Have you heard about big red?

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been ten months since our first trip to visit Niagara wineries. It was there that I started to learn about, and fall for, Ontario wine. Since then we’ve made another trip, as well as a run to Prince Edward County, and the majority of my LCBO purchases in these ten months have been from Ontario. It’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

On Friday a colleague (teasingly) mocked my love of Ontario wine. He claims to like bigger, fuller reds, and suggested Ontario wine was “fine if you like [makes disgusted face] Pinot Noir.” To which I say: phooey.

Listen up, kids: there is some excellent Ontario wine out there, some of which are substantial enough to be mistaken for Australian or Californian. Granted, a lot of them are pricey, but there are certainly affordable ones out there as well. Here are some suggestions for people who actually want to give it a try:

  • My favourite Ontario wine, and maybe my favourite wine overall: the Thirty Bench Cab Franc ($40). This wine also just won the top prize at Cuvée 2011, Ontario’s ‘wine oscars’. If $40 is a little rich for your blood, then the Thirty Bench Red blend ($24) carries quite a bit of the Cab Franc and is more accessible, and nearly as full-bodied.
  • If the Cab you want is not Franc, but Sauv, then Thirty Bench also does an excellent one of those for $40. However, biodynamic producer Southbrook also does a fantastic one in their Whimsy line ($35). Meanwhile, the Strewn Cab Sauv is just $20.
  • I was never a big fan of Syrah, but Southbrook’s bottles turned me around. Peppery, substantial, but still easy to drink…well worth the $25. If you’re looking to spend less, the Creekside Shiraz costs $16, rates a healthy 88 points and can be found in practically any LCBO.
  • The Tawse Meritage ($58) almost knocked me over when I tried it in their tasting room. A bottle of it is sitting in my cellar, waiting for a special occasion. For a lower-cost, equally-ass-kicking Meritage I really, really wish I could tell you to go buy the 07 Hidden Bench Terroir Caché ($35), but as far as I can tell it’s sold out. We’ve drunk two bottles of it to date, and — because we were greedy and opened it a few years too early — had to decant it for hours before drinking it. Now our final bottle is lying in wait for at least two more years, and I’m not sharing.
  • And yes, Ontario does have good Pinot Noir. And I like Pinot Noir. But I didn’t really like it until I tried the real — in my opinion — local champs of the grape: Le Clos Jordanne ($25-$75, depending on the vineyard) and Norman Hardie ($35-$39). Flat Rock does a great lower-cost bottle($20) too.
  • If you’re not particular about varietal and just want a serious red, I can recommend either the Stratus Red blend ($44) or the Chateau des Charmes Equuleus ($40). If that’s too rich, the Creekside Laura Red ($20) is a worthy substitute.

I’ve missed plenty, but hopefully that’s enough to convince a few people that there really are some great Ontario reds available at a variety of prices. Besides, drinking local never hurt anybody!

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