Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ontarian Table Wines: A Call For Imagination and Originality

Grapes like Vidal, Seyval and Foch, which have established histories in Ontario's wine regions, are excellent varieties from which to create a whole new category of wine: inexpensive regional table wines. 

A while back I posted on the need for a good $7 local red wine.  It seems that you can walk into any LCBO and find lots of cheap Italian reds for around that price or a buck more; and that's great.  But why is it that Ontario's wineries don't offer a similar category - something akin to "vin de table" or "vino da tavola", but made from grapes that actually grow well here, cost relatively little to grow (compared to vinifera) and consistently fetch lower prices on the market?  Why should there not be excellent quality dry Seyvals and Vidals and Fochs for around $7-8 each?  In other words - something uncomplicated to have on the patio or to sip with pizza.  There is certainly the potential for this, but there doesn't seem to be the imagination to make it happen.

In fact, things have regressed in the past decade: there are fewer examples of these varietal wines on the shelves.  Foch has all but disappeared in Niagara, save maybe one or two producers.  Yet this grape should have been lauded as one of our absolute best red wine grapes - more so than the sour Baco Noir, which probably is best as a blending component.  So far, Malivoire is on the right path, although they, and others would also do well to offer a less expensive Foch so as to give the grape presence across the price points and increase its exposure.

I don't believe for a moment that wineries pulled their Foch because people didn't like it.  Lakeview Cellars, for example, made an amazing Foch up to the late 1990s, and it was a great value too.  Dark, inky, smoky, velvety wine ... all for about nine bucks.  D'Angelo winery in Amherstburg (near Windsor) probably made (still makes? I don't know) the very best Reserve Foch in the province.  Why is D'Angelo Foch not a household name in Ontario?

I think that what has done many of these varieties in is simply a form of dogmatism that is based on the perceived necessity of following international marketing; it is certainly not based on agricultural fact.  Farmers should run wineries, not marketers.  Quality starts not with grape name envy, but with what actually grows best in the region.  Then, you take quality winemaking, make the wine with imagination and tender loving care, and watch it move.

But, there has to be the imagination and the originality to want to do it.

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