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Ontario: where ice wine is king

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Ontario includes the most internationally-recognized wine region in Canada – the Niagara region – and in recent years its wines have become increasingly popular with international markets. Southern Ontario lies on approximately the same latitude as Provence and Languedoc in France, but with much colder winters and more humid summers. This means that while many varietals will ripen in Southern Ontario, historically they had to deal with early frost and fungus. In the past decade technologies have been making more in-roads to limit frost damage and fungal infection, and the range of wines being produced in the region has widened.


Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula is the largest wine region in Canada, with twelve recognized sub-regions, each with their own specialized productions. Prince Edward County has recently begun to attract more attention, since it has become a recognized named region. The Prince Edward County region bears some similarities to Burgundy, and many in Canada hope that the region can become known for its pinot noir and chardonnay, varietals generally not associated with Canadian wine.


Ice wines remain the most popular and awarded wines from Ontario, in spite of a growing interest in traditional wines. Ice wines are naturally-produced dessert wines, created by harvesting grapes that have frozen on the vine. Much of the water in the grapes is eliminated through freezing, while the unfrozen sugars remain. This allows for high-acid, well-balanced wines that retain sugar levels generally associated with dessert wines created from Botrytis-laden grapes, or by freezing the juice after press. Four varietals make up the bulk of ice wine produced in Ontario: riesling, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and vidal.


Ontario has the most established wine tourism trade in Canada, and every region has many wineries open for tasting. Many regions have clusters of wineries in a small area, allowing for day trips that visit multiple wineries and sample a wide assortment of wines. Because of its spread out nature, however, Ontario is also ideal for off the beaten path tasting, with wineries far removed from major roads. Ontario is also home to an enormous fruit wine industry – well suited to the cold climate – and it is one of the best places in the world to sample apple, blackberry, cherry, huckleberry, nectarine, strawberry, plum, apricot, blueberry, currant, and gooseberry wines.