This article first appeared in our Summer 2016 issue. Prices updated to July 2019.
David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 86 to 89 very good; 80 to 85 good.
Summer in Ontario is the time to put life on hold and park yourself near a body of water. Given the plenitude of water in the province, I suggest you make your wine choice from Ontario as well. Take something local to the pool, the riverbank, or the lake; chill if necessary, crack the cap, or pull the cork; and let it be. Go for well-priced wines so that you can stock up for the long weekend or a longer vacation. Not every wine has to be a 90+ points opus to balance, complexity, and depth (but we can always hope).
As a long-time observer and taster of Niagara and Prince Edward County wines, I am not about to suggest that everything Ontario puts in the bottle is just peachy, especially for under $20. It is difficult to make high-quality, inexpensive wines here, given production costs and levels of taxation. Hint: Generally avoid overly kitschy packaging designed to make you chuckle (so that you don’t notice how mediocre the wine is).
But there are Ontario wines under $20 that are great buys. It becomes a matter of finding and trusting conscientious winemakers. There are producers who have been around awhile, have held steady and, in some cases, risen to the top. Here is a selection that should be relatively easy to find in general distribution at the LCBO. And all are just fine for enjoying beside your body of water this summer.
Cave Spring 2014 Riesling
$14.95 | Niagara | 88 Points
This basic riesling from Niagara’s most consistent riesling producer shows just the right balance of sweetness and tart, lemony acidity set against a low alcohol content of 11 percent. The nose captures grapefruit and apple aromas with a touch of honey and dried flowers. It’s light-bodied and off-dry, yet crisp and refreshing with very good length.
Trius 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
$15.95 | Niagara | 88 Points
This has good lift and nerve in the manner of New Zealand sauvignons, with quite intense flavours such as nettle, juniper, lime, and orange-rind aromas. It’s light- to mid-weight, quite tart and bold, with some flesh and fruit on the palate. Great with salads. LCBO 221804
Malivoire 2015 Ladybug Rosé
$16.95 | Niagara | 89 Points
This dry, gentle, and fleshy young rosé has earned the reputation of being Ontario’s best year after year. Expect intriguing strawberry-pomegranate fruit with subtle florals, onion skin, and pepper complexities. Very mindful of rosés from southern France. Cold picnic lunches. LCBO 559088
Tawse 2014 Sketches Riesling
$18.95 | Niagara | 90 Points
Year after year, Sketches delivers great value in a bright, shiny, fruit-driven Niagara riesling. Expect lifted aromas of peach-apple fruit, lemon-lime, and florals. The palate is off-dry, racy, and intense, with all kinds of mouth-watering acidity and lemon-grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Sipping stock; sushi. LCBO Vintages 89029
Malivoire 2014 Gamay
$19.95 | Niagara | 90 Points
This is a fine, juicy, and full-fruited gamay (the Beaujolais grape) with lovely strawberry-cherry compote, red roses, a dusting of black pepper, and subtle wood/forest notes. It’s mid-weight, fleshy, yet also sour-edged and juicy. Very good density, fruit concentration, and length. Chill and drink with charcuterie and cheese. LCBO Vintages 591313
Long Weekend 2014 Chardonnay Pinot Grigio
$14.95 | Niagara | 87 Points
Long Weekend is a new brand by Fielding, a consistent producer of bright, clean, and balanced whites at fair prices. This doesn’t rely on aromatic riesling or gewürztraminer for its fruit punch. The nose shows basic subtle apple, citrus, and almond. It’s mid-weight, fresh, and bright, with a tart-edged, lemony finish. Ideal sipping stock. LCBO 427310
Cave Spring 2015 Rosé
$15.95 | Niagara Escarpment | 87 Points
This is a smooth, fresh, just slightly tart rosé with a pretty nose of candied cherry (red licorice), florals, and a touch of grapefruit. It’s light- to mid-weight and fairly dry. Chill well for sipping refreshment. The length is very good.
Southbrook 2013 Seriously Cool Red
$15.95 | Niagara | 87 Points
This is a nicely balanced, pale Niagara red that blends pinot noir, gamay, and a smidge of syrah. Aromas of strawberry-cherry fruit with a touch of earth and light spice carry to a good length. Tannins are fine-grained, making for easy drinking. Burgers and sausages.
Vineland Estates 2014 Cabernet Franc
$14.95 | Niagara | 86 Points
This appealing cab-franc style tames the tannin and greenness of the grapes. It nicely combines franc raspberry, spice, and tobacco with just a hint of cocoa sweetness. It is not linear, refined, and structured, but it is tasty. Ready to be enjoyed lightly chilled with grilled chicken, herbed pork, and mild cheeses. LCBO 594127
Konzelmann 2014 Shiraz
$15.95 | Niagara | 89 Points
Once again, this vintage has huge value for syrah lovers. This has a great nose of northern Rhône syrah, with lifted aromas of smoked meat, pepper, cherry jam, and mocha. It’s medium-weight and silky-smooth, with a refined texture. Lacks some structure and depth, but is balanced for easy drinking with grilled meats. LCBO 144857