WINE CATEGORIES AND LABELLING
VQA standards for packaging and labelling are comprehensive. Label integrity for consumers is our number one goal.
VQA labelling rules are based on the principle that a declaration on the label should fairly represent the composition of the wine. For many declarations, the rules are based on the widely used international standard that the declaration must be supported by at least 85% content. For example, if a vintage date is declared on the label, at least 85% of the content must be from the stated vintage.
All regulations are applied equally to the label and any signage, advertising or description of an individual wine. The wine may not be described by any term it does not qualify to use on the back label or website description.
Federally regulated label declarations such as alcohol content and any applicable allergy warnings must appear on the label of all wines sold in Canada.
All VQA wines must declare where the grapes are grown on the front label. This can be simply Ontario or a more specific region - look for the appellation name between the VQA letters!
All VQA wines must declare where the grapes are grown. This can be simply Ontario or a more specific region - see our appellation pages for more information.
VQA Ontario VQA = 100% ontario grown grapes
VQA Niagara Peninsula VQA = > 85% Niagara grown grapes, up to 15% can be from elsewhere in Ontario
VQA Sub-Appellation VQA (eg. Four Mile Creek) = 100% Four Mile Creek
Vintage dating means declaring the year when the grapes were grown. For some wine categories, vintage dating is mandatory, which means that they may only be produced from grapes grown in a single season and that must be declared on the label. For others, different vintages may be blended together. In this case no date will appear on the label.
A wine may be vintage dated if 85% or more of the grapes used in that wine are grown in a single vintage.
The following wine categories require a vintage date: Icewine, Botrytized Wine, Totally Botrytized Wine, Late Harvest Wine, Select Late Harvest Wine, Special Select Late Harvest Wine, Vin de Cure or Appassimento Wine, Nouveau Red Wine, Blanc De Noirs Wine, Skin Fermented White Wine.
Vintage dating is optional for Sparkling Wine, Fortified Wine and Liqueur Wine. It is also optional for Table Wines if they are labelled only with the Ontario appellation “VQA Ontario VQA”.
Different types of wine are defined as “categories” and specific rules apply to each category. The Viticultural Area or Geographical Indication must appear on the front label of all VQA wines.
Quick reference guide on labelling
Still wines that can be red, white, or rose, with many unique sub-categories.
Meritage - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot (red) or Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle (white).
Skin Fermented White Wine - Wine made by fermenting white or pink grapes on the skins to create a wine with tannin, structure, and a sensory profile unique to this category. Skin Fermented White Wines are fermented for at least 10 days on their skins.
- Labelling requirement: Skin Fermented White must be declared on the front label (principal display panel) in a font size at least as large as the font used to list the varieties, no smaller than 2.0 mm, OR if no varieties are listed, in a font size of at least 3.2 mm.
A wine that has undergone a secondary fermentation in tank or in bottle, resulting in a bubbly wine with a pressure not less than 300 kPA. This includes wines made in the Traditional Method, Charmat Method, Method Cuve Close, and tank method. Any carbonation in the wine must be naturally occurring and the result of fermentation. Artificial carbonation/forced carbonation is strictly prohibited.
- Labelling requirement - Method of Production must be declared.
A wine that has undergone primary or secondary fermentation in tank or in bottle resulting in a bubbly wine with a pressure not greater than 300kPA. Any carbonation in the wine must be naturally occurring and the result of fermentation. Artificial carbonation/forced carbonation is strictly prohibited. This is not a sparkling wine.
- Labelling requirement - Labelling rules for table wine apply.
Late Harvest wines are made from grapes harvested near the end of or well after the normal harvest season. As the grapes continue to hang on the vine, they desiccate and the juice becomes more concentrated and sweeter. They are labelled based on the sugar level of the grapes at harvest, with Icewine at the pinnacle of this category.
Icewine - A wine made from grapes frozen naturally on the vine. The grapes are harvested when the temperature falls below -8 degrees Celsius and yields a sweet juice measuring at least 35 degrees Brix.
- Labelling requirement: 100% Icewine, the Viticultural Area must appear on the front label.
Special Select Late Harvest - A wine made from grapes left to achieve a brix (sweetness at harvest) of at least 30 degrees. The Viticultural Area or Geographical Indication must appear on the front label.
Select Late Harvest - A wine made from grapes left to achieve a brix (sweetness at harvest) of at least 26 degrees. The Viticultural Area or Geographical Indication must appear on the front label.
Late Harvest - A wine made from grapes left to achieve a brix (sweetness at harvest) of at least 22 degrees. Late harvest wines are often slightly sweet but can be made in a dry style. The Viticultural Area or Geographical Indication must appear on the front label.
Appassimento (Vin de Cure)
Wine made with grapes that have been dried after harvest to concentrate their flavour before pressing. The term Appassimento or Vin de Cure can be used for wines that are at least 85% dried grapes. Appassimento-method can be used to describe wines with 15-85% dried grape content if the exact percentage is also declared.
Unfiltered wines are bottled without the usual final filtering process to remove microscopic solids. Bottling direct from the barrel or tank reduces the handling of the wine and captures its full character and complexity. Unfiltered wines will often form sediment in the bottle over time.
- Labelling requirement: If a wine is unfiltered with visible cloudiness, “unfiltered” must be declared on the label.
Wines Bottled With Lees
Lees are the residue that remain in the cask after fermentation. Wines may be bottled directly from the cask without additional filtering ('racking'), a process which adds texture to the wine, but may result in cloudiness or sediment in the bottle.
- Labelling requirement: “Bottled with lees” will be declared on the label.
VQA wines must be made from grape varieties authorized in the VQA regulations. Permitted grape varieties include many grapes of the species vitis vinifera (traditional in European and international wine communities) and 8 "best of class" varieties developed by hybridizing vitis vinifera varieties with North American grapes species. Hybrids have been developed to improve winter hardiness, disease and pest resistance and many are well suited to Ontario conditions.
The top variety changes year to year, but popular varieties used in the production of VQA table wines include Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Baco Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris. The hybrid grape Vidal has found a unique and highly successful place as the flagship grape for Icewine production and has garnered many international accolades for the Canadian wine industry.
Hybrid Grape Varieties
Grape varieties permitted in VQA wines include grapes commonly grown in traditional European wine regions (vitis vinifera species) and hybrid grapes that are crosses of vitis vinifera species and native north American species. Hybrids on the list of permitted VQA varieties have been demonstrated to produce good quality wines in Ontario. Other hybrids, historically grown in Ontario, have not been included on the list of permitted varieties because of association with an undesirable character described as "foxy". More specifically, hybrids with vitis labrusca parentage are not permitted to be used in any VQA wines.
As a result of the early development of the Ontario wine industry, special labelling rules apply to wines containing hybrid grapes.
It is optional to list grape varieties on the label if the wine is made from 100% vitis vinifera grapes.
The grape variety on the label often helps consumers choose a wine. It can be an indication of the flavour, weight and body of a wine. Varietal labelling rules ensure that when grape varieties appear on the label, the wine is predominantly made up of those varieties.
If used, hybrid varieties must be declared on the label. The hybrid may be disclosed anywhere on the label but must be listed in accordance with varietal labelling rules. Wines containing hybrid content may use only the Ontario appellation descriptor and cannot use certain other regulated descriptors including estate bottled, vineyard designation, Traditional Method, or Icewine (except Vidal Icewine).
The important exception made for Vidal Icewine is based on the proven and consistent track record of the Vidal hybrid grape variety producing high quality Icewines.
Don’t See a Variety on the VQA-permitted List?
Wineries are free to produce wines from grape varieties that do not appear on the authorized list, however these wines must not be labelled with VQA regulated terms.
New grape varieties can be added to the regulation initiated by a formal request and followed by a review and consultation process. All regulation changes are subject to independent review and approval by the Authority and the Minister of Government and Consumer Services.