The last thing I did before leaving BC and moving to Toronto was spend four days with friends in the Okanagan. We visited winemakers and the people behind the wines I loved and had sold over the past few years. We stayed at their houses and had dinner with their families. We watched their kids play in backyards that butted against rows of vines. It was a place I knew that made wines I understood. When I came to Ontario, it was a fresh start. I’d had little experience with Ontario wines. The few bottles that do trickle to the West Coast tend to lose their story somewhere along the way. I began to drink as much local stuff as I could, went to tastings and drove a couple times to Niagara. I was carving perceptions around what varieties I liked and where I thought they grew best.
It's been a year and apart from surprises here and there, my first standouts have stuck. This may be old news, but Ontario has the potential to make incredible Riesling. I'm talking about that luminous, tart style. The ones that have a bit of residual sugar, but also so much vibrant acidity where the sweetness isn't obvious. They have a light-on-their-feet quality that comes from low 10-12% alcohol. A style this refreshing and delicious is matched in very few regions around the world. Many people are making good Riesling, but the first I really fell for was the Picone Vineyard from Charles Baker.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are two touted grapes that have been successful locally, but everyone already knows that. The less obvious (and less commercial) hero is Gamay. They aren't overly-assertive wines; you feel like drinking more than one glass. They have the refreshing support of cool climate acidity. The fruit is bright and tart with spice and they often show smoky undertones. Like great French Gamay, these wines are made to drink and enjoy rather than think and talk about. The value is almost impossible to beat. Tawse and Malivoire are a couple favourites coming in under $20. Grab ‘em.