With some interesting facts, tips and tricks for buying, gifting and sipping, Modern Mississauga’s resident wine expert demystifies the world’s most interesting beverage.
In my professional experience, Ontarians love to hate Ontario wine. Which is very strange, since every other winegrowing region in the world proudly consumes local wine above all others, to an almost frustrating degree. Try to find a bottle of Burgundy in Tuscany or vise-versa and you’ll know what I mean. Even in British Columbia, locally-made vino outsells Californian, Argentinian and Australian wine. So why are we so self-loathing here in Ontario? Well, there may be a more profound underlying cultural answer to that question, but there are also some more tangible explanations, and some really good reasons to change our ways.
First of all, we need to keep in mind that Ontario has about 40 years of experience growing familiar varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet. Compare that to 1200 years in Burgundy, and that’s just counting since they’ve been keeping decent records. There are ancient grape growing regions throughout the Mediterranean basin that are three or four thousand years deep. So we may owe ourselves a little more patience.
We also need to remember that Ontario is one of the most expensive places in the world to make wine. Everything from labour laws to taxation to our often brutal growing conditions and weather patterns can make filling each bottle a challenging and costly affair. As a result, we frequently find better value in our imports: a $15 bottle from Spain or Chile or Italy or Southern France or Australia is, on average, better bang for your buck.
And then we have the LCBO. The largest purchaser of alcohol in the world tends to put quite a bit of emphasis on low price and high volume. So historically, the wineries being represented on LCBO store shelves have not exactly been the cream of the crop (pun intended). Without driving an hour or two to wine country, the only alternatives we have to the LCBO are The Wine Rack, The Wine Shop and Magnotta and while at a glance, these shops offer a wide selection of Ontario wines, that’s just not the case. Each of these three shops is owned by the three largest producers of wine (by volume) in the country. They may have many different labels but every bottle on these shelves comes from a single big-agro wine factory. They are the Molson and Labatt of Canadian wine. And that’s cool, just don’t mistake these shops for representing the province as a whole.
The good news is that like the exploding popularity of craft beer, there is a growing contingent of small, artisanal wine producers making interesting and high-quality stuff. Even our friendly, neighbourhood mega-retailer has adapted by increasing shelf space for Ontario wine and adding a Vintages section for more specialized, smaller releases. Think of it like a tiny farmer’s market that’s open all year round, giving us the privilege of drinking local produce and supporting a growing segment of Ontario’s economy.
Admittedly, it is still rare to find exciting sub-$14 Ontario wines, but if you’re willing to drop $15-$20 there are lots of gems widely available. Some of my favourite value-wineries that you will find well-stocked at your local LCBO include Angels Gate, Flat Rock Cellars, Creekside, Malivoire and Kew. Making award-winning wine at a great price, these (and many other) wineries are helping teach Ontarians to love Ontario wine. So forget your prejudice; ignore that misplaced stigma and proudly bring home a bottle of Ontario wine. It’s as Canadian as maple syrup.
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Tim Reed Manessy [Sommelier CAPS, CMS] is a wine instructor at George Brown College, restaurant consultant, private & corporate event specialist and really annoying at a dinner party.