Known for its natural beauty, amazing food and relaxed atmosphere, Niagara wineries are well worth a visit for a weekend getaway, regardless of whether you can tell the difference between a Bordeaux and a Baco Noir (spoiler alert: this author can’t).
Located about an hour-and-a-half south of Toronto, the wine trail is easily navigable, even without a guide, and provides a delightful answer to the question inevitably asked by all who’ve spent more than 15 minutes staring at the majestic Falls: “Ok, now what?”
Starting your journey in the almost too-charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and heading south towards St. Catharines, more than two dozen wineries are at your disposal, along with an ice winery and a brewery.
Big names like Jackson Triggs, Pellar Estates, Cave Springs and Inniskillin share the same stunning countryside as smaller wineries, and both are worth adding to your list. In an August 2012 article, Globe and Mail wine critic Beppi Crosariol named the Five Rows Craft Winery as the region’s best, though it’s run by just three family members and makes as little as 500 cases a year.
“In just four years, Five Rows has garnered a cult following among discerning buyers, including such top restaurants as Canoe in Toronto and Beckta Dining and Wine in Ottawa,” writes Crosariol, adding that the 2008 pinot noir is particularly palatable, “with succulent berry flavour, a suggestion of minerals and whisper of meat jus.”
If you’ve decided to follow your top notes and do a self-guided tour of the region, it’s best to plot out your route in advance. A simple Google search is a good start, but for those really looking to learn something about the region and its bounty before hitting the road, head to Niagara College’s Wine Visitor and Education Centre, a $3.6-million information centre that’s also part of the college’s teaching winery.
Several guided bus tours operate in the area, catering to all levels of snobbery and just about any budget. Another popular way to see the region is by bicycle. Zoom Leisure offers guided tours and also rents bikes out for those wishing to go it alone. Bring a group of nine or more and they’ll customize the tour to suit your tastes.
Wine tasting on an empty stomach is just plain irresponsible, so make sure to stop for lunch at one of the many wineries with a restaurant. An upscale option is Peller Estates, considered by both the Zagat guide and OpenTable.com as one of the best restaurants in the province. Flat Rock Cellars and Strewn Winery are also well-reviewed.
Hopefully by the end of your weekend, you’ll have found a special bottle or two to take home with you. Extra points go to those who use terms like “bouquet” and “mouthfeel” at your next dinner party.
Weekend Trips recommends Maria’s Bed and Breakfast (545 Mississauga Street) if you are looking for a nice romantic place to stay the night.