Ontario Gamay Deserves its Moment

By / Wine + Drinks / November 15th, 2023 / 1

Ontario Gamay deserves its moment. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario chose to highlight the grape in an inaugural tasting series featuring VQA Wines of Ontario aimed at restaurant buyers/sommeliers, pouring over 40 versions from recent vintages alongside food, over an afternoon at Loop Line wine in Toronto. I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the style of Gamay wine and include some impressions from the talented team I work with at Pearle Hospitality. For a well penned article on the grape, please read Janet Dorozynski’s Grape Profile: Gamay in Ontario | Quench Magazine

Jordan Lesso, head sommelier for Pearle Hotel and Niagara/Toronto food scene veteran, shares his appreciation for the grape. “To begin, I’m a Gamay fan.  I often enjoy expressions from Cru Beaujolais as it offers a window into the world of red Burgundy, but a much better value.  There is generally a dependable style based on Cru and vintage. In Niagara, I find the style of Gamay varies based on producer, with some deploying new barrel strategies to put their own stamp of individuality on their wine.  Still, with our varying vintages and the grapes’ inherent ability to retain bright acidity and fresh fruit, we can encourage some very food friendly, versatile expressions that work well with grilled salmon, juicy pork sausage and even whole roast chicken with root vegetables.”

Kendra, head sommelier for Elora Mill hotel, echoes a similar appreciation for Gamay’s charms. “At a time where consumers can be very torn on their feelings towards Ontario wines, it seems that Gamay is a varietal whose wines are crafted well and received positively by many. I have always considered Ontario Gamay to be such a delightful wine when it comes to food. It never dominates the meal, nor does it shy away, it’s just happy to be at the party.  I like contrasting its happiness with dishes that have a bold earthy character. A glass of chilled Ontario Gamay and a warm, flavorful mushroom broth. Yum!”

Crystine Clarke, lead bartender for Ancaster Mill finds its versatility to be its best attribute, and notes that it can also be enjoyed at different service temperatures. “Gamay from Ontario is an incredible red for summer. It is great chilled, and light bodied enough to pair with chicken or a charcuterie board. Gamay is the perfect Thanksgiving wine as it is light enough to pair with turkey.”

The trade tasting was self-guided, with small plates offered to try along with the wines. After tasting through the wines – a feat made possible due to Gamay’s softer tannin structure and easy-going nature – I settled in to try the food interactions. The umami forward dishes overall worked well. Umami increases acidity perception and decreases fruitiness, so choose a Gamay with a substantial fruit concentration for the most success. Mushroom stroganoff with a crispy noodle garnish and herbs married beautifully with a more mature, warmer vintage wine. Mussels in a light white wine broth were umami/salty, as was the sanguine beef tartare, and both were symbiotic partners to the wine style. Salt enhances the fruit, so a little addition to the dish can be magic for the wine. The spicy chicken wing with a sweet-yet-hot scotch bonnet sauce was a nice interaction, as Gamay’s low alcohol and joyful fruit didn’t compound the heat/spice sensation. It worked better with the riper fruit of a 2020 than a tarter-fruited 2021.

Here are some brief impressions of my standouts, along with a few others that I tasted earlier in the week. Not listed in any order.

2021 Chateau des Charmes ‘Droit’ St David’s Bench Niagara

Very pretty, tart red fruited. Delicate without being lean on the palate. Straightforward and very pleasant.

2021 Malivoire ‘Small Lot’ Beamsville Bench Niagara

The Small Lot is always a celebration of the grape’s easy-to-love nature, and the 2021 follows suit. Tart cranberry freshness on the palate but with hints of darker fruit as well. Well-balanced and thoughtfully crafted.

2021 Malivoire Genova Vineyard Vinemount Ridge

An earthy and floral note, with more fruit ripeness compared to many of the same vintage. Elegant palate presence with a density to its fruit core.

2021 Hidden Bench ’Unfiltered’ Estate Lincoln Lakeshore

Lifted, perfumed, ripe dark berries, pomegranate. Vibrant palate with a balanced, flavorful, sandy-textured finish.

2021 Stratus Niagara Lakeshore

Plummy, generous berry aromas, a faint hint of five-spice.  Lovely balanced palate, flavorful finish.

2021 Bachelder Wismer-Foxcroft Twenty Mile Bench

Sanguine iron notes, lifted florals, great concentration of aromas and flavors. Layered, complex, flinty, lingering, persistent finish. Simply beautiful.

2021 Bachelder Willms Vineyard Four Mile Creek

A unique sappy, savory vibe here. Floral, black and red fruited, brooding. A nice amount of ripeness for the vintage, with a fleshy feel on the palate, a definite substance to the wine. Buoyant whole cluster fruit aromas/flavors add to its pleasure.

2020 Kern & Co Willms Vineyard Four Mill Creek

The vineyard signature seems to be an inviting, herbal/savory character and a density on the palate. This wine shows a kiss of oak spice and openness, with ripe black fruit notes to back it up.

2022 Westcott Vineyards Vinemount Ridge

Young nose, showing mostly darker fruits, an herbal note, slightly mineral. The palate is vibrant, juicy, and brimming with fruit presence. Concentrated enough to age a bit to give the aromas time to become more complex. Drink this in 2-3 years.

2020 Southbrook Triomphe Niagara Peninsula

Dark berries, plum, eucalyptus. A smoky note, with pleasant fruit ripeness on the palate.

2021 Southbrook Triomphe Niagara Peninsula

Aromatic, quite perfumed- floral, darker-fruited, herbal. The nose made it stand out in a crowd of its peers. The follow up on the palate showed a nice concentration and flavorful finish.

2015 Stratus Niagara Lakeshore

In a beautiful place in its development. Showing an exposed side to the fruit, but still ripe and fresh. Nice complexity of aromas, earthy and savory elements complimenting its fruit spectrum.

2022 Foreign Affair Lincoln Lakeshore

An opulent style, quite young, I’d expect to see this grow into something divine as all the building blocks for a beautiful wine are there. Nice structure and palate presence, needs a touch more time for the nose to open.


Brie Dema has a career rooted in hospitality and has worked with several fantastic Canadian wine and culinary programs including Langdon Hall, Fogo Island Inn and the Elora Mill. She has studied with WSET and CMS, holding the Diploma and the Advanced Pin respectively. Brie played the part of a bumblebee in her dance studio’s production of Peter Pan when she was five. She has a lousy sense of direction but can always find her way to the bottom of a glass of wine. Brie’s favorite role and greatest accomplishment is being a mom to her wonderful daughter Una. She wishes she was a better cook, but is glad she married a chef.

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