Niagara-on-the-Lake is world-renowned for its wines, being one of the four appellations (grape-growing regions) in Ontario alongside Lake Erie North Shore, Twenty Valley and Prince Edward County. Did you know? Niagara-on-the-Lake is the birthplace of Ontario’s modern wine industry.
It’s not surprising that winery hopping is one of the best things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and also in Niagara Falls, which is only about a 25-minute drive. You’ll usually see cyclists, tour buses and even limousines stopping at various vineyards across the area. What makes it even better is you get to do this in such beautiful surroundings. In fact, Niagara-on-the-Lake is recognized as the Prettiest Town in Canada. This is also what makes the region’s wines so special: its terroir is influenced by its proximity to Lake Ontario, Niagara River and Escarpment.
When you’re planning a trip to Ontario’s wine country, be sure to check out Wine Country Ontario’s 2018/19 Travel Guide. This comprehensive guide will tell you everything about Ontario’s wine countries including the wineries (with a plotted map), restaurants, activities and accommodations for each region. There are also lots of information and tips about wine which comes in handy during wine tasting.
During a weekend, my friends and I did a day trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake to visit its wineries using the Winemakers’ Selection Tasting Pass, which allows us to visit 25 wineries and sample the winemaker’s selection of best/rare/interesting wines in Niagara-on-the-Lake for only $25! It’s seriously such a great deal and an awesome way to explore the wine country! The pass itself is good throughout the year, but we wanted to see how many we can do in a day. The result: 15 wineries and 20+ samples of wine! And, yes, we had a designated driver.
If you’re looking to have your own Ontario wine country getaway, you can WIN A FREE TRIP (worth up to $1000) with Wine Country Ontario by entering this contest! All you have to do is Like the Instagram post, and comment which VQA wine you want to try this summer with the hashtag #GotTheGuide for a chance to win! Enter now – contest ends June 30, 2018!
- Related: First Dig Our Roots Event By Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Read Also: Niagara Parks: 5 Restaurants To Feast On The Parkway
Website / Address: 1499 Line 3, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Our first stop was Inniskillin, one of the oldest wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They are one of the most popular wineries for icewine, and, therefore, it was fitting that their winemaker’s selection was the 2017 Riesling Ice Wine.
According to Winemaker Bruce Nicholson, riesling is the “ultimate variety for icewine” because of its natural high acidity that balances with the rich concentrated flavours.
One thing you’ll notice is the term “VQA” on the label. If you #GotTheGuide, you’ll learn that this means Vintners Quality Alliance, and they ensure strict quality assurance that the wine is entirely made from grapes grown in the region.
They have one of the larger estates in the region, which features several restored and redesigned historic buildings including the Brae Burn Barn (tasting room) as well as an exclusive dining forum, Founders’ Hall.
Website / Address: 15376 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Just around the corner from Inniskillin is Riverview Cellars, a family-run winery adjacent to the Niagara River. Winemaker Alyssa Bator’s selection is the 2015 Angelina’s Reserve Gewurztraminer, which has aromas of rose petals and lychee, and tastes of peach and ginger.
In the 2018/19 Travel Guide, you’ll learn Wine Tasting 101 with these four S(imple) tips: See, Swirl, Smell and Swish. Seeing the colour of the wine by holding it up against light actually gives a hint about the grape variety, and indicates age of the wine or vintage.
Marynissen Estates Winery
Website / Address: 1208 Concession 1 Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Our third stop was Marynissen Estates Winery, home to the oldest commercial planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in Canada. Winemaker Marc Pistor’s selection is the single varietal 2015 Cabernet Franc to highlight the region’s soil and climate that allows for this great version of a versatile wine.
Reif Estate Winery
Website / Address: 15608 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Along the Niagara River as well is Reif Estate Winery, one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s founding family wineries founded in 1982. Winemaker Roberto DiDomenico’s selection is the 2016 Shiraz Reserve that features shiraz harvested from a 15 year-old farm across the street from the winery.
Website / Address: 15940 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
North of Reif along the Niagara River is Lailey Winery, which has one of the oldest plantings in the region on a 23 acre property. Winemaker John Chang’s selection is the 2013 Chardonnay Curious made from the oldest chardonnay vines in the region dating back 1975.
This was definitely the best chardonnay I’ve had. It was light and crisp, but had lingering after-taste of peaches and pear.
Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant
Website / Address: 290 John St E, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
The nothernmost winery along Niagara River is Peller Estates Winery, which started out from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Here we were offered a flight of three wines, which included the winemaker’s selection along with the staff’s selection of 2016 Vintage Sauvignon Blanc and 2016 Vintage Pinot Noir.
Winemaker Katie Dickieson’s selection is the Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvee, one of their most awarded wines. This was the first time I’ve had Ice Cuvee, and it ended up being my favourite for the trip.
I was mindblown by this traditional sparkling wine mixed with vidal icewine. It had the perfect balance of being in between white wine and icewine in sweetness, but still highlighting the tropical fruits and citrus notes from the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Joseph’s Estate Wines
Website / Address: 1811 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
After our lunch in Old Town, we continued with our winery hopping to Joseph’s Estate Winery, founded by Dr. Joseph Pohorly, a pioneer of Icewine in 1980s.
When we went, they didn’t have the winemaker’s selection available so they let us try the Proprietor’s Reserve 2014 Riesling instead, which is the wine for the Sip & Sizzle Touring Pass.
Website / Address: 2059 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Nearby Joseph’s Estate Wines along Niagara Stone Road is Stratus Vineyards, a futuristic-looking gravity flow winery distinguished by its LEED-certified facility.
Winemaker JL Groux’s selection is 2014 Stratus Red, which is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. I actually really liked the wine, even more so as I enjoyed the beautiful views outside the patio.
Jackson Triggs Estate Winery
Website / Address: 2145 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Closest to Old Town is Jackson Triggs Estate Winery, Canada’s most awarded winery. Winemaker Marco Piccoli’s selection is the 2014 Grand Reserve Entourage Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, made in the traditional method but with a not so traditional grape.
This was my first time trying Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, and I really enjoyed it! I find this is a great bubbly option with its crisp and refreshing taste.
Website / Address: 1339 Lakeshore Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Our next stops were wineries adjacent to Lake Ontario. First stop was Strewn Winery, which started as a local fruit cannery and evolved to a winery with an on-site Wine Country Cooking School and the OLiV restaurant. Here we got to sample two wines.
Winemaker Marc Bradshaw’s selection is the 2016 Sparkler, a Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc to celebrate Strewn’s 20th anniversary. Did you know? This is the first sparkling wine they crafted.
They wanted us to try the 2016 Terroir Pinot Blanc because Strewn grows about 10% of all the Pinot Blanc in Ontario which makes it a specialty for them. I have to say it is one of the best Pinot Blanc I’ve had, and I actually liked this more then the Sparkler so I’m glad we got to try this one too.
NOMAD at Hinterbrook Estate Winery
Website / Address: 1181 Lakeshore Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Right next to Strewn is Hinterbrook Estate Winery, a winery committed to practicing ecological sustainability by using solar and geothermal power and water recycling to create their wines.
They didn’t have the winemaker’s selection available, so they let us choose one wine of our choice from the tasting menu. I sampled the 2014 Special Select Late Harvest Riesling, which I find is a really great alternative to Icewine if you want something less sweet.
Konzelmann Estate Winery
Website / Address: 1096 Lakeshore Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Next stop was Konzelmann Estate Winery, Niagara’s only lakefront winery founded by winemaking pioneer Herbert Konzelmann from Germany in 1984.
Here we got a flight of two wines of our choice. I tried the 2015 Barrel Aged Merlot Reserved because I love merlot, and the 2016 Vidal Special Late Harvest to finish on a sweeter note.
Palatine Hills Estate Winery
Website / Address: 911 Lakeshore Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Our last stop on the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation was Palatine Hills Estate Winery, a family run winery that started as a vineyard growing grapes for consumption.
Here we were offered a flight of three wines of our choice. The first I tried was the 2016 Neufeld Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay which was a new release.
For my second one, I initially wanted to try the 2012 Neufeld Vineyard Reserve Merlot, but they ran out so I opted for 2012 Neufeld Vineyard Reserve Meritage since it has 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. It won Silver in the Intervin Wine Awards 2017.
My last one would be a sweet one again. I got the 2016 Gewurztraminer Icewine because it was my first time seeing it – all the other wineries we visited didn’t have this.
Travelling Foodie Tip: Ask for a free tasting of the Overlander Cider (Extra Dry).
Trius Winery & Restaurant
Website / Address: 1249 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
As the day was ending, we saved the last two wineries which closed the latest. First one was at Trius Winery & Restaurant, which has the largest underground sparkling wine cellar in Canada. Did you know? Trius’ winemaker is 2016 Winemaker of the Year Craig McDonald.
Here we were offered a flight of 3 wines of our choice (left to right in photo): Trius Rose, Showcase Riesling Icewine and Showcase Cabernet Franc Icewine.
To fully experience the icewine, follow the last S of Wine Tasting 101. Swish the wine in your mouth for 5-10 seconds, and experience the burst of flavours evolving.
Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery
Website / Address: 1219 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Last stop for the trip was Wayne Gretzky Estates, Niagara’s newest destination winery and distillery with a whiskey bar patio and skating rink.
Winemaker Craig McDonald’s selection is the 2015 Estate Series Shiraz Cabernet, a blend of 62% Shiraz, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. What makes this blend so unique is each varietal received barrel malolactic fermentation, then nine months of oak barrel aging before the wines were blended together. The final assemblage was then put back into barrel for a further 3 months (20% of the barrels were new oak; 50% American oak and 50% French oak).
How’s that for a day of wine hopping? Hope this inspires you to explore Niagara-on-the-Lake or the other Ontario’s wine countries, and do a getaway yourself because you deserve to wine down and smell the rosé! Be sure to check out the 2018/19 Travel Guide so you don’t make pour decisions.
Huge thanks to Wine Marketing Association of Ontario for sponsoring this post. As usual, reviews and opinions are entirely my own.