Winter Wonderland in Niagara

I feel like I know the Wineries of Niagara on the Lake rather well. I’d even go as far to declare myself as somewhat of an expert and often find myself planning wine tours for friends and family who come to me for advice. When I found myself studying wine oenology in University my family supported my education by regularly popping over to NOTL for a bit of vino “research.” Our winery visits were always paired with leisurely visits to my grandparents house who live a short drive away in the charming town of Port Dalhousie.

Last November I adventured through Niagara on the Lake for their Taste the Season Festival where I visited some 17 wineries in 7 hours (Amazing Race styles I assure you). I enjoy showcasing a destination throughout the seasons and thought a trip just after Christmas would be a great way to capture our much loved Niagara covered in the fluffy white stuff.

One cool Sunday morning in January my mother and I hopped in her car and pulled out of the family maison in Oakville bound for Niagara on the Lake. Our first stop would be at the landmark Prince of Wales Hotel where we met with my grandfather for Afternoon Tea. This would be my second visit to the property and found myself standing in the lobby fondly remembering a family Christmas lunch we enjoyed a few years ago at their fine dining concept. The Afternoon Tea at the Prince of Wales is the most famous in the region and a perfect spot to cozy up to a hot pot accompanied by steaming scones on a cold winter afternoon.

Niagara on the Lake is a unique Ontario community offering a plethora of heritage hotels which offer creme de la creme suites and feature top notch talent in their kitchens. Once finished tea we transitioned from one historic hotel to another. After a short drive through town we found ourselves checking in at The Oban Inn where we would be spending the evening in a lavish suite. In November 2011 I reviewed the Oban Restaurant and was excited on this return visit to check out their room offerings.

After settling into our suite my aunt popped by to drive us to Cheateau des Charmes where we enjoyed a tour of the production facility, cellar and tasting room. Since 1978 the French Bosc family has been passionately developing the best vineyard sites in order to produce wines that have now become internationally recognized as benchmarks in the Canadian wine industry. Fun Fact: the architecture of the Chateau is inspired by Toronto’s famed Royal York Hotel.

We sampled (* notes my favorite)

2009 Chardonnay

full-bodied with flavours of tropical fruit and melon in a rich buttery style, with refreshing mineral character

2010 Equuleus *

blend of cab sauv, cab franc and merlot, rich and full-bodied, fine tannins, flavours of cassis and dark chocolate

2010 Pinot Noir

hint of spice, rich and full-bodied, fine tannins, flavours of red berries and velvety finish

Our final stop of the night was at Ravine Vineyards where we enjoyed a fantastic tour of the production facility, kitchen and tasting room by owner Paul Harber. The property is steeped in heritage which makes a visit to Ravine a unique and inspiring one. The Lowrey family has owned the property since 1867 where they initially farmed cherries, pears, peaches, grapes, plums and vegetables. Ten years ago the family switched gears, now focussing their energy on producing some of the finest wines in Niagara.

We sampled (* notes my favorite)

2009 Stadtlander Reserve Chardonnay

fresh green apple, hints of toasted coconut, spice on the nose

2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc *

from vinemount ridge, lieutenant governor’s award of excellence in ontario wines

2008 Reserve Red

elegant extremely balanced, complex with layers that continue to open over time

After our tour and tasting we enjoyed an unforgettable haute farmhouse feast at Ravine Vineyard Restaurant located in a 200-year-old Loyalist Georgian Wm. Woodruff House. The property is ranked as one of  Canada’s top fifty most architecturally significant ancestral homes!

The following morning we wrapped ourselves in plush white robes and enjoyed breakfast which had been delivered to our suite and placed on white linens on our coffee table. We sat on a comfy couch while sipping on cups of hot coffee and nibbling on a selection of pastries, cheeses and fresh fruit. We quickly packed up our luggage and soon found ourselves sitting in the car mentally preparing ourselves for a long day of serious sipping.

Our first stop of the morning was a 10am appointment at Pillitteri Estates Winery where we met with Allison Slute who gave us a quick tour of their tasting room before diving into a tasting. I couldn’t help but chuckle as my mother sniffed vino at such an unconventional hour. Pillitteri is the world’s largest estate producer of Icewine offering a wild variety of innovative varietals. I was fortunate enough to sample one of their last bottles of 2009 Shiraz Icewine. They were the first winery in the world to produce an icewine from the shiraz grape and oh what a marvel in the mouth it was! Icewine fans should be on the lookout for their next vintage as the magic they have created with such an unconventional varietal is a memorable one.

We sampled (* notes my favorite)

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine

bright scarlet colour, mint, raspberry, red liquorice and nutmeg

2007 Exclamation Cabernet Sauvignon

eucalyptus, mint leaf, black cherry and black pepper

2010 Cabernet Franc

dry and robust, ripe forest berry, waft of cigar with notes of black pepper, matured in oak barrels for 16 months

2009 Shiraz Icewine *

ruby coloured with nuances of candied cherry, black forest cake and underlying note of spice with balanced acidity

Next stop Inniskillin! Fun Fact: this was actually the first winery I ever visited as a young wine enthusiast. I was in my early years of University and whenever I visit now I experience a gust of nostalgia. I wasn’t surprised when our guide took us to the properties private tasting room for an exclusive icewine tasting. While Inniskillin has won numerous international awards for their icewines they have also been recognized in Canada for their “Icewine Tours and Harvest Table Dinners” which have been designated as Signature Experiences by the Canadian Tourism Commission. While all of the icewines we tasted were stellar, Inniskillin’s most unique offering is their Sparkling Icewine Vidal which may just be my mothers new favorite sparkler and certainly on my 2013 NYE Party beverage list.

We sampled (* notes my favorite)

2008 Riseling Icewine

elegance of tropical aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, acidity allows for refreshing mouth feel

2008 Pearl Vidal Icewine

ripe peaches and apricots, marmalade and candied brown sugar

2011 Sparkling Icewine Vidal *

exotic fruit aromatics as well as peach, orange and honey dominate the nose. citrus, mango, lychee and pineapple balanced by crisp acidity and lively effervescence

2008 Cabernet Franc Icewine

raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries and cream held together with firm crisp acidity

Just down the road we popped into Reif Estate Winery for a quick tour and tasting. The Reif family tradition of winemaking began nearly half a millennium ago in the small winemaking town of Neustadt, located in the heart of the world renowned Rhine River Valley in Germany. Reif brings a German sensibility to its wine portfolio and are recognized for producing an exemplary offering in the red category. I was wowed by The Magician, a fantastic Pinot and Shiraz combination featuring grapes that are kiln dried to create an unforgettable sipping experience.

We sampled (* notes my favorite)

2009 White Meritage

spicy, apple-pear fruit, floral notes and hint of garden herbs, excellent acidity and pleasant tartness

2010 Chardonnay Reserve

creamy and rich with layering of baked McIntosh apple, pear, vanilla spice, citrus fresh acidity with finely toasted oak

The Magician – 2011 Pinot Noir Shiraz *

kiln dried grapes, bramble berry fruit, chocolate covered sun dried cherries, thyme, black pepper

2011 Vidal Icewine

tropical fruit, peach, apricot, honey, fig, toffee

For our final vino jaunt of the day we stopped by Trius Winery at Hillebrand where we enjoyed a tasting at The Loft. My parents were once members of Hillebrand so I have had the opportunity to sip several of their vintages over the years. The winery produces one of the countries most celebrated sparkling wines but really made their mark in the Niagara region with their signature Trius Red.

We sampled (* notes my favorite)

2009 Chardonnay “Ghost Creek Vineyard” Barrel No 7150 “Damy Nevers Barrique”

toasty new oak, sweet spice, vanilla, smoky charred wood, tropicalfruit with medium full body

2010 Trius Red *

deep purple, vanilla, black currant, blue plum and smoked herbs

Trius Brut

tiny bubbles rising through wine on pale lemon coloured backdrop, medium sparkler with refreshing acidity

Once finished our tasting we hopped down the stairs and made a quick jaunt to Trius Winery Restaurant where we enjoyed a fantastic mid day meal. We raised glasses of Sauvignon Blanc with a clink and smiled as we looked across a vineyard covered in snow. 

Our final culinary adventure of the trip would be a quick stop at the recently opened Oast House Brewers. This much buzzed about microbrewery now offers tourists a holistic Niagara beverage experience. Smiles abound  for those who fancy hops over tannin. The brewery is a hard to miss red barn located on Niagara Stone Road and features a gift shop, bar top for tastings and microbrewery out back. Oast’s signature “Saison” is a perfectly smooth brew with a nice hoppy finish. They currently sell the Saison in large vintage beer bottles on site so be sure to pick a few up to take home!

We met my grandfather at the Niagara Helicopter office shortly after 3pm to check off the final item on our itinerary. Once checked in we only waited a few minutes before finding ourselves strapped into the belly of a chopper. It was my mothers first heli ride, my grandfathers third and my 4th (I have taken the journey from Victoria to Vancouver a few times). Seeing as my family has grown up in the region for generations it was nice to finally view Niagara Falls from the air, a unique and unforgettable perspective.

In the Spring and Summer Niagara Helicopters offers a fantastic Canadian Tourism Commission Signature Experience which allows visitors to enjoy the sights of the Niagara Wine Route from above. Imagine the stunning views as your helicopter zooms over 15,000 acres of grapes and over 90 wineries. The adventure allows guests to land right in the middle of a vineyard where they are then escorted to a winery for a tour and tasting. Now that’s a unique Niagara Culinary Tourism experience worth getting excited about!

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  1. What a great Christmas gift this was for me, Andrew! Thanks so much for a fabulous 2 days in NOTL eating, drinking, helicoptering, and enjoying all that this area and experience had to give ….but more importantly, allowing me once again to partake in another of your Press Trips….with YOU.
    Love ya’ bunches

  2. What an interesting and great trip! Felt like I was almost there. Loved the mom and son combo!
    You’re both great!