One of the reasons I wanted to visit Niagara Falls was to visit the wineries in Niagara on the Lake. I really enjoy tasting and learning more about wines. A few years ago, I visited the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York and was really impressed with the wines there. Since Niagara is not too far from the Finger Lakes I figured it would be similar.
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While you can visit wineries on your own, I didn’t want to worry about someone being a designated driver. I thought it would be easier to just find a tour. There are lots of different options for winery tours of Niagara from full day to half day or big groups to small groups. I also thought about doing a bicycle wine tour, but then decided not too, since I don’t know how well I would do riding a bike after a couple wine tastings. (If you are interested in a bike tour, click here to get 20% off the price until August 14, 2017). In the end, I booked a half day wine tour with dinner with Grape Escapes through Viator.
The wineries by Niagara Falls are located by the town Niagara on the Lake, which is about a 30 minutes drive from the hotels on the Canadian side of the falls. Our tour guide, Roger, picked us up at our hotel. We joined a mother and daughter from Regina in the van. It was their first time to go to the wineries in Niagara on the Lake too.
You might be surprised to learn that the Niagara Peninsula is Canada’s largest wine growing region with around 100 wineries! It is blessed with a unique micro-climate created by the interaction of the Niagara Escarpment, a large ridge with a gentle slope on one side and a steep one on the other, and Lake Ontario. This keeps the climate moderate and makes it a good place for growing grapes and other fruit too.
The Finger Lakes region is known for its Rieslings which happens to be one of my favorite wines. I was pretty impressed that the Niagara region had many different wines that they are known for. Their most popular wine is ice wine. I had tried it at a wine tasting in NYC once and I remember really liking it, but I had no idea why it was called ice wine or how it was made. Ice Wine is a dessert wine, so it is pretty sweet.
For our tour, we would visit three wineries in Niagara for tastings and then have dinner at another winery. At our first stop, the Jackson Triggs Winery, we did what I would call a walking tasting. We started with a sparkling wine and an introduction. We bought a bottle of the sparkling wine as a gift for my friend, Artee. She loves bubbles and I knew she would love this one.
Then, as we were getting a tour of the facilities we got to taste different wines. I thought that was a great idea. Our tour guide took us to see the vines, where the wine was made, and where they aged the wine. We tried three wines and then ended the tour with a taste of ice wine.
Ice wine is really different from other wines. You need at least two days of temperatures below freezing and then the grapes actually freeze while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. Ice Wine is not cheap since it takes a lot more grapes to make ice wine than a regular wine. I wasn’t sure if Russell would like it because it is really sweet, but he loved it.
I know you probably want to try ice wine too, but it is not easy to find in stores. Luckily, it is available online (Check the availability and prices of icewine at wine.com here). If you are new to wine.com you can subscribe to the Wine.com email and receive a code for 1-cent shipping on your first order!!
At our next stop, the Reif Estate Winery, we did a tasting in a private room. They catered the tasting to us. This winery was owned and run by a German family who have been making wines for 12 generations. We also tasted the icewine here. In 1987 Reif’s Vidal Icewine was named by renowned Wine Critic, Robert Parker Jr., as one of the year’s Top Ten Wines. Since 1984 Reif’s Icewines have received over 100 Gold Awards. It was delicious, so we decided to buy a bottle.
Our last winery tasting was at Pillitteri Estates Winery. They are the largest producers of icewine in the world, but they do also have other wines. Here we tried our first red ice wine here, which reminded me of strawberries. Again, I loved it. I really wish ice wine was more readily available in other places.
Then it was time for dinner so we headed to OLiV Tasting Room & Restaurant which is located at the Strewn Winery. We got a table for just Russell and me. It was a three-course meal with a glass of wine. The food really exceeded my expectations. For my main course, I had gnocchi with bison and porcini mushrooms. It was really delicious and smelled so good. The only problem was that the portion was huge and I could barely eat half of it.
I should also mention that they make their own olive oils and balsamic vinegar and they sell them too. They have so many different flavors and you can try them before you buy them. I was really tempted to buy the walnut balsamic vinegar, but unfortunately, all they had left was the taster!
One thing you need to keep in mind is the limit on how much alcohol you can bring back. You are allowed to bring one bottle per person back into the US without paying a tax. Luckily the tax to bring more into the state of NY is only $.30 per bottle of wine. If you are traveling back to another country or state, please make sure you check the rules.
My only regret is that we didn’t really get to see the town of Niagara on the Lake. I have heard it is really a cute town, but we just didn’t have time. I would love to go back and explore the town, plus more of the more of the best Niagara wineries.
Have you been to Niagara on the Lake? Have you tried ice wine?
Expert Tips for Visiting Wineries in Niagara on the Lake:
- Make sure you try the ice wine while you are in the Niagara Wine Region.
- Check import rules if you plan on buying wine.
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