Wednesday Wine 101: VQA

With the LCBO’s increasing selection of locally-produced wines, VQA is an acronym that’s becoming more and more prevalent at the wine store.  But what does it stand for, and what does it tell you about a wine when you see it on a label?  This week, we’re delving deeper into VQA to learn more about Ontario wines and labelling practices.

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What is VQA?

A good place to start!  VQA stands for Vintners’ Quality Alliance, and it refers to the independent authority that establishes and oversees the province’s “appellation of origin” system (basically, where the wine comes from).  Wine Country Ontario nicely sums up the VQA’s role: “All countries that produce wine have similar systems [of appellation], which define their best grape-growing regions and set standards for their wines. In this province, that’s the VQA’s job.”

Why do VQA appellations tell me about a given wine?

You may have heard the term terroir (often translated as “the taste of place”), which is used to describe the ways in which the unique soil, air and water conditions of a given vineyard or region affect the taste of the wine produced from grapes grown there.  That’s why a Chardonnay from France tastes different than one from Australia, etc. The same is true of each of the three primary grape-growing regions (“appellations“) in Ontario (and 8, Canada-wide) – each has its own unique growing conditions that lend its wines unique characteristics.

The three primary appellations in Ontario are:

  • Lake Erie North Shore – this region’s “favourable southerly location combined with the warming effect of the shallow waters of Lake Erie allow this appellation to enjoy a long growing season and promotes ripe fruit with a perfect balance between natural sweetness and acidity.” (from VQA Ontario)
  • Niagara Peninsula – “characterized by rich, fertile soils and unique microclimates, which provide ideal conditions for producing wine grapes with more complexity and intense flavour than in many warmer climates.” (from VQA Ontario)
  • Prince Edward County – this region’s “terroir features loose gravely soil types that lay atop the broad Trenton limestone plateau. These soils provide good structure, ample drainage, shale and minerals for healthy development of vines and fruit with character.”
    (from VQA Ontario)

VQA Ontario sets the standards for wine production in any given region, and also designates that wines labelled “VQA Ontario” are made from 100% Ontario-grown grapes.  For sub-appellations (such as “VQA Niagara Peninsula”), wine producers must demonstrate that at least 85% of grapes used in that wine’s production came from the appellation in question (and 100% from Ontario).

For more info…

To learn more about Ontario VQA, visit VQAOntario.com.  You can also check out Wine Country Ontario‘s website (note: they refer to 4 primary Ontario appellations, including Pelee Island as the 4th).  Their website also includes a helpful Wine Route Planner for anyone planning a trip to explore local wineries.

Did you know?

“While grapes grown in the world’s warm regions ripen quickly and make for sweet, big wines that are low in acid and high in alcohol, the grapes grown in cooler regions (such as Ontario, Germany or northern France) ripen and accumulate their flavour slowly. The wines tend to be complex and balanced, with higher acidity and more mineral flavours—making them the most food-friendly wines in the world.” (from Wine Country Ontario)

…and now you have some neat tidbits to share at your next wine tasting!

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