Ontario is justifiably proud of its ice wine and tourists should cart bottles of the exquisitely sweet stuff back home to share with friends. But not all grapes in the province are left to freeze on the vine. Visitors will not only be surprised to discover that Ontario has two acclaimed wine-producing regions—Niagara and Prince Edward County; three if you count far-flung Pelee Island—but also how good the finished product is. Granted, we’re not California and not all varietals thrive in the short growing season (we’re looking at you, Cabernet Sauvignon) but many others are fantastic. Be sure to make space in the luggage for one of these superstars, which, if you’re not able to visit wine country, should be available at the LCBO.
Thirty Bench Riesling, $19.95
Some consider Emma Garner one of the country’s best winemakers and a sip of her exquisite Riesling explains why. Bright, crisp green apple and citrus tap-dance on the tongue, making it a no-brainer with spicy Thai food, fish and chicken. Like most Ontario Rieslings, Thirty Bench leans to medium-dry, making this small lot label from the Beamsville Bench area of Niagara exceedingly drinkable even without food.
Henry of Pelham Baco Noir, $14.95
One look at Baco Noir’s inky colour and you’ll brace for a tannic assault. And yet… this hybrid grape yields wine that is surprisingly soft, vaguely smoky, decidedly plummy and pizza’s BFF. Henry of Pelham’s Baco Noir is among the province’s best renditions of the grape. Given that it’s a varietal generally unknown outside North America, its provenance and sheer tipple-ability (best drunk now) will spin heads in old country.
Tawse Estate Chardonnay, $38.40
The entire portfolio of wines from this family-owned organic and biodynamic winery on the lower slopes of the Niagara Escarpment is dreamy; its Chardonnays especially. The Estate Chardonnay from 2012 is pricy but very, very good, with oak spice, tropical fruits, melon and white flower on the nose. Like Riesling (and Gewürztraminer), Chardonnay is one varietal you can almost buy blind in the province without going wrong.
Grange of Prince Edward Estate Pinot Gris, $17.15
Like summertime in a glass, this soft and ever-so-slightly floral Pinot Gris delivers gentle citrus to the palate. Anecdotally, this wine—aged sur lie in stainless steel—has never met anyone who didn’t instantly love it; winemaker Caroline Granger has gifted more moonlit patio parties in August than she can possibly imagine. Her Pinot Noir and Gamay are also terrific. Speaking of Gamay…
13th Street Gamay Noir, $19.95
Light- and medium-body reds excel in Ontario, Gamay in general and 13th Street Gamay Noir specifically. Its pale ruby colour belies the depth of flavour on offer with ripe red berry and spice notes on the nose and jammy, peppery amuses on the tongue. Best served slightly chilled, Gamay is a secret weapon at Thanksgiving dinner—light enough for poultry or Tofurky but with a complexity red drinkers will dig.