As harvest time draws to a close, Niagara’s picturesque wine country celebrates the bounty of the season with the Niagara Wine Festival. The 55th annual incarnation of one of North America’s largest events runs from September 22 to October 1, celebrating all things wine with more than 100 events and experiences that will draw on all the senses. So sip, savour and spoil yourself in this oenophile’s paradise.
Renowned across Canada for its celebrated wines, the Niagara region boasts moderate temperatures that make it an ideal locale for grape growing. The wine route stretches from Grimsby to Niagara-on-the-Lake, with more than 50 wineries dotted along the picturesque path. Here, you’ll find both small, family-run wineries to larger operations, and a selection of types and vintages like Pinot Noir (a light wine grown from grapes of France’s Burgundy region), Cabernet Sauvignon (a full-flavoured red wine), Merlot (a rich and smooth wine), Chardonnay (a dry, full-bodied white wine) and Riesling (a floral and fruity wine).
The signature event of the wine season, the Niagara Wine Festival opens the vineyards and cellars of more than 30 wineries along the Niagara wine route to the public for tours and tastings. Participating wineries include Reif Estate Winery (15608 Niagara Pkwy., 1-905-468-7738), Inniskillin Wines (Line 3 at Niagara Pkwy., 1-905-468-3554) and Willow Heights Estate Winery (3751 King St., Vineland, 1-905-562-4945). For a complete list, call 1-905-688-0212 or visit www.niagarawinefestival.com. Stroll through the vineyards, visit the cellars to see barrels of wine fermenting and then sample the results.
To tour the wineries in true high style, you can arrive by helicopter courtesy of Niagara Helicopters (1-905-357-5672), which flies into several area wineries, including Château des Charmes Wines (1025 York Rd., 1-905-262-4219), Hillebrand Estates (1249 Niagara Stone Rd., 1-800-582-8412) and Peller Estates Winery (290 John St. E., RR 1, 1-888-673-5537).
While the region’s wines are flavourful enough to be enjoyed on their own, many local dining establishments enhance the wine experience by infusing their cuisine with local vino. Combine fresh local produce—often picked that day—with a bottle of wine to complement the meal, and you have all the ingredients of the wine country cuisine exclusive to the Niagara region.
The wine list of On the Twenty (3836 Main St., Jordan, 1-905-562-7313) is exclusively VQA Niagara, a label representing the best wines of the region, including specific wines created for the restaurant by Cave Spring Cellars (3836 Main St., Jordan, 1-905-562-3581). Highlights of the DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) recipient’s menu include a simple salad with Cave Spring verjus and dessert wines such as the Cave Spring Indian Summer Late Harvest 2002.
Some wineries encourage dining right on their fruitful grounds. Strewn Winery‘s (1339 Lakeshore Rd., 1-905-468-1229) on-site resto, Terroir La Cachette (1-905-468-1222), tempts the palate with French Provençal cuisine such as roasted Atlantic salmon and warm fennel salad with a Riesling vinaigrette, and duck prosciutto with Pinot Noir and fig confiture. Hillebrand Winery Restaurant‘s (1249 Niagara Stone Rd., 1-800-582-8412) executive chef Frank Dodd, who has cooked in the kitchens of some of the world’s finest hotels including London’s Savoy, changes the menu every six weeks to keep the culinary experience fresh. Past menus have included rabbit terrine with Riesling wine jelly and confit duck leg with a Cabernet reduction.
Self-professed foodies will relish the Amuse Bouche tasting dinner at Tiara (155 Byron St., 1-888-669-5566), where executive chef Andrew Dymond conceives dishes inspired by traditional French and British cuisine—with a twist. Each of the six courses are perfectly coupled with a different wine, such as smoked bacon and lemon-crusted sea scallops paired with the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Chardonnay Grand Reserve 2002.
For pre-theatre dining during the Shaw Festival, The Epicurean (84 Queen St., 1-905-468-0288) is a cafeteria by day and a bistro by night with affordable wine offerings by the bottle. Dishes include arugula salad or New York striploin served with a red wine reduction.
Throughout the year, wineries hold cooking classes for both newbies and experts. Stratus Vineyards (2059 Niagara Stone Rd., 1-905-468-1806), one of the newest additions to the Niagara region, regularly hosts visiting chefs such as husband and wife team Michael (who has headed the kitchens of Toronto’s Coco Lezzone and Jordan’s On the Twenty) and Anna Olson (a celebrated pastry chef and a Food Network host), who cook their favourite recipes from their book Anna and Michael Cook at Home on September 16. Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate‘s (2145 RR 55, 1-905-468-4637) Savour the Sights program on September 9 is a five-course tasting menu paired with re-released premium vintages from the winery’s cellars.
Just when you think you’ve sampled all that the region has to offer and that your wine experience is done, think again. In wine country, even spa services are infused with the fruits of the vine.
Spa On the Twenty‘s (3845 Main St., Jordan, 1-905-562-8728) wine country wrap says it all: a full exfoliation treatment with a warm, white grape seed extract envelopment.
The purple feet pedicure from 100 Fountain Spa (48 John St., 1-888-669-5566) won’t leave your feet violet—unless that’s the shade of polish you pick, of course!—but it will leave you relaxed from your head to your toes. Pamper tired tootsies with a grape scrub and a grape and maple foot mask as you enjoy a roller and shiatsu massage. To top off the experience, a glass of wine accompanies your treatment.
The White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa (253 Taylor Rd., 1-800-263-5766) has an entire section of services inspired by wine country. The Vintherapy menu includes a massage using warm wine and honey, and a grape exfoliation.For expert advice on what to pair with your newly-purchased vintages, see Ask a Sommelier.
Where to enjoy a centuries-old tradition, afternoon tea in Three for Tea.
Web Exclusive! From a wine route to a beer route: check out The Art of the Brew.—Linda Luong