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Ontario wine’s prime time

June has become the month for grand wine events in Ontario, timed to kick off the summer touring season. And this is sure to be a good year to go wine tripping: local wineries are strutting some fine bottlings from the 2007 vintage—the best in recent memory (see Toronto Life’s July issue)—although some styles will not be released for a few months, like the barrel-aged whites and reds. To help you plan your trip, here is a quick primer on some of the best events in the days ahead.

Second Annual Niagara Wine Auction (in support of the Hospital for Sick Children) Plenty of wine will be poured here, but this is more a large, elegant summer soirée than a nose-to-the-glass event. Barrel lots of premium 2007s will be silent-auctioned during a garden party at Fort George on Saturday (26 chefs, over 40 wines), with other grand auction lots available during a black-tie gala hosted by Jann Arden and featuring the Pointer Sisters and the Temptations. Food is by Toronto celebrity chef Michael Bonacini, and stargazers can expect a cameo by actor Jason Priestly, who has taken a recent financial interest in B.C.’s Black Hills Estate Winery. More information is available on the Auction’s Web site.How much: A hefty $1,000. When: VIP reception Friday, June 13; auction Saturday, June 14.Where: The Commons at Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Niagara New Vintage FestivalKicking off on the same weekend as the above auction is the Niagara New Vintage Festival, where wineries preview their 2007 releases at winery tastings, seminars and dinners. You can sign up for individual events or arrange a touring passport on the Festival’s Web site. The culmination on Saturday, June 21, is New Vintage Grille, with over 20 wineries showcasing new wines at the Niagara Culinary Institute at Niagara College. There will be jazz bands, and celeb chef Anna Olson will preside.How much: Discovery Pass $30 (access to six venues); individual passes $10; New Vintage Grille $90.When: June 14, 15, 21 and 22.Where: Various wineries; New Vintage Grille, Niagara College, 135 Taylor Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Sip & Savour OntarioIf you can’t get away to wine country, it will come to Toronto in mid-June with this showcase of Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie wines entered in the Ontario Wine Awards (held earlier this spring). Several Ontario chefs will be creating accompanying matches. It’s taking place at the very appropriate new home for an increasing number of Toronto wine events: the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District. Find more information and tickets on the Ontario Wine Awards’ Web site. You can also download the list of award winners in order to do some pre-event sussing of the wines you want to seek.How much: $50.When: June 17.Where: 55 Mill St., Fermenting Cellar, Bldg. 58, 416-364-1177, ext. 239.

If you can’t get to any of these events, here are some Ontario wines worth discovering on the wineries’ Web sites or Winery to Home, which delivers directly to any address across Ontario. Some are just on the verge of being released, but it’s better to know about them too soon than too late.

2007 Whites

Thirty Bench 2007 Riesling Wood Post Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($30, 91 points)A lean, dry riesling from 27-year-old vines, this wine has an intense nose of wet stone minerality, pear, peach and a sprinkle of dried herbs. Full bodied, very powerful and bone dry, with a zesty, juicy, lemony finish. Outstanding length. Release is pending. Available at the winery starting this weekend. www.thirtybench.com

Fielding 2007 Gewürztraminer Reserve Vailmont Vineyard, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula ($24, 89 points)Gewürz has always been a strong suit at Fielding. This particular bottle sports clean, very generous aromas of lychee, rosewater and fennel—very typical of gewürztraminer. Full bodied, a touch sweet and rich. Very concentrated. Excellent length. Available late summer or fall. www.fieldingwines.com

Featherstone 2007 Gewürztraminer, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.15, 89 points) This gewürz has the classic showboat aromas of lychee, pepper, star fruit and orange, very mindful of Alsatian versions. It’s mid-weight, notably sweet and a bit fat, with good fruit density and alcohol warmth providing balance. Fennel and grapefruit on the finish, with excellent length. Release pending. Vintages, August 15. www.featherstonewinery.ca

Mike Weir 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Niagara Peninsula ($15.95, 88 points)Very good value. Lovely fresh, ripe peach–passion fruit, cut grass and pepper with some lime and grapefruit. Medium weight, smooth and polished, with a slightly sweet yet zesty finish. Has been 20 per cent barrel fermented. Very good length. Release pending at www.mikeweirwine.com/.

Peninsula Ridge 2007 Sauvignon Blanc AJ Lepp Vineyard, Niagara Lakeshore ($18.95, 87 points) Shows the ripeness of the vintage, with a soft, almost creamy nose of pear, grapefruit, spice and mild lemon grass notes. Most sauvignons are more herbaceous. Medium-full, fleshy, mellow and a touch sweet, with ripe pear-peach fruit. Very good length. Available now at www.peninsularidge.com.

Calamus 2007 Pinot Gris, Niagara Peninsula ($15.20, 86 points)This wine shows the faint grey and pink tinge of the pinot gris grape’s uniquely hued skin. It possesses the fresh, mild nose of white peach and baguette. Light to mid-weight, polished, fruity and fresh, with good acidity. Resembles Italian pinot grigio. Available at www.winerytohome.com.

Reif Estate 2007 Kerner, Niagara River ($15.15, 86 points)Rarely seen in Canada, Kerner is noted in Germany for its spiciness: less exuberant than gewürztraminer, but headed in that direction. Bright pale green–silver colour. It is a bit reserved on the nose, with more flavour on the palate, including a caraway seed nuance amid lime-like acidity and melon fruit. Off-dry, nicely rounded and balanced, with bright, lacy acidity lending a sense of delicacy and tension. Available at www.winerytohome.com.

2007 Rosés

13th Street 2007 Cabernet Rosé June’s Vineyard, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($16, 86 points) This rosé possesses a pale, luminous salmon-pink colour, as well as mild but complex aromas of mineral, dried currant, raspberry and cedar bough—very typical cab franc nose. Mid-weight, fresh and zesty, leaning to sourness but balanced by some sweetness. Very good lift and length. Serve chilled on a humid Toronto day. Now available at www.13thstreetwines.com.

Fielding 2007 Rose, Niagara Peninsula (Price TBA, 88 points)Another zesty, vibrant pink wine with the colour of pale salmon pink. Mild but nuanced aromas show minerals, sour berry-cherry fruit and planted herbs growing in damp soil. Lighter bodied than many, very lively, almost tingling with a touch of sweetness but a dry finish. Very good length and focus to the flavours. Available end of summer. www.fieldingwines.com

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