Ontario’s largest and most prolific wine region — the area, south of Lake Ontario, encompasses Niagara Falls and stretches from the Niagara River to Hamilton — is home to more than half of all the wineries in the province. The Niagara Peninsula itself is divided into two main regional appellations: the Niagara Escarpment and Niagara-on-the-Lake. The area’s complex soil, along with the lake’s climate-moderating effect, makes it ideal for growing more than 40 grape varieties, from Riesling and Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
The region’s location means that it has both the longest growing season in Canada and one of the warmest growing seasons in Ontario. Nestled along the shores of Lake Erie, from Amherstburg to just east of St. Thomas, the area includes one sub-appellation, South Islands, that is home to Pelee Island, the most southerly vineyard in Canada. Pelee Island is also home to Canada’s first commercial winery, Vin Villa, which was founded in 1866.
While still small in terms of overall production, Prince Edward County has a reputation for producing exceptional wines, making it one of the most exciting regions in the province. Long known for being an excellent fruit-producing area, it was officially identified as a VQA region in 2007 and is now one of the province’s fastest-growing regions, with new wineries opening every year. Burgundian varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir do especially well in the limestone soil of this dynamic area.
Some wine enthusiasts think Cabernet Franc might be Ontario’s defining red grape.
You’ll Experience: Falling somewhere between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of body, this wine has violet and raspberry aromas, along with white pepper and leather.
Try It With: Lighter meat dishes (poultry, veal and sometimes lamb or beef), especially herbed dishes, and hearty vegetable dishes.
Full bodied and well structured, this balanced grape is a global favourite, capable of producing wines that are deeply coloured, richly textured, rounded and approachable.
You’ll Experience: Merlot in Ontario tends to emphasize dark-fruit flavours like blackberry and plum, balancing them out with earthier elements.
Try It With: Pizza, pasta or rich meat dishes, depending on the style.
The classic Burgundian grape is grown the world over but has found a welcoming home in Ontario’s vineyards.
You’ll Experience: Black cherry and strawberry aromas are typical, along with vanilla and, quite often, a touch of clove.
Try It With: Poultry, ham, meatier fish (such as grilled salmon and tuna) and mushroom-based dishes.
Riesling is a versatile grape that can be crafted into a variety of styles, from bone-dry wine to lusciously sweet Icewine to everything in between. Some producers are even using this variety to make sparkling wines.
You’ll Experience: When presented as a dry table wine, Ontario Riesling shows all the muscular elegance of the grape’s potential, along with traditional notes like orange blossom and jasmine. When made into Icewine, as it often is, it is redolent with candied pineapple and sweet mandarin.
Try It With: Dry styles lend themselves beautifully to Asian noodle dishes like pad thai, while Icewine versions are exceptional when paired with seared foie gras or mango pavlova.
Ontario Chardonnay has garnered a great deal of praise lately for its crisp, sharp style and complex elegance.
You’ll Experience: Unoaked styles often display apple, peach and sweet spice flavours, while richer versions offer marzipan and butterscotch lushness.
Try It With: Tuna poke with avocado and sesame seeds or sautéed fresh corn with bacon and chives.
Light and refreshing, Ontario Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio) is a serious wine that doesn’t take itself too seriously. A great feature of Pinot Gris is its adaptability. It can be used to craft light, citrusy sippers, as well as richer, more serious versions.
You’ll Experience: Ripe apple and honeydew melon aromas, with a touch of smoky spice, are common.
Try It With: Lighter versions make great aperitifs and are well suited for appetizers and salads. Richer versions are wonderful with fish, veal, chicken and pork dishes, especially those with cream sauces.