If you’re new to drinking Canadian wine from certain places, you may or may not have noticed the little VQA label that either is — or isn’t — present on the label. VQA stands for Vintner’s Quality Association, and much like wine regulatory bodies in France (AOC), Italy (DOC), and Spain (DO), it’s intended to guarantee an authenticity of origin and quality as it relates to wine produced in Ontario and British Columbia. A label that has everything to do with taste, territory, and terroir, a VQA label can tell you a lot about a bottle of wine before you even open it.
If you’re planning a trip to Niagara, take some time to familiarize yourself with one of the region’s crown jewels. Niagara’s wine country is celebrated around the world, and the VQA — along with enjoying copious amounts of the stuff, of course — can give you a bit of insight into understanding why. Here is a little of what you need to know to decipher that little, bitty label.
The Vintner’s Quality Association governs Ontario and British Columbia wines, and the Ontario-specific version is known as VQA Ontario. While its role as a regulatory agency is responsible for ensuring the wines that earn the VQA label meet certain criteria, it does not represent any of the wine makers or vineyard owners, but rather the area’s winemaking as a whole. Obsessed with both quality and authenticity, VQA Ontario works to maintain the integrity of Ontario wines’ terroir, while also expanding opportunities for people to understand and appreciate their uniqueness and variety.
What Is Terroir?
A French word that means “earth” or “soil,” terroir is a complex idea when it comes to the world of winemaking in general, and VQA wines in particular. It’s much more than just a description of the ways in which soil affects the grapes that are made into wine.
When considering a wine or winery’s terroir, climate, water, soil, drainage, elevation, other flora, and even winemaking tradition are all taken into consideration as having a real effect on a wine’s character, from the way it tastes and smells to the way it looks and feels in the mouth. For VQA Ontario wines in the Niagara Peninsula, the question of terroir gets incredibly detailed, and in order to be labeled VQA, a wine must honor it.
The Niagara Peninsula
The Niagara Peninsula boasts over 46 grape varietals planted on more than 13,500 acres. The largest area in all of Canada to be planted in vineyards whose grapes will become wine, it’s a remarkably varied appellation — a word that refers simply to a well-defined and geographical location — that has within it 12 different sub-appellations that are themselves broken down into even smaller regional appellations.
The area’s mild but varied climate coupled with fertile and diverse soils make for a surprising amount of multiplicity that has given Niagara an impressive reputation around the world. The Niagara Peninsula alone boasts roughly 55 percent of all of Ontario’s VQA wineries.
So, look for the label when you find yourself drinking wine in Niagara. Not only will it indicate that the wine you are drinking meets the strictest of quality standards, but VQA wines from Niagara are also some of the most satisfying in all of Canada — and in some cases, the world — to drink.
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