great summer red. For a juicier Pinot Noir, try Domaine Queylus from Niagara, which boasts more perfumed and ripe fruit or Inniskillin's Montague Vineyard Pinot, from much warmer Niagara-on-the-Lake. The latter has some of the best qualities of coastal California Pinot with generous fruit and more tannic structure, but retains its elegance with the ample acidity found in all Ontario wines.

Cabernet Franc is a wine of many faces in Ontario, from lighter, spicier styles to smooth, oaked and sometimes even appassimento (made by drying the grapes before fermentation to get a richer style of wine). Ravine Vineyard's Sand & Gravel Cabernet Franc is a great value at under $20 and full of ripe fruit and spice. A lovely version from the slightly cooler Beamsville Bench area in Niagara is the Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc, which has more vegetal and earthy notes (some of the 2014 vintage still in the LCBO). Both wines are very food friendly with good structure and medium weight.

Ontario has a lot to offer and my sample of just these four grape varieties from a handful of wineries is a tiny taste of our local wine scene. Next week I'll give you some examples of the weird and wonderful wines out there - from unique grape varieties to interesting winemaking techniques - that will hopefully pique your interest even more to buy local.

Until next time, stay safe and healthy and enjoy your wine.