Unwined: Time to Add “Ontario Craft Wine” to Your Boozy Lexicon
Ontario wines are coming of age, but the restaurant industry has been slow to respond.
Unwined: Demystifying Ontario wines.
I was recently sitting at Momofuku Noodle Bar looking at the menu and thinking about how far we have come as consumers of food and drink. Craft beer is king and the concept of eating and drinking local is clearly more than a fad; sure enough, the restaurant listed exactly which area farms provided some of the entrees’ meats, and its beer list boasted four Ontario brews. Of the menu’s four sake options, three came from Toronto. But the wine list told a different (and common) story: only two of its 13 wines were from Ontario. Our food and drink culture has evolved around local producers, but it would appear that we have left our wineries behind.
It really isn’t fair for me to pick on only Momofuku, because they aren’t even close to the only ones in the city guilty of overlooking Ontario as a wine-producing region. Sometimes this comes down to taste preferences; it makes sense that a restaurant looking to keep with an Italian or Spanish flavour profile might steer clear of VQA varietals. But the biggest excuse I hear from restaurants for keeping local wines off their list is a minute cost difference, and that’s a shame.
I recently spoke with Julie Garton, the sommelier at Oxley (121 Yorkville Avenue), about the issue of local wine on lists at restaurants in the city. She explained to me that local wine is still a hard sell to an older crowd of restaurant-goers, who happened to come of age before our Ontario wine regions did. So how can we shake this bad reputation? According to Garton, the answer is simple: Millennials. Thanks in part to a growing younger cohort of wine drinkers, about 25 per cent of the restaurant’s wine list comes from local producers.
While we might pat ourselves on the backs for allowing the future sale of beer in select grocery stores, the province has overlooked a major opportunity. The mention of craft wine in this scenario has been only a footnote at best.
While you might have trouble hunting these down in restaurants, here are some great Ontario craft wines that you can enjoy from the shelves of your nearest LCBO:
2013 Featherstone Red Tail Merlot – Vintages 131540 – $19.95 – ***1/2+ – This is a little lighter than previous vintages of this wine, which is indicative of the 2013 vintage. There’s a touch of roasted herb on the nose, but it is swallowed up by bright red cherry and plum. The savory edge is ephemeral, quickly swallowed by beautiful ripe red cherry, strawberry and raspberry. This is begging to be paired with stews made with lamb or beef, and while I’m not asking for winter to come early, this wine makes me start to think about it.
2013 Flat Rock Pinot Noir – Vintages 1545 – $19.95 – ****+ – Purely fruit-driven with ripe red cherry leading the way both on the nose and in the glass, I dare you not to gulp this wine. Between Flat Rock and Coyote’s Run, the bar has been set high for what qualifies as “bargain” pinot noir from Ontario. This is something that you could pick up a few bottles of to try to cellar, as it should age well over the next few years. But at this price (and taste), it’s going to be hard to keep this pinot noir around the house.
2013 Rosewood Origin Cabernet Franc – $25.95 – ****+ – This wine is stunning! Beautifully elegant and easy drinking but with a lot of structure that will allow this wine to age gracefully for the next five to eight years. The nose loaded with red fruit and very nice savoury notes of freshly cut herbs. The savoury edge is subtle but begs to be paired with rare beef, whether in a steak or a roast. The flavours are full of berry, followed with silky tannins on a very smooth finish.
2014 Hinterland Borealis Method Charmat Rosé – Vintages 431817 – $22.00 – **** – This rosé sparkler has captured the essence of gamay, walking a tightrope of sweetness and acidity. The nose is candied cherry and strawberry, and the flavours match. The finish is clean and crisp, and leaves you with just a hint of spice. Even though Thanksgiving has just passed, I am looking to pair this with turkey for my celebrations in December.
2013 Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling – Vintages 557165 – $17.95 – ****+ – You will notice the mineral on the nose with aromas of chalk mixed in with honey and lemon. There is just a hint of sweetness on the finish, but it is balanced with perfect acidity so the sugar doesn’t linger. Riesling makes a great, affordable way to start a wine collection, and this wine should evolve nicely over the next five to 10 years.