Happy New Year one and all. I trust you had a wonderful holiday. With the turn of the calendar, many of us will be making resolutions. One of mine, when it comes to alcohol, will be to sip more products created in our own province and I urge you to join me. There are hundreds of locally produced wines, beers and spirits that are world-class and rival anything created elsewhere.
Wine lovers should rejoice. Since the inception of VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) back in the late 1980s, the quality of Ontario wine has skyrocketed. This appellation system, similar to AOC in France and DOC in Italy, regulates wine production and covers everything from grape growing and winemaking to bottling and marketing. In fact, its standards of production are higher than many other countries. Simply look for the “VQA” insignia on the label. There are four designated growing regions” Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, Pelee Island and Prince Edward County which will also appear on labels. All our wines possess a real, unique sense of place.
There’s no question that Ontario is a cool-climate, viticultural growing region, so certain varietals and wine styles do better here than others. When it comes to whites, I feel that Riesling is our forté. Bursting with fresh fruit and lively, bracing acidity, versions, ranging from bone-dry to sweet and sparkling, are hard to beat. Those from the “Bench” (between the Welland Canal and Stoney Creek) region of Niagara are particularly noteworthy. Then there’s the vanilla of wine, Chardonnay. Our styles are closer to Burgundian in character and, with or without toasty oak, they are outstanding. Niagara and Prince Edward County excel in these. One of the reds that shine is Pinot Noir. Not surprising, since our climate here in Ontario is somewhat similar to that of Burgundy, France, where Pinot is king. Some real stunners come out of Prince Edward County and certain parts of Niagara. Bordeaux varietals like the two Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc) and Merlot excel here. Cabernet Franc in particular does well in Niagara and Bordeaux blends are delicious. Of course, there’s our world-famous Icewine.
When it comes to beer, there are so many fabulous craft breweries throughout the province that it would be impossible to list them all here. Impeccably made, utilizing only the best ingredients, and producing numerous styles, most are award-winning. Check out 20 Valley Brewery (St, Catharines), Muskoka Brewery (Muskoka), Stack Brewing (Sudbury), Second Wedge Brewing (Uxbridge), Abe Erb Brewing (Waterloo), Stonehammer Brewing (Guelph), Big Rig Brewery (Ottawa), Niagara Brewing (Niagara Falls), Five Monkeys Craft Brewery (Barrie) and Amsterdam Brewery (Toronto) to name but a few. And even closer to home, several breweries are operating in or in close proximity to our neighbourhood: Left Field Brewery, Godspeed Brewery, Beaches Brewing Company, Rorschach Brewing Co., Radical Road Brewing Co.
Spirit aficionados can find numerous, fabulous products from local, micro-distilleries. 66 Gilead, out of Prince Edward County, makes some dynamite rye whisky and gin. Still Waters Distillery in Concord creates some small batch vodka and rye that are real winners. Checkout Dillon’s in Beamsville for outstanding rye, vodka and gin and bitters. From Toronto, the Toronto Distillery Company dishes out some fab single grain whiskies and gin and the small batch rum from Younghurst Distillery is a revelation.
Whether wine, beer or spirits, you’ll be amazed at the incredible quality of these locally produced imbibes and you’ll feel good about supporting a local industry. No doubt, many of the local watering holes in the Beach will carry some of these, so check them out and enjoy.
Edward Finstein is a wine writer, author, TV and radio host, educator, judge