Several signs tell me summer is coming: Yes, the robins are back madly nest building, the tulips are tip toeing skyward, and wineries are coming out of hibernation and extending their hours to warmly welcome wine explorers.
Any spring weekend brings an outpouring of cars into winery parking lots, with expectant visitors sauntering into tasting rooms to sample what is emerging from our talented winemakers. Some of these have aged in stainless steel towers, but many have slumbered in oak for a year or more and are finally reaching wine lovers' lips.
As many of you know, hundreds of our local wines do not reach the LCBO. First, there is not enough room on store shelves for all of them. Second, often the wineries make only tiny quantities of some wines, certainly not enough to stock more than 600 stores.
If a winery makes 50 cases, that works out to one bottle per store! No way. The secret is visiting the wineries, and sipping and spitting and finding that amazing tiny production treasure that seductively suits your palate.
Many wineries have developed very loyal followers who have joined that producer's wine club. These fortunate souls have privileges such as getting first crack at small lot and luxury level releases. If you find a winery that you totally adore, that may be the way for you to go!
Just imagine visiting the emerging wineries in the North Shore of Lake Erie, and having a pickerel lunch in a tiny town. Or madly trying to locate the Burgundian inclined wineries of Prince Edward County, where you may want stay at a B&B and take two days to ramble though the old Loyalist countryside.
My choices for Ontario wines include a Grey County winery, Coffin Ridge, way up near Georgian Bay using experimental, winter hardy grapes. What better local label to celebrate spring than Into The Light White? My four other winners are from Niagara and Bench wineries. The Black Sheep Riesling comes from vines where sheep munched leaves off, letting sun better ripen the grape bunches. The Chardonnay Musque is a special clone more intensely floral than normal chards, and perfect for sitting and sipping under the backyard lilacs.
And our two reds represent excellent value in a province where big reds can easily cost $30 or more. My choices are fun, friendly, backyard barbecue reds perfectly fit for finally eating outside. Cheers!
Rising from the dead of winter
2012 Here Lies Into The Light White
LCBO #326744, $20 (Grey County)
Shows zingy grapefruit and tangerine aromas and pleasant orange, pear and peach flavours. Mates with sweet and sour pork.
The golden fleece
2012 Black Sheep Riesling
LCBO #80234, $16.95 (Ontario)
Layered aromas of petrol, wet slate, jasmine and orange blossoms with tangy tangerine, baked apple and lemon meringue. Try with orange chicken.
2012 Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué
LCBO #246579, $15.95 (Ontario)
The bouquet of banana, cantaloupe, tangerine blossom and nectarine, sets up spiced apple, lemon and cling peach flavours. Think breaded fish.
A merry merlot
LCBO #61101, $14.95 (Ontario)
Mellow cherry, wild blackberry and blueberries with a tiny hint of aged Moroccan leather. The oak tannins are mild and smooth. Go for beef stroganoff.
Small Lot 2011 Red Assemblage
LCBO #321893, $16.95 (Ontario)
Golf club winery blends cab franc, cab sauv and merlot in a red with blackberry, blueberry, vanilla and chocolate nuances. Fab with burgers or ribs.