Yours to Discover …in a Glass

Fifty-Five Plus Magazine, December 2004

By Debbie Trenholm, Accredited Sommelier

‘Yours to discover’ is blazened on our license plates. Ontario has renowned historic sites, natural beauties, parks, city attractions and cultures, yet a hidden gem that is often undiscovered in Ontario is our growing wine industry and its fine wines.

Ontario boasts four main wine regions: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, Pelee Island and Prince Edward County. In just a little over a decade, the number of wineries has increased from 20 to over 100, all producing wines made from grapes or other fruits. It is the quality of the wines, rather than the quantity, that will convince you that Ontario wines are ‘yours to discover’ and worthy of the many international awards.

The majority of Ontario’s vineyards lie in the centre of the world’s wine belt, between 41° – 44°N. Approximately 6,250 hectacres (15,000 acres) of vineyards are now found in Ontario.  This is the largest grape growing region in Canada. The warm breezes off the Great Lakes, provides microclimates that are ideal for growing premium grape varieties which in turn, produce fine wines. Ontario wine regions share wine growing geographic characteristics similar to other distinguished wine regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Now let’s pop a cork and begin this discovery.

You may be familiar with Ontario’s world famous Icewines, yet, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that there is a range of white wines to tantalize each palette. You will find grape varieties of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc offering refreshing, crisp white wines that may be enjoyed on their own or accompanying a meal. Each winemaker ferments these grapes differently to produce wines, as an artist creates a masterpiece with paints.

As for red wines, the names, Baco Noir, Cabernet Foch, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zweigelt sound regal and noble.  A number of these grape varieties are fermented alone to produce wines of a single variety or in combination to create a memorable blended wine.  In each case, the wines will age in either French or American oak barrels between six months to several years before the winemaker decides that the wine is ready for bottling.

A number of Canadian winemakers have studied and worked abroad providing them with ‘hands on’ experience of growing grapes and a variety of winemaking techniques.  Also, winemakers are leaving the vineyards of Australia, California, France, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa to participate in the expanding Canadian wine industry. The result is a diversity in wine styles, making the discovery of Canadian wines unique and exciting.

At the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores, a wide selection of wines may be found, and it sometimes leaves people wondering where to start.  The following are a selection of white and red wines (all are Vintner Quality Alliance – VQA) that can be found regularly at the LCBO and are a good starting point for your discovery:


· Chateau des Charmes Riesling – $9.95

· Pelee Island Premium Select Chardonnay – $10.95

· Pillitteri Estates Gewürztraminer Riesling blend – $9.95

· Stoney Ridge Bench Reserve Riesling $9.95

· Vineland Estates Semi-Dry Riesling – $10.95

· Willow Heights Chardonnay Sur Lie – $11.95


· EastDell Estates Black Cabernet Baco Noir Cabernet Franc (blend)- $11.95

· Henry of Pelham Baco Noir $12.45

· Hillebrand Estate Winery Trius Red (blend) – $19.95

· Jackson-Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Meritage (blend) – $12.45

· Reif Winery Cabernet Merlot – $13.95

However, the LCBO does not stock all of the wines that Ontario produces, or all Canadian wineries for that matter.  When talking to David Johnston, proprietor and winemaker of Featherstone Winery of Beamsville Bench (Niagara Peninsula) at a recent winemaker’s dinner that I hosted, David explained, “of the 11,000 wines produced in Ontario, the LCBO stocks up to 210 at any one time.” For example, there are no Prince Edward County wines available yet at the LCBO, as they do not have the production capacity yet to supply all of the LCBO stores. As this and other Canadian regions grow in size, this will surely change.

But don’t despair as there are several ways to continue your discovery of Ontario wines:

1. Visit the winery – Yvonne Jefferies’ travel article this month, gives you many reasons to explore the Niagara region and stop at some wineries along the way.  Plan a visit to Prince Edward County, Lake Erie and Pelee Island too. You will find that each winery has a lot to offer including wine tastings, winery tours and planned events.

2. Phone the winery directly – Each winery will deliver your order (does not have to be a full case) to your door.  Phone numbers are listed on each winery’s web site and some have toll free numbers. Not sure where to start? www.wineroute.com has a list of the majority of the wineries in Ontario.

3. ‘Winery to Home’ – This new service enables you to order online a variety of wines from different wineries and have them delivered to your home by Canada Post.  More info at www.winerytohome.com

Wines that I recently enjoyed and would recommend ordering direct from the winery are:

Featherstone Estates Winery, www.featherstonewinery.ca

(905) 562-1949.

Canadian Oak Chardonnay, $24. 100% pure Canadiana.  A refreshing, aromatic, medium bodied wine that is perfect on its own or served with grilled salmon or chicken.

Gamay Noir, $18.95 Winemaker David Johnson considers this the best red he has ever made. Big, velvety, flavourful wine with subtle hints of oak aromas and tastes.

Lailey Vineyard, www.laileyvineyard.com

(905) 468-0503

French Oak Chardonnay, $20. Medium bodied with flavours of almonds, peaches and pears. Excellent on its own, with pasta served in a cream sauce or with roasted chicken.

Cabernet – Merlot, $22. A wine with aromas of plum, blackberry, ripe dark cherry with tastes of spices and vanilla. Ideal for a roast beef dinner.

Malivoire Wine Company, www.malivoirewineco.com

1-866- 644–2244

Pinot Gris, $18. A light, refreshing wine, slightly peach in colour, with citrus and apricot tastes.  Enjoy with steamed mussels or white fish.

Old Vines Foch, $22. A full bodied red with aromas of black currant, dark plums, spices, vanilla with a jammy texture.  Best with a hearty stew, roasted or barbecued lamb, beef and duck.

Peninsula Ridge, www.peninsularidge.com

(905) 563-0900

Sauvignon Blanc, $18.95. Medium bodied wine with herbs and lemon aromas.  Great with seafood, sushi and grilled chicken.

Cabernet Franc, $18.95. A bright red wine with red cherry, spices and vanilla aromas and tastes. Serve with steak, roast lamb and portabello mushrooms.

Pillitteri Etsates Winery, www.pillitteri.com

(905) 468-314

Cabernet Merlot, $11.Deep garnet in colour with aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and some chocolate. A good match for pastas with red sauce, pizza and cheeses.

On our discovery of Ontario wines, we have only scratched the surface. There are many Roses, Sparkling and Icewines still to discover.  Meanwhile, I encourage you to visit your local LCBO where a wine consultant is available to help you choose Ontario wines, or order directly from the wineries…tell them that I sent you!

Should you have wine stories, favorite wine recommendations to share, questions to ask, feel free to email me on

Until next time….”Cheers!”

Debbie Trenholm is an Accredited Sommelier who hosts fun winemaker’s dinners and wine tastings in Ontario.

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