Ontario’s unique terroir is best showcased within key varieties that excel in cool climate regions, as they produce wines with exceptional fruit and balanced acidity. Most grape varieties used include many grapes of the species vitis vinifera (traditional in European and international winemaking). There are another eight “hybrid” varieties developed by crossing vitis vinifera varieties with more winter-hardy North American grape species. Although already known as a world leader for Icewine, Ontario remains somewhat undiscovered for its high-quality table wines and sparkling wines made from familiar grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
Primary White Varieties
Chardonnay | The most widely produced variety in Ontario is produced in different styles. Ontario Chardonnay naturally expresses substantial weight and richness with cool climate “tree fruit” aromas of apple, pear and peach. When the wine is fermented and aged in oak barrels expect added layers of wood spice, smokiness, and a touch of vanilla or butterscotch. Ontario’s natural acidity produces well-structured, firmer, more ageworthy Chardonnay than in many New World regions. Some can age well for over 10 years.
Riesling | One of the first vinifera varieties planted in Ontario, Riesling takes on classical Germanic character. It exhibits refreshing citrus, peach or floral aromas with a light “petrol” element and racy acidity. It is made in a range of dry, off-dry and sweet styles, including Icewine. Ontario Rieslings often age very well.
Other important varietals | Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer
Primary Red Varieties
Cabernet Franc | This winter-hardy grape is one of the Bordeaux varieties, often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon both in its homeland and here in Ontario. Alone it shows red currant, raspberry, herbal and tobacco characters, with oak ageing adding toasty, chocolaty complexity. It is made in early drinking unwooded styles, more structured cellar-worthy versions and, as Ontario has discovered, it can also make great Icewine.
Pinot Noir | The great red grape of Burgundy has a natural home in Ontario. Made in classic cool climate style, Pinot Noir renders wines with cherry fruit, earthy/forest floor and oak spice flavours. They are paler in colour, light to medium bodied and become silky smooth with a bit of age.
Other important varietals | Gamay Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Baco Noir