Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ontario Wine - Niagara Escarpment

A hundred kilometers southwest of Toronto, almost behind Niagara Falls, is the Niagara escarpment wine growing region where over 50 wineries are making quite good wine. The region is famous for Ice Wine which has a range of flavors and is most commonly made from Riesling or the hybrid Vidal grape. Cabernet Franc Ice Wine is an interesting red variant. Ice wine in Ontario is made naturally. The grapes are left to hang on the vine well past the usual fall harvest dates. Picking requires at least three days of very cold weather. Pickers go out at 3:00 a.m. to pick frozen shriveled grapes that are gently pressed so as not to crush or melt the ice in the grapes that only produce one or two tear drops of nectar per grape. Late harvest wines are common, too. But there is much more to this region than Ice Wine.  There are whites that are reminiscent of European wines such as Alsatian Riesling, French Macon, White Bordeaux, and Muscadet. Some of the Pinot Noir is quite good and reminds me of lighter styled Oregon Pinot Noir.  A number of winemakers say that Cabernet Franc grows best of all the Bordeaux varietals.

Very little of this wine is exported to the states, although exports do go elsewhere in the world. This region seems to be where Washington was ten or fifteen years ago and appears about to take off in terms of quality and quantity much like Washington State. If Robert Parker’s colleague, Pierre Rovani, were to taste the wines, he might complain about the overall quality, much as he did about Washington wines. The white wines tend to be lighter and crisper than Washington wine. On average the reds seem to be more astringent and drier in style. Alcohol levels are much lower. The growing season is much shorter and summer nights tend to be warm in contrast to the typically cool evenings in Washington. Like Bordeaux, the land is fairly flat and close to a body of water, the great lakes, in this case. Winters are severe and vintages are quite variable as in France.  The area is at about the same latitude as the Finger Lakes region of New York with many of the same problems except for the added annoyance of the Asian Lady Bug which makes a smelly contribution to MOG (matter other than grapes) in certain wines.

Two days in a row, cousin (in-law) Nina and I drove down the QEW to the wineries (one to one and a half hours). Once again, vineyards and suburbs are in competition.  The first “village” along the Niagara escarpment bench is Grimsby, followed by Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan. Past St. Catherine’s, the flat Niagara-On-The-Lake region begins. On Day One, we checked out some of the smaller wineries along the Niagara escarpment bench. On Day Two, we visited Jim Warren, “grandfather” of Ontario wines, at Niagara College Teaching Winery and checked out some Niagara-On-The-Lake wineries.

Right now, the best way to taste Ontario wine is to visit the wine country yourself. Be sure to get “The Official Guide to the Wineries of Ontario” or at least “The Wine Route Map 2006” from the Wine Council of Ontario. Their website is:

Look for more postings on Ontario wines in the next few days.


  • At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good Morning Gene:
    Your description of our wine tour brought back a very fond memory that was loads of fun. plus educational.
    Have shown your blog to many people and hopefully they willalsolearn from you.
    Cioa Nina


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