Harriet Lee is getting used to her new career as a wine merchant. It's a tough life, especially when you start your new career by importing wines from two vineyards in Ontario. 'Canadian wines?' people gasp. 'Surely, you're joking.' She's not. The Hong Kong-born Canadian who launched her business career by doing deals in China in the 1970s, is experienced in uphill battles. Deftly she pours a glass of merlot from the 1995 Magnotta winery ($306) and takes a sip. Nice stuff, she murmurs, and I can but agree. It's the best Canadian red wine I have ever tasted; that's not saying much because the only other Canadian reds I have swigged or sipped have been truly diabolical. This is tasty. Magnotta wines have won dozens of awards, not only in Canada, but also at the grandfather of wine shows, Vinexpo in France. In 1993, its cabernet sauvignon won a gold medal and when you get this from the French, it really means something. Ms Lee opened a bottle of her '94 cabernet sauvignon reserve ($124) with aplomb. It's a big, solid wine with plenty of oomph. Magnotta and the other winery she represents, Kittling Ridge, are both on the Niagara escarpment, a granite outcrop that is also responsible for the Niagara Falls. The winters are phenomenally cold, plunging down to 30 degrees Celsius below freezing. The summers are short, but intensely hot, and the days are long. Grapes grow quickly and mature in a rush as autumn lingers. Vintners have to get the crops in quickly before the first frosts savage the grapes. Although Canada has made enormous improvements in its dry white table wines, mostly grown in micro-climates inland around Vancouver, its reds have largely stayed a mystery in Asia. Ms Lee discovered Magnotta and Kittling Ridge on a recent visit to Canada. Someone suggested she start importing them to Hong Kong. What a good idea, she thought; she then ran straight into a furore of disbelief. Merlots from both wineries are extremely tasty, with typical smooth and gentle flavour of this most relaxed and easy-going of grapes. And at $130, the Magnotta reserve merlot is my sort of price. Even more wallet-friendly is the Kittling Ridge cabernet sauvignon at $87. About five years ago on vacation, I passed through the Niagara Falls area. At a stylish rural inn, I tried a couple of the local wines. I suddenly discovered why people used to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel; they had a choice of taking a dip in the fury of the maelstrom or slugging back a glass of Ontario red. The choice was easy. But this new generation of wines from the Niagara region is a true revelation. I found them robust and packed with berry and herbal flavour, a real delight. Also most pleasing are the exciting modern labels, especially on the Magnotta range. They feature lively modern artists, bright and appealing. Although wine-making has two centuries of history in the Niagara region and across the border in the northern areas of New York state, the results have mostly been disappointing, with the notable exception of the aptly-named ice wines. Ms Lee is bringing in Magnotta's ice wine under the Vidal label which she is marketing for $548 for a half bottle. What's more, she has sold out her initial shipment. This concentrated, very sweet dessert wine has a growing cult following obviously prepared to pay for something they like. Fax: 2148-9345.