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For easy-drinking summer reds, Ontario is your go-to region

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Two weeks ago I waxed poetic about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc being a great summer sipper when it comes to white wine. Last week I offered a mixed-bag half-dozen wines for the cottage.

I went into this week's column thinking about red wines that are great for summer. If I'm drinking red in the heat, I typically look for wines that are lighter-bodied and lower in mouth-drying tannin and that bring ripe, up-front fruit. This type of red is well-served by 10 to 15 minutes in your fridge before serving.

So I started snooping around town for candidates, first zeroing in on Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir -- they're both lighter red wine grapes. I then poked around for some intriguing entry-level lighter red blends.

In my search, I realized Ontario is the ideal section at your local shop for finding summer red wines. Because of their cooler climate (at least in terms of wine-producing regions), Ontario wineries do a great job with both Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir.

And judging by what is on Manitoba shelves, there are also a lot of Ontario wineries making lighter red blends. Many of these red blends have catchy names: Sibling Rivalry, Guilty Men, Girls Night Out, Flourish, Union, Trend, etc. They insinuate they're more fun wines than they are serious sippers -- perfect for summer.

Don't get me wrong -- Ontario certainly makes more than its fair share of "serious" wines I'd urge you to try. There's some tremendous Pinot Noir coming from Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County that rivals the world's best, and some area winemakers are doing great work making big red wines from Bordeaux grape varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc).

Those wines are for another column. These wines are for enjoying on the deck in the summer...

FLAT ROCK 2009 PINOT NOIR (Twenty Mile Bench, Ont. -- $26.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

I've tried this Ontario Pinot Noir a few times, and it just seems to keep getting better. It's quite an aromatic red, with smoke, ripe cherry, graphite, raspberry and leather aromas. Light-bodied but bringing great intensity, the Flat Rock's red berry flavours -- raspberry and strawberry in particular -- are made more complex by delicate smoke and white pepper notes and very light tannin. 90/100


CAVE SPRING 2009 PINOT NOIR (Niagara Peninsula, Ont. -- $20.99)

Fairly light in colour -- even for a pinot -- the Cave Spring certainly doesn't come up short on the nose, with intense dried cherry, earth, mushroom, herbal, and blueberry aromas coming through in spades. Light-plus bodied, the Cave Spring pinot delivers cherry, toffee, mocha, anise, light white pepper and raspberry flavours. A splash of acidity keeps things bright and lively. 88/100


ANGELS GATE 2009 GAMAY NOIR (Niagara Peninsula, Ont. -- $14.71, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Perfume, strawberry, plum and light vanilla aromas are quite pleasant on the nose of this lighter red and, like many Gamays, it has a grape jelly-like note to it as well. Light-plus bodied, the Angels Gate packages tart raspberry and cherry candy flavours with medium acidity, bringing good intensity without the bubble gum component Gamay sometimes picks up (especially in Beaujolais Nouveau). Chill, grill and enjoy. 87/100


PELEE ISLAND 2010 LIGHTHOUSE CABERNET FRANC (Ontario -- $13.95, Liquor Marts and beyond)

The darkest of these reds, the Lighthouse has white pepper and cassis aromas while retaining the decidedly Cab Franc-ish bell pepper notes. A medium-plus-bodied red, a slight meaty flavour works well with dark berry and bell pepper flavours. Light tannin provides a bit of grip and weight -- 15 minutes in the fridge before serving with burgers would be ideal. 86/100


GENERATIONS WINE COMPANY 2009 "UNION" RED (Niagara Peninsula, Ont. -- $14.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

A Pinot Noir/Cabernet/Merlot blend, the Union delivers candied cherry, licorice, plum, light bell pepper and savoury spice on the nose. It's medium-bodied, low in tannin and big on fruit, with cherry, raspberry, blueberry jam and a hint of bell pepper on the palate. Chill for 10-15 minutes before serving. Interesting that their 2010 vintage is a Pinot Noir/Gamay Noir blend -- watch for that. 86/100


STEVEN & CHRIS TREND 2008 RED (Niagara Peninsula, Ont. -- $15.03, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Yes, the original Designer Guys have their own wine, which is, as the label says, "designed to be fabulous." A Merlot-Cabernet blend, the Trend offers plum, white pepper, blueberry jam and dark chocolate notes on the nose, with a slightly stewed raisin note in there as well. Medium-bodied and juicy, this red is approachable and easygoing, with big ripe dark fruit and no big tannin. Perfectly serviceable in the summer. 85/100


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 E4

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