Friday, September 10, 2010

The Wineries of Niagara, Ontario

Bookmark and Share  Maybe it wasn't the perfect weekend. The winds were gusting to 30 miles per hour -- blowing away the summer heat and bringing an early fall chill. It was also a holiday weekend, clogging the roads and attractions with touristas. But the appeal was too strong, like an electromagnet drawing us north of the border to the wineries of the Niagara Peninsula and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario.

An epic winery road trip was in order, so Green Dragon and I, along with Glorious T and Ace of Bass (the artist formerly known as Spiderman) hopped into the Altima and took off on Labor Day weekend in search of great vino.

Southern Ontario is in roughly the same latitude as southern France, which produces some of outstanding wines. The region has a great climate for ripening grapes, as well as apricots and pears. Ontario has an appelation system called VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance), which sets certain quality standards. There are four wine producing regions in Ontario under the VQA system: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie, Pelee Island and Prince Edward County.

We left early on Saturday and crossed the Ambassador Bridge over to Windsor.We were through the border crossing in about 10 minutes and motoring toward the Niagara Escarpment, a massive ridge carved out by ancient glaciers. It's the feature responsible for Niagara Falls and the rich limestone soil that create the classic mineral profile of the region's wines.

There are 38 wineries in the Niagara Escarpment area, between Winona on the west and St. Catherines on the east. Further east are 30 wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area. To help us maximize our travels I broke the wineries up into clusters of adjacent wineries and I also put one or two stars next to wineries on the list we really wanted to visit.

In addition to some epic wine tasting, a trip to this area is rewarding because of the natural beauty and great attractions. We were able to visit Niagara Falls as well as the charming city of Niagara-on-the-Lake during our Ontario trip.

In the next few days we'll share photos and winery reviews, but I wanted to share some initial impressions:
  • The Niagara wineries offer an outstanding variety, not just ice wines. Get ready for some outstanding Merlot, Pinot Noir and Meritage blends in addition to great Cab Franc, Riesling and Gerwurztraminer.
  • Many of the wineries are huge operations but unknown to us since the wines aren't widely distributed in the U.S.
  • Some of the winery buildings are architectural masterpieces with a tendency toward clean, modern lines.
  • You will enjoy a top shelf wine tasting experience. Forget cheap industrial glasses or (gasp) plastic. Most wineries we visted served samples in high end crystal stemware including Reidel.
  • Some of the tasting fees were high -- up to $3 per taste, but some wineries waived them entirely. Much of the wine is pricey as well, with costs of $35 to $45 Canadian very common. 
Stay tuned for our tales of the Northern adventure...
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