BEST of Ontario Wines – eh!? Canada you say?

Wine Country

Kris-A and Kris-B visited Ontario recently. If you are not sure where that is… here is a map showing the vineyards. That is correct – Niagara Falls is in Ontario. The Krisses last contributed to tBoW with photos and comments on their trip to the Mosel. These guys have their heads and gullets in the right place – where wine is made and quaffed! It is becoming gradually clear that vinifera is truly a wild vine and can grow just about anywhere. This makes sense when one realizes that the proliferation of vinifera is less than 200 years old! Here is the report from two of our top tBoW team reporters. Since you will NEVER see these wines unless you visit Ontario please read about them now. But who knew Ontario has Wine Country? Check out the link so you can plan your own trip to yet another exotic unexpected land-o-wine. The Krisses certainly make it cool.

We discovered that there are some killer wines in Ontario! Most people are at least a little familiar with the Niagara Peninsula, but the more serious (and more uniformly good) winemaking is going on in Prince Edward County, which is on the other (north) side of Lake Ontario. It gets so cold here in the winter that they import Thai migrant laborers to mound earth over the vines to protect them. They don’t take this earth off until May typically! Chardonnay is the name of the game in Prince Edward County, where we tasted some kick ass bottles. There is one guy making excellent Champagne-style sparklers (Hinterland) and one other guy making amazing Pinot (Norman Hardie). We brought back some of each.

The Niagara Peninsula was more hit-and-miss, but some downright impressive pinots are made there that are surprisingly vinous (instead of fruity. One place, The Foreign Affair, does something interesting. A lá Amarone, they concentrate a percentage of the grapes on straw mats (i.e., appassimento) to make a more concentrated wine. This is likely a necessity when the grapes don’t ripen in time. I much preferred their 2008 Pinot, which only had 10-20% appassimento, over the 2009 which had ~70%…which I did not like. Despite the quality of the Pinot, many of the whites were quite blowsy. Apparently, the combination of being in a valley with a strong lake effect and very black soil means that the Niagara peninsula gets pretty hot.

Kris-B doing the heavy lifting

Generally, Prince Edward County has good Chardonnay and Niagara has some good Pinot. I asked about and tried Riesling where available and it was generally not very good. Part of the reason is the short growing season. While the temperatures are similar to the Mosel (actually Ontario gets significantly warmer in the summer), the vines still haven’t really gotten going by May, and Riesling just cannot get enough hang time to ripen [ed. this shows how unique is the Mosel where there is just enough hang time in summer heat for Riesling to ripen beautifully.]

Very little icewine was seen and even less was tried. Although what was tried (2 wines) was Cab Franc, which was actually quite good. The savoriness of the red grape nicely offset the sweetness, which was not very extreme.

Favorite overall wineries were Hinterland and Norman Hardie. Both are in Prince Edward County and were just great experiences, albeit very different. Hinterland is one guy (the winemaker) hanging out in a hanger-like warehouse where he does all his work. Great guy, very friendly, and eager to open anything we asked about [ed. very good guy]. He only makes sparkling wines, but was even really excited to show us his still Chardonnay before it undergoes secondary fermentation to become his first Blanc de Blanc. All his wines were uniformly awesome. Did I mention that this is his 6th vintage?

Norman Hardie was different, although he was also in a weird hangar-like warehouse. Here they had a couple of hipsters manning the tasting area and they were very friendly. Both live in Toronto (2.5 hours away!) and just help out Norman (the proprietor and winemaker) for free (ok, they get paid in wine). One of them is technically American. He used to live in SF and worked for Yahoo! Go figure. Coyote’s Run (in Niagara). Anyway, Pinot is the best thing here (loved it. bought some), which is unusual for Prince Edward County. Other great thing about this winery is that they have a brick pizza oven downstairs. We had a great lunch here!

Other favorite wineries are Closson Chase (in Prince Edward County) and Coyote’s Run in Niagara. Closson Chase makes some damn good Chardonnay (bought some), while Coyote’s Run makes a lot of stuff. Pinot and Chardonnay are big at Coyote, but they also have a fetish for “Alsatian-style” pinot gris/blanc. We were tasting 2010s here for the whites, which was unfortunate, because it was a pretty warm year and there wasn’t enough acid for me. However, we did purchase a Pinot. They have an interesting set of vineyards, which they call Black Paw and Red Paw. They are right next to each other, but one has red soil and one has black. The Black provides more heat and more ripeness, so naturally I preferred the Red! Here is the link to how and why Coyote’s Run thinks the soil types makes a difference!

One disappointment is that we are unlikely to see much in the way of imports any time soon. The state liquor monopoly of Ontario (the LCBO) takes a full third off the top of all these winemakers sales! That will have to be reformed for it to make sense for anyone to import these wines. Legally, the LCBO owns all the wine a winemaker makes available!

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