Enjoying The Wines
Of The Niagara Peninsula

Consistent world-class success with Icewine has made it the identifying wine for the Niagara Peninsula.  The region's proficiency, however, extends beyond this luscious dessert wine.  Guided by rigorous quality measures established the Vintners Quality Alliance, the Niagara Peninsula has had extensive success with classic vinifera varieties and some hybrids.  While the regions white wines are consistently well made, the reds are more reliant upon the growing conditions of each vintage.

The White Grapes

The most widely planted Vinifera white grape, Niagara wineries produce Chardonnay wines that are aged in oak (with rich toffee and vanilla flavors) and stainless steel (lighter with crisp apple, pears, and other fruits).

This grape does incredibly well in the longer, cooler growing season found in the Niagara Peninsula.  Wineries produce well-balanced German-styled Rieslings in both dry (citrus undertones) and sweeter (honey and tropical fruits) versions.

Similar to what is found in its native Alsace, Niagara "Gewürz" tend to be fuller-bodied with distinct spices like ginger or cinnamon.

A rapidly growing variety in terms of volumes planted, the Niagara Sauvignon Blanc tends to produce a drier version with citrus undertones.

Among the less prominently planted varieties on the Peninsula, the Pinot Gris tends to be dry to off-dry. 

Another variety typically found in Alsace, the Auxerrois is a lighter white that is similar to Pinot Blanc.

One of three French Hybrids permitted by the VQA to be used in Niagara wines, the Vidal is typically used in late harvest wines and Icewines.

The Red Grapes

Traditionally found in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, it produces delicious lighter-bodied wines with deep berry flavors.  Some wineries will oak-age the wines, providing more depth and body in dry, hot vintages.

Wineries have had mixed results with this wine.  More often than not, this variety is used as a softening agent for Meritage blends as in Bordeaux (with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc).

This variety does well in hot, dry vintages, but has limited success in other years.  This is definitely a lesser vintage in this region.

Plantings of this variety have been driven by French-born producers like the Bosc Family of Chateau des Charmes.  Due to growing conditions that are similar to Burgundy, this variety is having early success and is showing extensive promise with the classic red berry fruit and earthiness found in Burgundian styles.

Traditionally found in Beaujolais (in Burgundy), this variety produces a wine similar in style to its French counterpart that is lighter with lots of fruit/berry flavors.  An excellent summer wine that is enhanced when slightly chilled.

A French Hybrid permitted by the VQA for use in Ontario reds.  Hybridized in the late 1890's, this grape was once extensively planted in France and now finds extensive success in Eastern North America.  Due to its fruity flavors, it is frequently used in nouveau-style wines.

Named after the French World War I general, this French Hybrid is permitted by the VQA for use in red wines produced in Ontario.  With thicker skins, it is ideally suited for the Niagara winters in that it ripens early and thrives in colder climates.  Once widely used in Loire Valley, it is planted extensively through Ontario and the American Mid-Atlantic region.  Carbonic Maceration is an ideal means of producing wines that are lighter and fruitier and meant for early consumption.


Definitely one of the secrets of wine world, Canada is the world's largest producer of a rare dessert wine that was first created in Germany and then Austria.  Canada's northern location with its early winter conditions virtually guarantee that every year will provide the optimal conditions necessary to produce this liquid gold.

In order to make an icewine (or eiswein in Germany and Austria), the winemaker will keep the grapes on the vine well past the traditional harvest in September and October.  By December, the grapes will be shriveled like a raisin, concentrating the juices.  As the weather conditions drop below 18º F (-7º C), the grape will freeze solid on the vine, at which point they are harvested (VQA restrictions prohibit the addition of süssreserve, or unfermented juice added to sweeten a wine).  When they are pressed, the water crystals remain in the press, as the freezing point of the juice is lower than the water.  The result is a remarkably intense and balanced wine that is extremely high in sugar and acid, which makes them very easy to drink and refreshing.

Although icewines are traditionally made with the Riesling grapes, the VQA permits Canadian producers to use other varieties as well.  After Riesling, the Vidal (aged in either oak or steel) is most popularly used.  Some wineries are using Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, and even Cabernet Sauvignon!  The variety that is quickly gaining the most popularity and demand, though, is Cabernet Franc.  Traditionally producing a dry, full-bodied red associated with Bordeaux, the cab franc icewine is an incredibly luscious wine with intense strawberry characteristics.  Although these wines can age upwards of twenty or more years, they are also ready for immediate consumption.

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