I know nothing about regular wine. I spent much of my adult life fighting off allergies that came to a head while I lived in a house with a serious but unknown mold problem. Wine – red or white – killed me. Besides the inevitable headaches (migraines, really), I’d also become slightly anaphylactic – getting stuffed up and uncomfortable.
A relative turned me on to blueberry wine from down east. Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia all have wineries that make various styles of blueberry wine, and where the grape-based wines made me all kinds of miserable, it turns out that wine from other fruits does not contain the histamines present in grape wines, and I could drink to my heart’s content.
Except that the availability of fruit wines in the LCBO is minimal with only about a half dozen on offer – mostly dessert wines – and often only seasonally. So when I discovered that the Ontario Wine Society was hosting an event that featured non VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) eligible products, and that most of the offerings were fruit wines, I was happy to fill in for our resident wine expert Sasha Grigorieva and do some sampling myself.
I already knew about the Fruit Wines of Ontario association, and that many farms and wineries produced a selection of fruit wines from black currant to maple and beyond. But I was timid about ordering these wines via mail order; partially because most places demanded a minimum order of six bottles due to shipping concerns (they get special boxes that hold a half dozen nicely, but single bottles often don’t make it through the post), and also because, well, what if they were awful?
Fortunately, based on the items I tried, that was not the case. The Outer Limits of Ontario Wine event included more than 30 wineries, many of which make dozens of products. In the 2 hour media event that I attended I likely tackled no more than 10 to 15% of the wines on offer. At best, I managed one from each winery.
As I enjoy pairing a lot of the dessert fruit wines that I drink with chocolate, I paid particular attention to the fruit and chocolate wines. While most wineries add quality chocolate during the fermenting process, Rush Creek Wineries uses a unique approach in the creation of their Decadence wine, a strawberry and chocolate wine that tastes like chocolate-covered strawberries. Trays of ground cocoa powder are placed throughout the berry fields during blossom and bees carry the cocoa powder to the flowers, “infusing the chocolate flavour into the blossoms and on into the berries”.
Sunnybrook Farm Winery’s Chocolate Embrace (blueberries and chocolate) and Scotch Block Winery’s Black Currant Truffle tied for my favourites, and while I had been excited to try Archibald Orchards Cherries and Chocolate, to my palate it was quite mild and not especially chocolate-y. But the Black Forest Cherry from Applewood Farm Winery really does have the flavour of Black Forest cake.
Apple wines are also popular and almost every orchard-based winery offers at least one. Ranging from spiced apple blends such as the one on offer from Sunnybrook to the variety-specific wines like Orchard Gold (Golden Delicious), Northern Spy and Royal Blush Gala from Birtch Farms & Estate Winery, there’s something for everyone. Like grape-based wines, fruit wines range from dry to sweet dessert wines, and apple is one of the varieties with the most range. A number of people mentioned that they were working on ciders or iced ciders (the next big trend apparently), although they’d have to go a way to beat the stuff coming out of the Country Cider Company, the makers of Waupoos.
I also enjoyed the vinegars from Aceto Niagara, where they’re creating apertif vinegars out of icewine and icewine with cherry, peach or tomato. These vinegars can be consumed straight, mixed in cocktails or simply with fruit juice or soda. Alternatively they can be served over ice cream, or used in the traditional way of adding them to salad dressing.
Maple is another flavour that finds its way into fruit wines, although many of these products can be cloying. The maple products from Maple Moon/Moon Shadows Estate Winery bucked that trend with a number of products that were both smooth and had an obviously maple flavour but didn’t taste like I was drinking from the syrup jug.
Other interesting tastes included the Goldenrod wine from Kawartha Country Winery; it had a medicinal nose that turned me off slightly, but the taste was smooth and flowery with hints of hay and grass and woods. I’ll definitely be buying some of this. Cox Creek Cellars surprised me with a peach wine that tastes like fresh peach juice, taking me one step closer to getting over my fear of peach-flavoured booze after an incident some 20 years ago with Dr. McGillicuddy and his fuzzy navels. I was less enthusiastic about the Garden Salad wine from Countryman’s Estate Winery. No… just no.
Whatever the flavour, fruit wines are a viable alternative to grape varieties, and likely even predate grape wines by some 4000 – 5000 years. Varieties such as apple, blueberry and cranberry in particular can be made dry enough to serve with meat and poultry, and the range of dessert wines pairs with everything sweet.
Given the strict rules and regulations, many of the vintners I spoke to don’t want to sell their products through the LCBO, and almost all of them will do mail-order (in multiples of six usually) via their respective websites. At price points ranging from $12.95 to $29.95 per bottle, a half dozen can be a bit of an investment, but the opportunity to try these new and exciting products while also supporting Ontario farmers and businesses is one that should not be passed up.
And for anyone still timid about making the investment before knowing if they’ll even like fruit wines, the LCBO does carry a few items from Southbrook Winery, Puddicomb Estate Winery and Rush Creek Winery which should give anyone interested in trying these unique wines an idea of how they’ll go over. There are literally hundreds of Ontario fruit wines out there, and now that I have a better idea of the quality and taste, I’m on a mission to try them all.