As summer arrives and an avalanche of European snaps begin to do the rounds on social media, those who aren't escaping the city flock to the best patios and Toronto wine bars to get a taste of something foreign. And while Europe is chock-full of excellent wine producing regions, from well-known destinations in France to lesser-known areas like Saxony, Germany and underrated gems like Vienna, Austria, we’re instead looking inward to our province.

Ontario wine has plenty to offer the discerning drinker, with enough high-calibre expressions to keep even the most insatiable oenophiles entertained. The estate wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake have some of the oldest vineyards in Canada, while wineries in Beamsville, Niagara are closer to Toronto and are often less crowded. The up-and-coming, trendy Prince Edward County wineries provide a different vibe, but also have some excellent offerings.

The Ontario Wine Awards has been recognizing the crème de la crème of wine since 1995, endorsing the top dogs in categories like best winemaker, winery, sparkling wine, and even label design. Tony Aspler, an international wine consultant and judge, founded the awards as a way to give Ontario VQA wines the appreciation they so deeply deserve, and today it is one of the most respected and prestigious awards within the wine industry.

More than 80 wineries participate in the Ontario Wine Awards each year, submitting almost 500 VQA wines for consideration in various categories. Now, the Ontario Wine Awards has announced the 2024 list, granting the best producers in the province with gold, silver and bronze medals for their wine, plus special honours. We’ve put a spotlight on the big winners this year, so you know where to visit this summer and which bottles to look for when you’re shopping for wine.

Ontario Wine Awards | A judging table with pencils and a spit bucket

How are the awards judged?

Wineries across Ontario submit their wines to be judged across different categories based on varietals, styles and vintage. An expert panel consisting of somms, wine writers and winemakers blind-taste the wines, evaluating them on appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel and finish. They are then scored before a consensus is reached. Based on these scores and discussions, the wines are awarded medals.

Big winners of the Ontario Wine Awards

Domaine Queylus

3651 Sixteen Rd., Saint Anns

Domaine Queylus cleaned up at this year’s Ontario Wine Awards with three gold-winning bottles, Winery of the Year and White Wine of the Year. It could be attributed to their passion; the expertise of head winemaker Kelly Mason, who previously had stints at Tawse Winery and Le Clos Jordanne; or their precision, only making wines perfectly suited to their terroir. Try their curated selection of cool-climate wines (pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet franc and merlot) in the beautiful year-round tasting room or on the summer patio paired with bites.

Lakeview Wine Co.

1067 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake

Home to a large roster of top-selling Ontario brands and VQA wines, Lakeview Wine Co. has been a fixture of the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine industry since the 90s. With a picturesque location and a diverse portfolio of wine, this is one of the best places to sample Ontario’s bounty. Head to their retail and tasting facility to learn more about the vino, or tour their 43,000-square-foot winemaking facility. Lakeview’s award-winning winemaker Scott McGregor oversees production of a range of reds, whites, rosés, sparkling and icewines, many of which are available at the LCBO.

What does VQA mean?

VQA, or Vintners Quality Alliance, is a regulatory system that guarantees the quality of wines in Ontario and B.C. A VQA stamp ensures that the wine is made from grapes grown in designated wine regions, like the Niagara Peninsula or P.E.C. The designation is a mark of quality and authenticity, so consumers know they’re buying a high-quality wine.

Karlo Estates Winery

561 Danforth Rd., Wellington

Old World traditional methods meet modern ideals at this Prince Edward County winery. Karlo Estates wines are made with hand-harvested fruit, natural fermentation and minimal intervention, all with sustainability in mind. Among their accolades and awards, they produced one of the world’s first certified vegan wines. Snack on dairy-free cheese and plant-based charcuterie with a tasting flight in their year-round Speakeasy Wine Lounge or beside the fireplace on the covered patio. Be sure to try their buttery chardonnay.

Big Head Wines Inc.

823 Line 6 Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake

The name could easily refer to an ego from this family-owned winery’s years of producing award-winning bottles, but it’s actually a nod to the big, full-bodied wines they’re known for. Decant their gold-winning 2019 Merlot Select and soak in the herbal notes and flavours of chocolate covered cherries. Buy a bottle from the online shop and pair this Red Wine of the Year with red meat or dark chocolate, or visit Big Head’s new vineyard location in Niagara-on-the-Lake for tasting flights and a summer pizza patio.

Matt Smith: Cloudsley Cellars & Honsberger Estate

Recipient of the Paul Pender Memorial Award

Wine has been a part of Matt Smith’s life since he was 13 years old. Smith graduated from Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program.

Currently head winemaker for Cloudsley Cellars and Honsberger Estate, Smith’s impressive resume boasts stints at award-winning wineries like Trius, Southbrook, Domaine Queylus and Bachelder.

In 2024, Smith’s outstanding talent, passion, professionalism and commitment to helping those entering the wine world earned him the prestigious Paul Pender Memorial ‘Rising Star Award.’

Special Awards

Winery of the Year

3 Gold, 5 Silver, 2 Bronze

Domaine Queylus

Lieutenant Governor's Award Red Wine of the Year

Big Head Wines Inc. Merlot Select 2019

Lieutenant Governor's Award White Wine of the Year

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2020

Sparkling of the Year

Lakeview Wine Co. Sparkling Brut 2017

Student's Choice Top Red Wine

Big Head Wines Inc. Lipinski Family Genia 2020

Student's Choice Top White Wine

Karlo Estates Winery Ontario Chardonnay 2021

Student's Choice Top Ice Wine

Magnotta Winery 2019 Riesling Icewine Niagara Peninsula Limited Edition VQA

Student's Choice Top Sparkling Wine

The Grange of Prince Edward 2017 Lafontaine du Loup Rose

Paul Pender Memorial Award

Matt Smith Cloudsley Cellars and Honsberger Estate Winery

The full list of Ontario Wine Awards Winners

Cabernet Franc Award

Peller Estates Winery 2022 Private Reserve Cabernet Franc

Colio Estate Wines 2020 Small Lot Series Cabernet Franc

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2020 Small Lot Cabernet Franc

Nomad at Hinterbrook Winery 2020 Cabernet Franc

Domaine Queylus 2020 Cabernet Franc La Grande Réserve

Trius Winery 2020 Showcase Red Shale Cabernet Franc

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2022 Winemaker's Blend Cabernet Franc

The Good Earth Food and Wine Co. 2020 Cabernet Franc

Stanners Vineyard 2021 Cabernet Franc

Lighthall Vineyards 2021 Cabernet Franc

Chateau Des Charmes 2020 Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Sauvignon Award

Nomad at Hinterbrook Winery 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon

Peller Estates Winery 2020 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon

Reif Estate Winery 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Trius Winery 2020 Showcase East Block Cabernet Sauvignon

Trius Winery 2022 Cabernet Sauvignon

Pelee Island Winery 2017 Vinedresser Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon

Peller Estates Winery 2022 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2020 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon

Wayne Gretzky Estates 2021 No.99 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon

Big Head Wines Inc. 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon Select

Dry White Varietals Award

Malivoire Wine 2023 Stouck Viognier

Gamay Award

The Foreign Affair Winery 2022 Gamay Noir

Three Dog Winery 2022 Gamay

Malivoire Wine 2022 Small Lot Gamay

Peller Estates Winery 2022 Private Reserve Gamay Noir

Chateau Des Charmes 2021 Gamay Noir

Icewine Award

Niagara College Teaching Winery 2020 Dean’s List Scholar Icewine

Magnotta Winery 2019 Cabernet Franc Icewine Niagara Peninsula Limited Edition VQA

Magnotta Winery 2019 Riesling Icewine Niagara Peninsula Limited Edition

Riverview Cellars Estate Winery 2019 Cabernet Franc Icewine

Redstone Winery 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine

Meritage and Cabernet/Merlot Blends Award

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery 2021 Reserve Red

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery 2021 Ravine Meritage

Creekside Estate Winery 2020 Red Tractor Cabernet Merlot

Redstone Winery 2020 Meritage

Colio Estate Wines 2020 Small Lot Series Meritage

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery 2020 Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot

Domaine Queylus 2020 Limited Edition Les Partenairies

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2022 Winemaker's Blend Red

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Fireside Red

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Rock Pile Red

Karlo Estates Winery 2021 Triumvirate

Strewn Winery 2020 Assemblage

Merlot Award

Big Head Wines Inc. 2019 Merlot Select

Colio Estate Wines 2020 Reserve Merlot

Kacaba Vineyards Winery 2021 Merlot

Oaked Chardonnay Award

Domaine Queylus 2020 Chardonnay Tradition

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery 2022 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay

Domaine Queylus 2021 Chardonnay Tradition

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Rock Pile Chardonnay

Domaine Queylus 2022 Chardonnay La Grande Réserve

Orange Wine

Lailey Winery 2021 Skin Fermented Vidal

Other Reds Award

Magnotta Winery 2021 Unbridled Double Cab Equus Series VQA

The Foreign Affair Winery 2021 Petit Verdot

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Red Conception

Wayne Gretzky Estates 2022 No.99 Signature Series Baco Noir

Konzelmann Estate Winery 2021 Merlot Shiraz

Pinot Gris Award

Huff Estates Winery 2023 Just Because Pinot Gris

Pinot Noir Award

Meldville Wines 2021 Pinot Noir

Flat Rock Cellars 2020 Gravity Pinot Noir

Stanners Vineyard 2021 Pinot Noir

Domaine Queylus 2020 Pinot Noir Tradition

Closson Chase Vineyards 2021 South Clos Pinot Noir

Domaine Queylus 2020 Pinot Noir La Grande Réserve

Domaine Queylus 2020 Pinot Noir Réserve du Domaine

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Pinot Noir

Domaine Queylus 2020 Pinot Noir Limited Edition Mountainview Vineyard

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2021 Small Lot Pinot Noir Extended Barrel Aged

Norman Hardie Winery & Vineyard 2020 Pinot Noir

Riesling Dry Award

Three Dog Winery 2023 Foxcroft Riesling

Strewn Winery 2022 Terroir Riesling

Riesling Semi-dry Award

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Riesling Estate Bottled

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2020 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard

Sue-Ann Staff Winery 2020 Riesling Loved By Lu

Tawse Winery 2021 Limestone Ridge-North Riesling

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery 2022 The 'Dry River' Estate Riesling

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Riesling

Featherstone Estate Winery 2023 Black Sheep Riesling

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery 2023 Small Batch Riesling

Three Dog Winery 2023 Reiki Riesling

Rosé Award

Three Dog Winery 2023 Dog House Rosé

Domaine Queylus 2023 Rosé

Featherstone Estate Winery 2023 Rosé

Fielding Estate Winery 2023 Rosé

Malivoire Wine 2023 Rosé Moira

Sauvignon Blanc Award

Trius Winery 2023 Sauvignon Blanc

Trius Winery 2021 Showcase Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc

Fielding Estate Winery 2023 Sauvignon Blanc

Traditional Method Sparkling Wine Award

Lakeview Wine Co. 2017 Sparkling Brut

Tawse Winery 2015 Quarry Road Blanc de Blancs

Bella Terra Vineyards 2018 Blanc de Blanc

Strewn Winery Non-Vintage Muselet

Fielding Estate Winery Non-Vintage Brut

Chateau Des Charmes 2019 Blanc De Blancs

Tawse Winery 2021 Spark Limestone Ridge Organic Brut Sparkling Riesling

Megalomaniac Wines Non-Vintage Bubblehead Sparkling Rosé

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery Non-Vintage Brut

Huff Estates Winery 2021 Cuvée Peter

Malivoire Wine Non-Vintage Bisous Rosé

Chateau Des Charmes Non-Vintage Brut

Tawse Winery 2017 Spark! Blend

Fielding Estate Winery Non-Vintage Sparkling Rosé

Pelee Island Winery 2019 Empress

The Grange of Prince Edward 2017 Lafontaine du Loup Rosé

Syrah/Shiraz Award

Creekside Estate Winery 2020 Iconoclast Syrah

Fielding Estate Winery 2020 Syrah

Unassigned Wines Award

Konzelmann Estate Winery Non-Vintage Canada Red

Fielding Estate Winery 2022 Cabernet-Syrah

Exultet Estates 2019 Cru X Chardonnay

Malivoire Wine 2022 Cabernet Franc

Konzelmann Estate Winery 2023 Baco Noir

Malivoire Wine 2022 Farmstead Gamay

Chateau Des Charmes 2021 Gamay Droit

Konzelmann Estate Winery 2023 Chardonnay Unoaked

Peller Estates Winery 2022 Family Reserve Secco Bubbles