Southern Ontario Sommelier Alliance Picks Best Ontario Wines

There are some incredibly fascinating insights about the Ontario wine industry in this new report from the Southern Ontario Sommelier Alliance (SOSA), published exclusively here first. The top sommeliers working in Ontario’s most respected fine dining restaurants provide their opinions on the best wines in Ontario. Is your favourite wine here?

If you buy wine, read on to create your insider shopping list. If you make wine, review this report to see what the top influencers are saying about your wines.This expert guide sets the bar high and the provincial wine industry is up to the challenge.

Winner of the SOSA CUP for 2012
(And Winner of “BEST RED” category)
2010 Shiraz

Michelle Paris, Creekside winemaker Rob Power, and James Oatway

Winner of “BEST WHITE”
“2009 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay”


Winner of “Best Rosé”
“2011 Rosé”


1. Creekside: Shiraz, 2010. We did not see this coming. At SOSA’s inaugural Ontario Wine Review and Competition it seemed as if someone snuck in a Syrah from the Northern Rhone. At the judges table eyebrows raised, eyes darted back and forth; “St. Joseph?” someone murmured, another voice chimed in “Cote du Rhone?”

The verdict fell quickly in the room. After all the scores were tabulated it seems that Creekside’s $15.95, entry level Shiraz has won the SOSA CUP for 2012! An astonishing wine from right here in Ontario. Bright lively fruit; cherry, plum, and raspberry wrapped in white pepper notes that seem to point to France’s Rhone Valley.

Medium bodied and very well structured. Truly a ground breaking Niagara wine. We just wish they’d call it Syrah! This is an incredibly solid step in the right direction for Ontario. Winemaker Rob Power is not concerned with convention, or the list of prescribed grapes for the Niagara region. “Shiraz” is an interesting move in cool climate Ontario, but where would we be without pioneers? This wine made us all take pause. Congratulations! 91 POINTS.

Creekside Team: Cellar master Wes Gough, assistant winemaker Yvonne Irvine, and head winemaker Rob Power posing with the SOSA CUP. 

2. Devil’s Wishbone: Cabernet Franc, 2010. Prince Edward County’s Lake on the Mountain proves to be one spot to watch in the future. Again, another Ontario wine that made us think Old World. Peter Gallagher’s 2010 cab franc is much in the style of a Loire Chinon.

Cab Franc is one of those grapes that is going to be an Ontario flagship varietal. Our climate is suited to cab franc, not unlike chardonnay, or riesling, not to mention syrah. Devil’s Wishbone has produced a cabernet franc whose crisp acidity outlines it’s well balanced structure. Dark herbaceousness mingled with slight peppery notes highlight the mix of black and red fruit. A wine that will age well for the next 5 to 7 years. $25.00.

3. Rennie Estate: Paradox Reserve, Pinot Noir, 2010. The top scoring pinot noir of the day for SOSA. Pinot Noir seems to be the test of a winemaker. Since Sideways came out on the big screen no grape varietal has been put under so much pressure to perform. The greatest wines of Burgundy have caused many a winemaker to go to great lengths to produce a pinot that would hopefully be compared to that of Burgundy.

SOSA found Paradox Reserve to deliver on the hope of a Burgundian style. Clean, full bodied, crisp acidity, brooding red fruit; cranberry, raspberry and black cherry notes and the all essential perfumed, spiced, forest floor aromatics. A solid effort. $40.00.

4. Muscedere: Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010. A Lake Erie North Shore vineyard, Muscedere seems to specialize in producing reds with body that can only be achieved by its southern Ontario latitude.

Cabernet Sauvignon is not the perfect varietal for Ontario, yet Muscedere make it possible. Bright fruit; cherry, blueberry, sharp acidity complementing tannins that produce a well rounded structure to this dark, moody, yet full bodied Cab. This is definitely not the only thing these guys do very well! $30.00.

5. Henry of Pelham: Speck Family Reserve, Cab/Merlot, 2007. When it comes to an Ontario Cab/Merlot blend Speck Family Reserve is the real deal. A beautifully complex nose of plum, black currant, leather, graphite, and baking spices. Well balanced and medium plus body. A right bank Bordeaux style. $50.00.

6. Vineland Estates: Reserve, Cab/Merlot, 2007. 2007 was a very appropriate year to end up with a Cab/Merlot blend owing 53% of its structure to cabernet sauvignon. Raspberry, black cherry- great dark fruit. Tannins will hold it together for a few years yet. $40.00.

7. Burning Kiln: Cab Frank, Cab Franc, 2011. Frankly, a very fine Ontario Cabernet Franc. Burning Kiln not only won our Rose category, but also managed to make a showing in our top 10 Reds. This Cab Franc is going to keep for a while. Tannic, full bodied, loads of dark fruit and high alcohol – a wine that will come into its own in 3 to 5 years. $24.95.

8. Casa Dea Estate: Cabernet Franc, 2009. Medium bodied with ample acidity. Black cherry, raspberry and plum. Ripe tannins with a clean finish. As you will see Casa Dea broke the Top 10 twice! $18.95.

9. The Foreign Affair: Merlot, 2009. With 10% dried grapes, and 17 months in French oak this Ontario Merlot could be confused with a mid-level Pomerol. A dusty graphite nose leads to a palate of plum and cocoa. Firm tannins will hold this wine for the next 5 to 7 years at least. $42.00.

10. Casa Dea Estate: Gamay, 2010. Casa Dea wins our tenth spot on the Top Ten Reds list with their 2010 Gamay. Another red grape that thrives in Ontario, Gamay is generally an easy drinking, crowd -pleaser. Cherry, raspberry, crisp acidity- a great food match. $14.95.


1. Thomas Bachelder: Chardonnay, 2009. There is a reason why Ontario celebrates cool climate Chardonnay – we do it very well. Perhaps in the recent past it was thought that riesling would be the white flagship grape of Ontario, but think more Burgundian!

Winning out by a margin of 1.5 points, Thomas Bachelder’s 2009 Ontario Chardonnay is SOSA’s Top White Wine for 2012. If you don’t know Thomas Bachelder, then you don’t know of the “trois terroir” or the “Bachelder Project as he calls it. Thomas Bachelder has made chardonnay in Burgundy, Oregon and Ontario, and in doing so has had the chance to live in and experience three of the most suitable spots on earth to produce fine chardonnay.

This elegant Chardonnay would rival some of the best of Burgundy. On the nose, a mineral driven finely and tuned Chardonnay. Delicate, complex and well balanced this wine offers notes of lemon, orange peel, and pineapple intermingled with subdued, toasty oak. Tight, balanced and exciting. One of life’s pleasures. $31.95.

2. Tawse: Echos, Riesling, 2010. Taking second spot on SOSA’s Best Whites category it is no surprise to see the name Tawse. Bruce Wallner put it simply, “…aromas of Mosel, tastes like Mosel”. This is a “licensee only” product, not available in the L.C.B.O, but perfect for your restaurant.

This Riesling packs aromas of; petrol, citrus notes of grapefruit, lime zest, and honey. Mouth-watering acidity defines the structure, and bright citrus fruit give this Riesling lively presence. $17.95.

3. Flatrock Cellars: Reserve, Riesling, 2009. Third place is taken by yet another riesling. “Petrol” is usually what one would expect on the nose of a Riesling from the Mosel or Rhingheau in Germany, and in Ontario the best riesling producers are able to get the similar results.

This reserve riesling from Flatrock delivers on that German riesling profile. Accompanied by crisp, clean acidity, great structure and balance comes waves of vibrant flavours; lime, orange peel, and a honeyed finish. $30.20.

4. Henry of Pelham: Speck Family, Chardonnay, 2009. Fourth spot goes to our second choice in chardonnay. Baked apple, butterscotch, zesty lemon notes. Complex, full bodied and balanced. Toasty oak, and bright acidity. Fine nuance in great structure. $35.00.

5. Mike Weir: Riesling, 2008. Tight, bright fruit; white grapefruit, grapefruit rind. Petrol on the nose with clean, sharp acidity. For this price point- great depth! Vibrant example of Niagara riesling. $14.95.

6. The Foreign Affair: Chardonnay, 2009. Another example of a full bodied Ontario Chardonnay. With 10% dried grapes this chardonnay stands firm with generous acidity and fine structure. Apple and lemon zest aromas lead to a baked apple, mushroom and a mineral finish. $29.95.

7. Angel’s Gate: Riesling, 2008. Another fine example of Ontario’s ability, more specifically Beamsville Bench’s ability, to produce unique examples of Riesling. Clean, crisp acidity, citrus accents of lime and grapefruit surrounding limestone induced minerality. $13.95.

8. Cave Springs: Chardonnay, 2010. Our third choice for chardonnay, Cave Springs delivers. Subtle nose of red apple, lemon zest, and a hint of orange peel. Mineral driven style and “steely”, somewhat reminiscent of Chablis. $14.95.

9. Sue Ann Staff: Loved by Lu, Riesling, 2011. Not your typical Ontario Riesling. Tangy with a zing! A silky, perfumed nose leads to full-on peach, apricot, and citrus flavours. The body seems greater than that of a typical Ontario Riesling, but adding very well balanced acidity to the mix makes this a wine with personality. $16.95.

10. Colchester Ridge Estate Winery: Posh Cuvee, 2011. The only white from Lake Erie North Shore to enter our top 10. This blend of chardonnay, gewürztraminer and Riesling is charming.

White blends are becoming more prominent in this market, and we see why. “Floral, tasty-delicious” is what one judge noted. Unanimously enjoyable by all those who judged this entry. The Posh Cuvee scored a 10/10 for “pleasure”. With Posh Cuvee rounding out our top 10 White Wines SOSA is proud to declare this a rock-solid hit-list of great Ontario white wines. $13.00.

The Winner of Best Rosé

Perhaps you have never heard of Turkey Point, Port Dover, Long Point Bay or another wine growing region located close to Niagara but not within its borders. However, in the very near future the Ontario wine community will, and it will be because of BURNING KILN WINERY.

Growing Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Merlot this “new” winery just came away from its first solid vintage taking top spot in SOSA’s Best Rosé category, as well as impressing the judges with a few other entries.

Rosé, other than those made in Tavel, France, don’t seem to garner any fanfare or following, but find a restaurant patio in July and you’ll find the public beating the heat by consuming the pink drink. Burning Kiln’s Cabernet Franc rosé’s clean acidity, strawberry/cherry palate and fine tannic backbone make it our top pick. $17.95.

The Winner of Best Sparkling

Taking into consideration our climate, it is not surprising that sparkling wines produced here can be exceptionally delicious. SOSA’s Best Sparkling award goes to Prince Edward County’s HUFF ESTATES, and deservedly so.

Not only is this sparkling wine outstanding, but many may find that Huff Estate is also the best bang for the buck. Does Champagne know that Prince Edward County may be turning heads (and dollars away) from France to invest in locally grown and produced bubbles? Probably not, but we “in the know” in Ontario are thankful, so much so in fact, that Huff’s 2008 VQA PEC CUVEÉ Peter F. Huff is unfortunately sold out!

This Brut, Méthode Traditionelle sparkler offers up crisp green apple notes, vibrant citrus flavours, baked apple pie on the nose and razor sharp acidity with a tight, generous mousse. $39.95

Read more about the Southern Ontario Sommelier Alliance wine competition here.

You may also enjoy these profiles and video chats with top Ontario sommeliers:

Top Sommeliers Compete for National Title: Video Part 2

Canada’s Best Sommelier Competition: Bruce Wallner Video 

Canada’s Best Sommeliers: Celebrating our Wine Wizards

Ritz-Carlton TOCA Sommelier Lorie O’Sullivan on BBQ wines, restaurant wine lists

Canoe Restaurant Sommelier Will Predhomme Tips for Tasting Wine 


What Is SOSA?

SOSA is, the Southern Ontario Sommelier Alliance. We are a group of Certified Sommeliers, educated in Ontario, certified by both the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) and the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), who formed an alliance which would serve as a “tasting group” for those of us who wished to meet regularly and keep our deductive tasting skills sharp.

As well, SOSA exists as a social group for; sommeliers, students currently studying to become certified “somms”, and also anyone who has a passion for wine and expanding their palate.

The 2012 SOSA Ontario Wine Review and Competition

Last August 19th, 12 sommeliers sat down to judge, in blind fashion, over 130 wine submissions from all over Ontario. As well, another 20 sommeliers reviewed these wines, all in an effort to award one entrant the SOSA CUP.

The unique slant this competition has over all others is, simply, everyone in attendance, everyone judging these wines is a sommelier. This, our inaugural Wine Review and Competition, was born from the idea that the people best suited to evaluating Ontario wines would be a group of regimented Ontario wine professionals, all familiar with the pertinent criteria necessary to evaluate wines from a purely unbiased standpoint.

This competition serves as a way to connect Ontario winemakers directly to the top sommeliers in Ontario working at the best fine dining establishments in Toronto and the outlying regions of the G.T.A. What we hope we’ve accomplished is a means to showcase, and present some of the best wines in Ontario directly to the most influential creators of fine dining wine-lists.

Why SOSA? Why Sommeliers?

Niagara, for Ontarians, is (if I may) our Napa Valley. Niagara is this beautiful, bountiful fruit basket of Ontario where some very interesting wines are being made group of talented winemakers.

But for the average wine drinker, Ontario wines are not taken as seriously as wines from other well established parts of the (wine) world. And for (perceived) wine snobs, Ontario is mostly not even on their radar. Why is this? It is due to a lack of study, and context.

As trained sommeliers, SOSA members are educated in evaluating wines not just from the impact of flavours on the senses, but by structural analysis. The relevant thing  bout having a group of sommeliers critiquing wines is simply that we are, literally, “the working man’s palate”.

We have all been trained, in the same manner, to see wines from a practical standpoint. The only wines a sommelier favours are those that will suit a wine-list, stand on their own or be a great food partner, and will be economically feasible. There are no “scores” on a fine dining wine-list – only great wines.

Usually, when one comes across a wine review, the reviewer is generally more concerned with listing flavour descriptors and appropriate food matches to his/her audience, and then attaching a “score” to the review. The emphasis here is on the wines (so we are not including the scores!). Does anyone ever ask where this score came from? What criterion was involved in the judgement process?

Usually we are left with a mystery on our hands. In this report we will be including our “scoring matrix”, put together with the guiding hand of Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner, in order to reveal the process behind the final number. It would be nice, if we all, as evaluators, used the same (consistent) process to score wines. The idea of having SOSA conduct this review and competition is to uncover those gems that exist in this province, perhaps not on the L.C.B.O. shelves, but directly from some of the best wineries of which perhaps you may not have heard.

The New World Dilemma

We as wine consumers, not unlike wine makers, have to make a conscious decision: Do I look for authentic typicity from an international varietal? Or do I look for a uniqueness that only local terroir could bring to an internationally planted varietal? This is a great dilemma.

We as worldwide imbibers have been afforded the opportunity to drink Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, Riesling from Germany, Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Zinfandel from California, but is this what we should expect from those varietals when grown in Ontario? This is where the “purists” duke it out with the “pioneers”.

And this is precisely where an impartial palate comes in to play. Even though Ontario is not Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhone, the Loire, or Mosel – we found some very, very good wines that not only bring to mind these geographic name-sakes, but do justice to these grapes given the latitude and climate we possess here in Ontario.

Our Scoring Method

SOSA constructed a scoring matrix that would take into account all the criteria necessary to address the structural elements of a wine, as well as the typicity of the grape. What was also added to this scoring matrix was a component that accounted for 10% of the overall mark which addresses, simply, the enjoyment of the wine.

We could not judge wines (with blinders on) being typical “wine-geeks” who forgot to think about the actual human element of joy. The 14 components of the SOSA matrix helped the judges arrive at a number that made complete sense. There is no “magical” way to simply come up with a score to attach to a wine. We felt there needed to be a process by which you can “show your work”, just as we did in math class in high school! If there is no process, how can there be any consistent conclusion? Here is how we look at a wine…

With the SOSA matrix it was possible for a wine to score fairly well, even if it was not strong on typicity. As an example, we experienced some wines that lacked the typicity of the grape on the label, yet scored well due to its structural elements, and overall enjoyment.

The one caveat for scoring Ontario wines is to take into account the fact that we do not possess the history of Europe. In Ontario, we only have roughly 20 years of history to be able to fall back on.

This means that anyone scoring Ontario , or for that matter any “New World” wines, must first take into account that grape’s flavour profile as it stands in its “Mother Country”, and then apply the recent New World history of that grape’s new identity. It is science, but judging anything from a human perspective, is not a totally exact science. There is always differing perspectives – which is why we used a “jury” of 12…

Meet the Jury of 12

Thumbing through the SOSA rolodex of roughly 60 Southern Ontario sommeliers, we were able to acquire 12 of the most influential wine professionals to preside over the more than 130 wines submitted to the inaugural SOSA Wine Review and Competition. We felt that if one wine reviewer’s opinion was good, 12 must be far more reliable!

1) Bruce Wallner, M.S.: Bruce is one of only three Master Sommeliers in Canada, of which there are only 197 worldwide! Bruce has worked everywhere from Hotel du Vin in London, to Australia, and now Toronto. Currently Mr. Wallner serves as Chef Sommelier at Mideastro in Yorkville.

2) Will Predhomme: Will, an Advanced Sommelier, a previous winner of B.O.S.C. (Best Ontario Sommelier Competition), and recently placing 6th in Brazil at the Association de la Sommellerie International Americas division, runs the wine program at Canoe, 54 stories above the city of Toronto.

3) Corey Ladouceur: Corey, an Advanced Sommelier, has run wine programs for the Spoke Club, Hockley Valley Resort and George restaurant.

4) Johnathan Gonsenhauser: an Advanced Sommelier, Johnathan has been a fixture at E11EVEN (part of the MLSE) for several years.

5) Jasmine Black: Jasmine, a Certified Sommelier, currently runs the wine program for REDS bistro.

6) Sara d’Amato: Sara is a Certified Sommelier, board-member of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, wine columnist and blogger, and champion of Ontario wines.

7) Drew Walker: Drew, a Certified Sommelier, currently runs the wine program at the newly completed Four Seasons in Yorkville.

8) James Oatway: James, a Certified Sommelier, is a board-member of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, the President of the Southern Ontario Sommelier Alliance, and currently works for the wine agency, Halpern Enterprises.

9) Adam Kern: Adam is a Certified Sommelier, and a wine maker currently residing in Prince Edward County making wines for Keint He winery.

10) Ludovic Garnier: Ludo, a Certified Sommelier, runs the wine program at The Spoke Club here in Toronto.

11) Matthew Roulston: Matthew Roulston is a Certified Sommelier currently running the wine program at LA’s (aka Little Anthony’s), in the heart of downtown Toronto.

12) Drew Innes: Drew, a Certified Sommelier, has been an outspoken and impassioned instructor at George Brown College, teaching introductory wine courses to the masses for years.

The Wines

Out of over 130 wines sampled last August 19th, SOSA chose one winner among all entries, as well as four category winners. We would also like to point out the 20 Best Red and White wine entries, all well within one or two points of each other, as well as the winners of the Best Rosé and Best Sparkling Wine categories.

The wines submitted to our review and competition came from Price Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore, and of course the Niagara Peninsula. We were happy to find that each region has begun to reveal its specific strengths.

With this being our inaugural competition we received entries that could only be described as “apples and oranges”. We did not specify price categories or current vintage as guidelines for submission. We received vintages that ranging from 2007 (perhaps many people’s best efforts) to 2011, the most current efforts of some wineries.

SOSA decided that for this year only we would allow any submissions, allowing current vintages to go back to back with wines that have had time to settle down or gain nuance. We felt that for SOSA’s first Wine Review and Competition we would accept the best wines that Ontario wine makers could come up with. Price was not an issue either. The wines were judged blind, side by side, whether it be a $12.00 wine or a $55.00 effort- the wines were judged by (varietal) alone. In the end, the inexpensive beat out many entries priced much higher!

James Oatway,
SOSA President


Participating Wineries

13th Street Winery
Angel’s Gate Winery
Burning Kiln Winery
Calamus Estate Winery
Casa Dea Estates Winery
Cave Spring Cellars
Closson Chase Vineyards
Colchester Ridge Estate Winery (CREW)
Cooper’s Hawk
Creekside Estate Winery
Fielding Estate Winery
Five Rows Craft Wine
Flatrock Cellars
GreenLane Estates Winery
Henry of Pelham Winery
Hernder Estate Wines
Huff Estates
Karlo Estates Winery
Lakeview Cellars Estate Winery
Le Clos Jordanne
Maleta Estate Winery
Mike Weir Estate Winery
Muscedere Vineyards
Norman Hardie Wines
Organized Crime Winery
Oxley Estate Winery
Pelee Island Winery
Pilliteri Estates Winery
Pondview Estate Winery
Reif Estate Winery
Rennie Estates Winery
Southbrook Estate Winery
Sue Anne Staff Estate Winery
Tawse Winery
The Devil’s Wishbone Winery
The Foreign Affair Winery
The Good Earth Vineyard and Winery
Thomas Bachelder
Vineland Estates Winery 

Special Thanks to: Mark William’s and “Hip Restaurants”, The Cheese Boutique, Adam Hijazi, Delaire Dhillon, Michelle Paris, Sean Rowlands, Jeff Neudorf, Adam Kern, Kristen Allen, Candida Ness, and Dennis Grimm.

SOSA’s “Ontario Wine review and Competition” for 2013

The Southern Ontario Sommelier Alliance will be holding the 2nd annual Ontario Wine Review and Competition next summer. This competition is open to all Ontario wineries. See you next year!

You may also enjoy these sommelier video chats:

Restaurant Wine Lists: Vintage Tips Video 

Canada’s Best Sommeliers: Celebrating our Wine Wizards

Top Sommeliers Compete for National Title: Video Part 2

Canada’s Best Sommelier Competition: Bruce Wallner Video 

Pairing Wine and Dessert with a Sommelier and Wine Importer 

Weddings: Champagne & Wine for the Happy Couple

Video: Restaurant Wine Service: the Good, the Bad and the Gross

Summer Wines and Seafood, Barbecue, Picnics – Sommelier Sheila Person

Best Ontario Sommelier Competition and Gala Dinner – April 22nd Toronto  

Ritz-Carlton TOCA Sommelier Lorie O’Sullivan on BBQ wines, restaurant wine lists

Canoe Restaurant Sommelier Will Predhomme Tips for Tasting Wine 

Royal York Sommelier Jimson Bienenstock Shares His Secrets for Enjoying Wine  

Master Sommelier Video: What it Takes to be a Restaurant Wine Expert 



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