Winecation Review: Niagara-on-the-Lake

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For those wine loving Americans that read this review, it’s sometimes hard to fathom that you can find any good wines coming from Canada. Of course, Canada’s ice wine is a given and they are world renowned for this! But if you take a little excursion to the Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) region, you are going to be pleasantly surprised at the wineries and the tasty wines coming from them. Why Niagara? Well, Bordeaux, France is situated on 44 degrees north latitude and the Niagara region is at 43 degrees north. And the churning of the Niagara Falls waters keeps the region in a mini microclimate that maintains the weather slightly warmer in winter and slightly cooler in the summer. So enough about science and geography…let’s talk about some great wines!

Yes, we know that the majestic Niagara Falls is a top tourist destination; it can be crowded and expensive. But if you haven’t seen the Falls yet, you really should while you are there. See them, take some pictures, grab a bite to eat and then get into your car and head about 10 miles north to the Niagara wine region. We have been going to this wine destination for the past 15 years and truly love it there! The quality of the wine is excellent and the wineries themselves are beautiful and picturesque. Some are huge chateau-like mansions and others are quaint little farms with local foods and produce. But we enjoy them all because they are so different and each one offers you its own unique flavor.

The Niagara Peninsula Appellation is everything south and east of Hamilton, Ontario and it’s full of rolling hills and beautiful landscapes. Travelling towards Niagara Falls from Burlington, Ontario, and there are over 40 wineries between Burlington and St Catharines along the QEW 403. This is the Niagara Escarpment sub-appellation. Pass the city of St Catherine’s and head towards Niagara-on-the-Lake and you will find over 28 more wineries in this sub-appellation! Decisions, decisions, decisions…where do you possibly go first? On our most recent trip, we went to 8 different wineries and we were very happy with our choices!

A quick synopsis and review of our wine stops will give you an idea of what we enjoyed about each winery.

  1. Chateau Des Charmes Winery is always a must stop each time we go. This mansion-like chateau is just amazing inside and out. Beautiful grounds, vineyards, and a fountain at the entrance as you approach. A dazzling chandelier and elegant stairway inside as you head towards the tasting room. The wines are just as elegant and full of a variety of flavors and distinguishing characteristics. Both red and white, dry to sweet, sparkling, and a plethora of ice wines; all are grown in their own Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyards. Our favorites were the “Old Vines” Riesling, the Cabernet Franc (estate bottled), the 2014 dry Rose’ Cuvee D’Andree, and the dry Sparkling Rose.
  2. Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery is one of the newer wineries on the block, but with 150 years of family farm experience! Descendants of the Lowrey family have recreated a historic streetscape from restored buildings highlighting the significant architectural period. Inside these rustic buildings are wine tasting rooms, a restaurant, a hospitality centre, and an onsite deli and bakery. We loved the Sand and Gravel White Blend, the Cabernet Rose, and the Ravine Merlot.
  3. Colaneri Estate Winery is an amazing sight in itself and you can’t miss it along the road as you drive by. The grand building is built in a Tuscan style and is quite breathtaking surrounded by the lush vineyards. The tasting room inside is just as stunning and looks over the wine making facility so you can live the total wine experience! The Colaneri family have an Italian heritage and it is displayed in all of their Italian styled wines. Dry to sweet red and white wines will give you a nice variety to choose from. We loved the “Cavallone” Pinot Grigio, the “Insieme” Red Blend, and the “Dolcezza Rosso” Cabernet Franc Ice Wine.
  4. Peller Estates Winery is another breathtaking, mansion-like chateau that draws you by its beauty and lush surrounding vineyards. Inside is an elegant tasting room, an award winning restaurant, and lovely boutique. The winemaker here has a strong belief that great food and great wine belong together. So all the wines here were produced to be the perfect complement to food. The wines we truly enjoyed were the Private Reserve Riesling, the Meritage red blend, and the Baco Noir.
  5. Lailey Vineyard is known for using only natural fertilizers and no applications of herbicides in its vineyards. The Lailey family opened their winery in 2000 but have over 60 years of experience growing grapes. The quaint little tasting room in the woods is now one of our favorite stops because of the wonderful wines and informative wine hosts. Our favorite wines? The Chardonnay, the Cabernet Sauvignon Rose’, the Zweigelt, and the Pinot Noir.
  6. Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery pretty much has it all: an advanced wine making facility, educational tours, award winning wines, and a popular outdoor amphitheatre that features some of the best Canadian and musical talent. The staff was very friendly, informative, very hospitable, and fun! There is quite a variety of wines from dry to sweet red and white wines, sparkling wines, and ice wines. We had many favorites but brought home the Jackson-Triggs Fume Blanc, the Black Series Chardonnay, and the Proprietors Selection Merlot.
  7. Diamond Estates uses Niagara’s diverse range of red, white, fruit wines, and ice wines to enjoy under 7 unique brands. The ones that interested us into stopping were the Hat Trick Wines and the Dan Aykroyd Wines. We have always liked Dan Aykroyd in his Saturday Night Live years and heard this Canadian born comedian loves his wines! We got to taste some good wines here but our favorites were the Dan Aykroyd Cabernet Shiraz, the 20 Bees Late Harvest Vidal, and both the red & white Hat Trick wines.
  8. The Ice House Winery lured us in with signs along the road for “Ice Wine Slushies” so we had to give them a try! The white building resembling a schoolhouse was a great setting to educate ourselves about ice wine. This winery makes only ice wine so they can perfect Canada’s liquid gold! Hardwood floors inside and an attentive staff made this a fun stop. We sat outside at a table and were cooled and refreshed by the sweet, fruity, honey-like concoction. Don’t forget to get your photo taken with Polaris, the mighty Canadian polar bear sculpture. Rumor has it that giving Polaris a hug will bring you good luck!

We want to add that most of these wonderful wineries are cyclist friendly so you can taste and tour many in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region on your bike. And the Niagara Parkway between Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake is just a wonderful, smooth, picturesque ride through the parks and along the river overlooking New York! We borrowed 2 bikes from the bed & breakfast we stayed at and rode to Peller Estates and Lailey Vineyards that day. We had a wonderful time and we didn’t worry about having to carry any purchased wine. The wineries will deliver to your hotel or bed & breakfast free of charge!

Now that you have spent a day at the wineries, it’s not a good idea to try to drive home. Great News! The Niagara-on-the-Lake area is full of hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and other accommodations. And we have to admit that Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of our favorite towns to visit and spend time in. It is the prettiest town with lots of flowers, gardens, parks, and Lake Ontario is only 2 blocks from the business district. There are many beautiful, historical homes to see as you explore the area, which is clean and welcoming. The town is bustling with people who love art, theatre, good food, wine and music. The Shaw Festival is a popular summer performing arts celebration that praises the works of Bernard Shaw and other playwrights. Three theatres host several plays each day from mysteries, to comedies, drama, and musicals. Niagara-on-the-Lake is full of good restaurants, wine tasting rooms, pubs, cafés, art galleries, quaint retail stores, ice cream parlors, and so much more! Take a horse drawn carriage ride when you arrive and you can get a great feel of the town and all it has to offer.

We come to Niagara-on-the-Lake 2-3 times a year for fun, relaxation, and the total wine experience. We are already making plans for our trip this fall! To find out more about the total wine experience in this area, check out www.wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com.  And when looking for local accommodations, bed & breakfasts, food, fun, and memorable life experiences, try www.niagaraonthelake.com. And finally, check out www.shawfest.com to see the list of current plays and how to get tickets. Niagara-on-the-Lake is about a 4 ½ hour drive from Detroit, 3 ½ hours from Cleveland, 1 ½ from Toronto, and 1 ½ hours from Rochester, NY. We will look for you there soon and we’ll have a “Cheers” together!

4 comments

  • I’m headed to NOTL this weekend and found your recommendations very helpful. Thank you! 🙂

    • Hello Renee,
      I am so glad we could help you! I hope you have a great time and enjoy lots of good wines! We really enjoyed the wineries we went to but there are so many more there that we need to visit (or re-visit). Let us know how your trip was. I would love to know which wineries you went to and which ones were your favorites! It will help us the next time we go to Niagara…. hopefully this fall! Have a great trip!
      Rick and Cheryl

  • We loved NOTL. Lailey has a terrific ice wine, and we typically don’t touch that stuff. For reds – we highly recommend Tawse and Stratus. Tawse in particular has reds that are on par with Napa. Also, the dinner at HIllebrand was out of this world. Can’t wait to go back!

    • Hey, thanks for the response! We are fairly new on WordPress so I am just catching up on the emails here! If you head out to the Ann Arbor/Jackson area, there are a couple wineries that are worth the stop. Cherry Creek for a fun atmosphere, music, and decent wine. Sandhill Crane has some good wines and a very nice tasting room inside and the tour is pretty fun! Chateau Aeronautique if you want to check out a tasting room in an airplane hangar usually with a plane or 2 inside. And Pentamere Winery in Tecumseh has some of the better wines in a cool small town city block.

      But nothing compares to NOTL, the town, the wineries, the ambience…… we really love it there! Love Hillebrand, Chateau des Charmes, Ravines, Lailey, Konzelman, and a few others. Don’t remember if we tasted the ice wine there…. it will be worth the trip to give it a try! We normally don’t drink the sweet stuff either but sometimes you find a few gems that you end up taking home. We were just going to write a review about a Late Harvest “Bellaria” Pinot Gris from Anthony Road Vineyard in the Finger Lakes, New York when we found your emails. Hope to hear from you again and we will have to check out your website. Have a great Labor Day weekend!

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