Bespoke Bottles: intriguing and less expensive Niagara wines that can only be found in Toronto restaurants

Bespoke Bottles: intriguing and less expensive Niagara wines that can only be found in Toronto restaurants

Here’s a secret: many of Niagara’s top producers have a range of what they call licensee wines, which are made specifically to sell to restaurants and not through the LCBO. They’re priced below their retail offerings, so the restaurants can add a markup and still pass savings on to diners. And while they may lack the structure and complexity of the top bottles from the same producers, they more than make up for it with food-friendliness and the zesty, lifted fruit flavour that’s typical of great Ontario wine. Here are some of my favourite licensee brands and where to find them in the city.

(Image: Dave Gillespie) (Image: Dave Gillespie)
 

Light and Fruity
MALIVOIRE 2013 SMALL LOT GAMAY
Niagara Escarpment | 89 points

Malivoire is the top Ontario producer of gamay, the Beaujolais grape. It’s a light-bodied, juicy and fresh wine with cranberry and cherry fruit offset by typical gamay pepperiness and meatiness. It’s great with charcuterie and cheese. Try it at Drake One Fifty, 416 Snack Bar or County General (both locations).

(Image: Dave Gillespie) (Image: Dave Gillespie)
 

Tart and Refreshing
HIDDEN BENCH 2013 BISTRO PINOT NOIR
Beamsville Bench | 88 points

Made entirely from organically grown estate fruit, Hidden Bench’s Bistro series is a winner. This is a pinot with clean raspberry-cherry fruit, herbs and gentle smokiness. Try it at Le Sélect Bistro, Le Germain Maple Leaf Square or Bymark.

(Image: Dave Gillespie) (Image: Dave Gillespie)
 

Savoury and Spicy
STRATUS 2012 TOLLGATE RED
Niagara Peninsula | 90 points

This is a substantial, juicy and delicious blend of 10 different grape varieties, including cab franc, syrah and gamay. The lifted floral, raspberry and tobacco flavours remind me of a Tuscan red. Try it at L’Unità, Taverna Mercatto or Archive.

(Image: Dave Gillespie) (Image: Dave Gillespie)
 

Fresh and Juicy
TAWSE 2013 RIESLING
Niagara Peninsula | 90 points

Sourced from Tawse’s new Limestone Ridge vineyard, this wine is as vibrant and polished as a riesling can get, with wonderful green apple, lime and white flower aromas. Try it at Enoteca Sociale, Volos or on tap at DaiLo.

(Image: Renée Suen) (Image: Renée Suen)
 

Bold and Aromatic
CAVE SPRING 2013 THE ADAM STEPS RIESLING
Beamsville Bench | 89 points

This gulpable riesling, grown close to the Niagara Escarpment, has spicy pear fruit, great acid balance and a touch of minerality. Try it at Actinolite, Pangaea or Furlough.