With this spare time on my hands, I grabbed a couple of friends and set out to explore a bit of the Niagara region here in Ontario. Just a 90 minute drive from downtown Toronto, the Niagara region is home to the breathtaking waterfalls, Canadian Historic areas and award winning wines.
Our first stop was Niagara Falls. As we wandered along it was hard to ignore the rush of water and plume of mist that arose from the horseshoe shaped falls. The area is a major tourist attraction for this region, and is also home to 2 casino’s, countless hotels boasting unbeatable views, and of course the
cheesiest funnest place on earth.
Being that it is considered slow season we did not have the crush of other tourists to contend with, and virtually had the place to ourselves to have limitless views and provided a great way to stretch our legs after the drive, and take in some fresh air now that we are out of the city.
The falls are worth a visit back in the evening as the area is lit up by thousands of Christmas lights for the festive season. Even the falls themselves are lit by large spotlights to provide a different view. I haven’t had the chance to make it down there yet, but hopefully another road-trip I can make it happen in the new year.
With some fresh air in our lungs we made our way onto the Niagara Wine Route in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is also Ontario’s most well known wine producing area. There are over 30 wineries in this region, so its best to plan a route or highlight a few of the winemakers you would like to visit. Most wineries will have tasting rooms that allow you to sample wines that they create, and help you narrow down those bottles that you bring back home. Usually a nominal tasting fee will allow you to taste 3-5 varietals, and can sometimes be waived with minimum purchase.
First Stop: Ravine Vineyard
Fairly new to the wine scene, Ravine Vineyard was our first stop due to a recommendation by a friend. Located on a historic farm that lies along the Niagara River bed, and has a historic early 19th Century house on the property. We were warmly greeted by two lovely ladies and explained the tasting process. For a nominal fee we were able to sample up to 4 wines, but well worth for the background knowledge not just of this quaint winery but based on our conversation they had helped plan out our route for the area of places that were not to be missed! I was able to pick up a few bottles here for Christmas presents before heading out. This will be one location I will head back to, not only because the service was exemplary, but they had a restaurant on site that I am sure will not disappoint.
Second Stop: Stratus
This was touted as one of the most dramatic buildings on the Niagara-on-the-Lake route, we headed to Stratus. This winery was the first to be LEED certified and intended to originally make 2 blends, a Red and a White. The winery appeared to be quiet in the late afternoon, and allowed us to be the only ones in tasting room. Normally I love these occasions as like the previous winery usually allow us to have lots of one on one time and find out more than just the regular scripted speech. We were a little disappointed by the way were were greeted and introduced to the winery, as the gentleman behind the tasting counter made our entire experience awkward. He was not overly friendly and started the description and tasting session with an air of pompousness. The wines here are quiet pricey and I felt his attitude was equal to that of a high end dress shop that unless you walk in with a Black AMEX you should not be there. Normally I pick the wineries with the intention of purchasing at least one bottle, needless to say we left the tasting less than impressed with the service and empty handed. Yes the wines were nice, but I couldn’t pin point if I was less than blown away by the flavors of the wine or if our reception clouded our judgement.
Third Stop: Southbrook Vineyards
Upon pulling into the driveway of this winery, my first thought was this would be an excellent location to host a wedding and photos. The dramatic wall and reflection pool provided a grand entrance to this tasting area. This was one of the busier stops of the day, so we did have to wait a few moments but gave us lots of time to preview the wines available for tasting. Divided into three categories; Triomphe, Poetica, Whimsy, with both white and reds available for tasting. I stuck with the Whimsy! portfolio as they had good mid priced wines. I did enjoy the whites a little more than the red, but actually wish I had focused more on the Triomphe, as the bottles had a lower price point for what I was looking to spend here. I will be back in the summer to check out the Rose and sample the pizza on the patio!
Fourth Stop: Colaneri Estate Winery
Wow. The dramatic building of Colaneri made you believe you actually could be in Italy! This would be our last stop of the day and I am so glad we saved the best for last. I have been on a real Italian wine kick lately and these guys did not disappoint. These wines can only be purchased at the winery direct or by the bottle at select restaurants in Toronto (I was lucky to share a bottle later that week at The Wine Bar). The gift shop area felt like it was set up especially for me, with lots of sparkle and shoes! Again a lively staff made the experience extra special at the end of the day, and I only wish there was a restaurant on site to compliment the excellent appassimento style wines they were serving up. All wines were great price points, making it very easy to purchase a case without breaking the bank. My favorite selection, the Corporso a nice blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.
Well that pretty much sums up our quick daytrip out to the Niagara region. I highly recommend staying overnight in the absolutely stunning little village of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The area has some unique and historic inns that would make an excellent romantic getaway, even if just for the night.
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