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Must taste
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Wine Route sign

Pick up some wine for your next party.  If you are having a party, one thing you will need to purchase are party favors. There are many different types of party favors such as party favors, themed party favors and bridal shower favors, all great for your next party!


Unusual Wines
Diversity in Wine
Niagara Peninsula
Ontario, Canada

You probably haven't seen Ontario wines on your local wine shop shelves. But that is set to change. The EU has just allowed Canadian ice wine to be imported. Ontario's consistent cold winters mean this unctuous intensely sweet wine pressed from naturally frozen grapes can be made every year. As well as ice-wine a range of quality table wines from classic varieties are produced.

We visited the Niagara Peninsula wine region of Ontario in October 2001. Almost forty wineries inhabit a twenty-five mile stretch of coastal land on the southern side of Lake Ontario opposite Toronto and alongside the US border at Niagara Falls. New investment means wineries are being built and vineyards planted.

Vines at Harbour View
Ripe Merlot grapes at Harbour Estate

This part of Ontario is a fruit-growing district with many orchards and it has long grown grapes for the table and for wine. Originally it was thought the region was too cold for normal European wine vines - vitis vinifera - and hybrid varieties were planted. These hybrids, the result of crossing native American vines with vitis vinifera are hardy but most make wine unacceptable to wine-lovers brought up on vinifera wines. Experiments proved that vinifera vines could survive Ontario's winters and the geology of this region gives a microclimate that tempers the worst of the winters.

The first winery to solely grow vitis vinifera was Chateau des Charmes in 1978, and now all wineries make wines from varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. There is local demand for hybrid wines and popular varieties are Baco Noir, Vidal and Marechal Foch.

We brought home a selection of twelve wines for a tasting of Ontario wines I presented to the Central London Wine Society in January 2002. Tasting notes from the event are here


Touring the wine area is easy, with almost every winery being within a few miles of QEW, the main motorway from Toronto to Buffalo, New York, and the Niagara Falls. Niagara Peninsula area

We flew into Toronto, on the northern edge of Lake Ontario, and drove in a semi-circle around the western edge of the lake. We decided to stay at Jordan Harbour, a natural inlet, at the midpoint of wine country. It was a good choice. Our hotel was at the water's edge with magnificent views over the lake and we could see Toronto's skyscrapers thirty-five miles across the water. Jordan Harbour is about one and a quarter hours drive from down town Toronto.

Off the busy QEW motorway the roads are quiet, passing through countryside mostly given to agriculture. There are woods and pastures with streams and rivers winding through them, dotted with farm buildings and houses. Official Wine Route signs, a white bunch of grapes on a blue background, line roads leading to wineries.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a town claimed to be the prettiest in Canada. It's on the lake just north of Niagara Falls with pleasant walks along the Niagara River with the United States on the other bank, a short swim away. Two forts face each other across the mouth of the river. Less than two hundred years ago they were at war as the new United States tried to expand even further north. Now the re-constructed Fort George houses a living museum with staff dressed in the uniforms of the time.

Niagara on the Lake is popular with visitors to the falls and wineries nearby can get busy with coach parties.

Niagara Escarpment The escarpment running parallel with the lake that is the cause of Niagara Falls creates a grape friendly microclimate. Warm air rolling up from the lake is lifted by the escarpment slope, cools and tumbles back down the slopes to the lake. This constant air movement prevents mildews and frosts that kill grapes and vines. Half way up the escarpment is a gentle slope known as The Bench.

Grape varieties - white
Riesling and Chardonnay seemed to be the most popular white varieties, and I was disappointed with Rieslings as few of them exhibited the characteristics with which I am familiar. The hybrid variety Vidal is widely used for icewine and also makes an enjoyable table wine. Sauvignon Blanc is not widely grown and in a couple of wineries that do make it they implied they were trying to suppress the grassy gooseberry flavours I love and trying to make it like their bland Rieslings.

Grape Varieties - red
Cabernet Franc is the most successful variety making a wine of intensity and suppleness not achieved elsewhere. When blended with Cabernet Sauvignon the wine is frequently labelled just as Cabernet. Blends with varying proportions of the two cabernets along with Merlot are successful. Small amounts of Syrah is grown, but although I saw plump shiny ripe bunches being tipped in the de-stalker at Cave Springs winery I wasn't able to taste Syrah anywhere. Pinot Noir is fairly widely planted, much destined for sparkling wines.

Grape Varieties - hybrid
No visit to Ontario wineries is complete without tasting wines made from the hybrid vines originally planted in the area. The reds have a distinct taste, prized by many brought up on them. Baco Noir makes an incredible powerful black red wine, Marechal Foch has a stronger taste and there are old vines bottlings available and Chancellor is a powerful experience. The white Vidal, also used for ice wines, is indistinguishable from a vinifera wine.

Ice Wine
Cave Spring Cellars Ice Wine label The jewel in Ontario's wine crown is icewine. Dependably cold winters combined with the constant airflow from the lake that prevents mould and mildew means ice wine can be made every year. Grapes are left on the vine long after harvest and when the snow falls and the temperature has dropped and stay below minus 8 degrees Celsius for three consecutive days the frozen grapes can be harvested and pressed while still frozen. The berries are hard as marbles and any water content in the grape is frozen solid, only the pure grape alcohol, high in sugars and acidity, is released. This provides a wine of intense unctuous sweetness.

Varieties used are mostly Riesling and Vidal. The grape has to have a tough skin to survive the long hanging on the vine and freezing. Red ice wines are also produced from Cabernet Franc, in a process where the wine is put back on the dried grapes skins. Ice wine is expensive and sold in tall thin bottles containing half the quantity of a normal wine bottle.


Wineries range from huge glistening buildings packed with stainless steel tanks to small barns fermenting grapes in plastic bins. Some have uniformed staff to meet and greet you and lead tours around the facilities, others have the owner's family pouring tastes at one end of a barn while the owner clambers over tanks making wine at the other end. Click here for a detailed list of the wineries we visited and their wines.

Best Winery Tours

Tour guide Susanna at the tasting counter Jackson Triggs brand new - it opened mid 2001 - multi-million winery is a must. From the moment when an engraved tour invitation is presses into your hand you are made to feel welcome by the smartly uniformed staff. You walk on steel catwalks through huge stainless steel tanks, so new there isn't a dent, scuff or finger mark on them. This could be a petroleum refinery or a nuclear plant. But it is winemaking for the 21st century without a cent spared, showing boundless confidence in Ontario as a world class wine producing region. They intend making estate grown methode champenoise sparkling wine here. I'd like a bottle from their first vintage to toast their future success. The tour ends with a tasting.

Chateau des Charmes' winery is housed in a new solid stone mansion. The $2 tour starts with a video presentation covering the history of the winery and the owning Bosc family. Then an enthusiastic guide leads you through the various areas of the winery. This looks a little more lived in compared to the spick and span Jackson-Twiggs, but give J&T a few years and their tanks will be also dented. The tour ends with a tasting of three wines. Other wines may be additonally tasted for a fee. This winery grows some unusual varieties and the included tasting had Aligote and the unique Gamay Noir Droit.

Other good tours - Cave Spring, Peller Estate

Inside Peller estate barrel ageing cellar
Inside Peller Estate barrel ageing cellar

Must Taste Wines

A very personal choice, but you should consider these

Thirty Bench - Incredible quality wines, especially Cabernet Franc. This winery is doing for Cabernet Franc what Ridge in California has done for Zinfandel.

Marynissen make wonderful serious red wines at a reasonable price

Ch des Charmes unusual varities, the white Savignin and Aligote have to be tasted. They were two of my favourite whites, having a refreshing acidity I enjoy. And the unique Gamay Noit Droit is a must.

Warmest Welcome

Magnotta at Beamsville. This winery had the most welcoming staff I encountered. They positively had missionary zeal in greeting visitors, ascertaining their preferences and making sure they tasted something they'd like as well as steering them towards wines they may not have considered. They didn't hide behind their tasting counter but circulated around the shelves making sure they spoke to everyone and offered them a taste.

Best Restaurant

Vineland Estates. The evening was superb. We decided to buy wines by the glass, starting with a celebratory sparkler - it was my birthday -, then Cabernet Franc, a Meritage and finishing with a Vidal ice-wine. What made the evening so special was the attention of our server, for whom nothing was too much, made us feel so welcome, and who offered us complimentary tastings of other wines. I specially remember a glass of red ice-wine made from Cabernet Franc. I'd like to come back on a summer evening when we can see the view over surrounding vineyards.

Barberian's steak house in Elm Street Toronto is an old-fashioned wood panelled dining room with excellent service and great steaks. They have a massive wine list, strong on California, let down only by the paucity of Ontario wines.

The Tasting Rooms, First Canadian Place at King Street West, Toronto was where we held our Pinotage tasting. We dined there twice and really enjoyed their friendly welcoming 'nothing is too much trouble' attitude, good food freshly prepared, and of course super wines.

Best Evening

Port Mansion Theatre Restaurant. We never went on the QEW motorway once we arrived at our hotel in Port Jordan until we returned to the airport to go home. Using the shore road homewards from Niagara on the Lake one evening the road twisted through the Victorian buildings of Port Dalhouisie. Intrigued we got out and walked around this small town of historic buildings housing shops and restuarants surrounded by lakes and rivers.

And thus we found The Port Mansion Theatre Restaurant, built over a century ago. We just had time to enjoy a good dinner in the enclosed balcony looking over Martindale Pond, with a bottle of Vineland Merlot before moving into the intimate theatre. No seat is further than 15 feet from the stage, and you can take your drinks in with you. A most enjoyable, and unexpected, night out!

Web site - www.PortMansion.com

Worst Experience

Customs at Toronto. We took six bottles each for a tasting I gave to the South African Wine Society of Toronto. I declared the wines and when the first customs agent read my declaration he sucked in his breath, and exclaimed at the top of his voice ' 9 litres of ALCOHOL?', shook his head, repeated it and directed us to a row of checkout tills. Another customs agent examined the bottles like he'd never seen wine before, then fined us $60 dollars because we had four bottles each above the duty free allowance of two bottles. (we had no spirits, tobacco, perfume or gifts, and the wine was bought from retail shops in the UK with all tax and duties paid). What a welcome, we felt we'd been mugged.

Stupid Regulations

Wine is regulated by the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) who also run the monopoly state store system. Many of the wines can be bought only at the winery as the state store doesn't stock them.

Winery tastings are limited by law to four 1 ounce pours. This is a crazy measurement. In a country that uses kilometres for highway speed signs and sells wine in 75 centilitre bottles, who knows what 1 oz means? In my tasting notes, if I list more than four wines at a winery, it's because I tasted from my partners glasses. And if that's against the law, I don't care! They can send the mounties for me. (I later discovered 1 oz equals 3 cl)

Another stupid pointless regulation is that 'bring your own' isn't allowed in restaurants. So the pleasure one gets in civilised wine producing countries of buying a bottle at the winery and taking it back to your hotel to try with dinner is not possible.


The Official Guide to the Wineries of Ontario is essential. It's the only guide you need This free full colour booklet, published by the Wine Council of Ontario can be picked up from any winery, tourists information office or LCBO. It lists all wineries with opening hours, tour information and maps.

www.wineroute.comWine Council of Ontario official web site.

Bob Bell's www.winesofcanada.com has lot of information on the wines of Canada collected by a Canadian wine lover.

Paul Bulas is a Canadian wine enthusiast who champions native and hybrid varieties. His informative articles are to be found at www.wineloverspage.com/community/paulbulas/

Another non-commercial site with informationon Niagara wineries is www.geocities.com/NapaValley/Vineyard/3765/niagara.html

My hosts for my Pinotage wine tasting in Toronto were the South African Wine Society

Vintage Canada by Topy Aspler is a 225 page book listing wineries throughout Canada with details of each and black and white photo of the labels. Much of the book is taken with a list of the wines produced, which is the sort of information that quickly dates. The latest issue is dated 1999, thus doesn't list Jackson Trigg. Things are moving fast in Ontario and I guess a annual guide along the lines of Platters South African guide is needed. Tonys web site is at www.tonyaspler.com

Vintage Canada (3rd edition)
Tony Aspler
ISBN 0-07-086043-2
McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd


The Vinters Quality Alliance - VQA - symbol VQA Symbol and initials on a bottle shows the wine meets VQA standards. The quality scheme was started by Ontario wineries determined to improve the quality of the regions wines. It has now been passed into law and other Canadian wine regions are adopting it. VQA wines can only be made from grapes grown in the region and have which have passed a LCBO tasting panel. It guarantees standards in winemaking, for instance, that ice-wine is made from grapes naturally frozen on the vine.


We spent only four nights in wine Drain cover at Malivoire Estate with ladybird logo country and we were entranced. The wine country along the lake is beautiful. The winemaking area is very compact and it is easy to visit wineries, of which there are all types, from small one man operations to international corporations. The wine is excellent. There is a lot of dedication and money going into producing world class wines. Ice wines are the unique selling point - and just have to be tastings, although I found them hard to include them in daily tastings as they zapped my taste buds so I couldn't properly taste other wines after. Best to enjoy after dinner.

It seems to me that Cabernet Franc seems to have found its home here. Some superb examples are being made. Yorgo Papageorgiou at Thirty Bench is a name to look out for; he's doing for Cabernet Franc what Paul Draper did for Zinfandel at Ridge.

I am not a big white wine drinker, and I didn't rate the major white variety, Riesling, which I thought mostly bland. There are some cracking Chardonnays being made there, but I'd like to see Sauvignon Blanc made in the New Zealand style and crisper whites.

And ice wines? Wonderful, pure heaven. They just have to be tasted to be believed.

We visited half the wineries on the Niagara peninsula and want to return soon to visit some more and enjoy a vacation in this beautiful and friendly region.

Read about the wineries we visited by clicking here

Other articles on this site are listed

U n u s u a l
Unusual Wine Varieties Wine from Strange Places Funny and Weird labels
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1 January 2002
updated 15 January 2002