Unwined: Canadian Wine 101
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Unwined: Canadian Wine 101

Your favourite Ontario wines may not be all that local.


As we approach the end of January, it’s a good time to start talking about what to drink: we’ve recovered from our January bills and have done away with vows to drink less. We can finally afford to drink something better—and what’s better than homegrown wine?

But before you head to the liquor store and splurge on Canadian vino, be sure that what’s in the bottle—or box—was actually grown and produced in the country.

It’s a common misconception: When you enter an LCBO, you will see the Ontario wine section located right at the front of the store (this is a good thing!). But right behind it, you will find the International-Canadian blend section. These wines are made through disparate processes.

When you pick up a bottle of wine that is marked by the VQA logo, it means that that the grapes used to produce it are 100 per cent grown locally. VQA stands for Vitners Quality Alliance, a regulatory authority that sets the guidelines for high-calibre Canadian wines. In order for local wineries to use the VQA logo on its products, it must adhere to the alliance’s standards of production.

There are currently VQA organizations set up in B.C. and Ontario, but similar governing bodies exist in almost every major wine-growing region.


Meanwhile, International-Canadian blended wines have their own rules for wineries in Ontario. They must use a minimum of 40 per cent domestic content, with a minimum of 25 per cent Ontario grapes in each bottle of wine. This means up to 75 per cent of the contents in boxed wine could have been grown or produced out of province. In fact, wineries that don’t follow VQA’s standards can buy bulk grape juice turn it into wine at any facility in Ontario.

These International-Canadian blended wines are made for quick mass consumption. There is no need to put your boxed wine in a cellar to age it for years; it can be left in the fridge or pantry. These wines are usually fruity and easy to drink—and will often make a great batch of sangria.


But if you’re looking to enjoy homegrown wine this weekend, check out the following VQA brands:

2014 Henry of Pelham Baco Noir (Ontario) – LCBO 270926 – $14.95 – **** –

The quality of Baco Noir can be hit and miss, but this wine remains consistent regardless of vintage. The nose has slight hints of smoke and spice, and tastes jammy and ripe with blueberry, currant, raspberry. There’s also a whisper of baking spice that pokes its head through the finish. This wine does have some residual sugar left on the finish, but its acidity does a great job of balancing it out. This is one of my favourite wines to use in stews or to pair with roast beef.

2013 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay (Ontario) – Vintages 302083 – $24.95 – ****+ –

I was thrilled over the holidays when I saw that the new vintage of the Bachelder Chardonnay dropped $5 in price. This wine is a tremendous value for its price. The nose is citrus with peach and apple, with nice hints of spice. The acidity is refreshing and balanced, leaving you with a nice vanilla finish that lingers. With its mingling of flavours, it’s hard not to gulp this wine!

2013 See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Noir (B.C.) – Vintages 230078 – $19.95 – **** –

This is a tasty, straightforward, and well-priced Pinot Noir. It’s fruit driven, with the nose offering up raspberry, red cherry, and slight hints of violets. These flavours are incredibly concentrated, and tend to go right out to your cheeks. In spite of the big flavours, I still consider this wine elegant. Enjoy it on its own with a slight chill, paired with roast duck or thin crust pizza.