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Any food and wine enthusiast is well advised to pay a visit to the Niagara Peninsula. Niagara Falls, in Ontario, enjoys an excellent reputation amongst honeymooners, and of late with people addicted to baccarat, 21, and any type of chance game. What most people don’t know is that the region offers excellent local cuisine and outstanding wines.
Niagara-on-the-Lake on the eponymous River was the first capital of Upper Canada, but today it is considered one of the prettiest towns of the country. Check in at anyone of the fine hotels or make arrangements with a Bed and Breakfast establishment, and start visiting wineries.
Peller Estates winery in town is an excellent starting point. The owners spared no expense to create a showcase winery, surrounded with vineyards. More importantly, however, you can taste any of the fine wines and buy them in the boutique. There are available only at the boutique.
If you are hungry, a fabulous restaurant in the winery will cater to your gustatory pleasures. The chef uses local and fresh ingredients to the extent possible. Then proceed on the Niagara Parkway towards Niagara Falls and soon you will see Lailey Vineyard. This small winery produces excellent varietal wines from their meticulously tended vineyards. All Lailey wine are made from low yield wines and by an expert winemaker who is in partnership with the Lailey family. Their wines display unmistakable varietal character and are always well balanced between flavour and level of alcohol. Most of their wines are available exclusively at the winery boutique.
Just a few kilometres further south, Reif winery beckons with a large number of brands including a few superb dessert wines. (Select Late Harvest Riesling, Vidal, and iceweins are highly recommended). Reif wines represent the epitome of winemaking craft. Technically, all are made flawlessly using fruit from their own vineyards surrounding the winery. A few steps south you will see Inniskillin on Line 3. After a self-guided winery tour, taste their wines and see for yourself how their Australian winemaker converts local fruit to remarkable wines.
Just around the corner is Marrynissen winery, which is definitely worth a visit. John Marrynissen was one of the first growers in the province to plant vinifera vines, contrary to what the scientists at the government research station were telling him. He proved them wrong when the vines started producing fruit. They claimed that it was impossible to grow vinifera grapes in Canada given our harsh winters. His white wines display fine aromatics and are always well balanced. His red wines are remarkable in depth and strength. After tasting, buy whatever you can since their wines are not sold by the L C B O
By now, it is time for dinner, and a few kilometres away in the town of Virgil you will find Hillebrand Café at the eponymous winery. The menu is eclectic, the wine list extensive, and service friendly.
On the second day after a hearty breakfast (Bed and Breakfast establishments generally serve fine and imaginative breakfasts), visit Maleta Estate Winery on Queestone Road. It has won many awards for its Riesling wine in Germany. Their red wines deserve accolades too.
Chateau des Charmes, a few kilometres from Maleta, was designed as a French estate winery, and stands out on York Road on the Niagara Bench. Extensive vineyards surround the winery. Across the road, there are more vineyards, surrounding the stables of Mr Bosq esquire who loves riding through his vineyards. Chateau des Charmes is one of the pioneers of modern Ontario wines. A tasting of their wines will prove the point.
Four Mile Creek Road will take you directly to Strewn wines, housed in a foremer fruit canning factory. Today you can visit the winery, taste their wines and have lunch in their well-appointed restaurant. The food is imaginative, and their wine list wells elected.
Konzelmann Estate Winery around the corner on the Lakeshore Road deserves your attention. Here Mr Herbert Konzelmann created a winery to produce German style wines from their own 18 hectares of vineyards adjacent to Lake Ontario. Konzelmann’s Rieslings are floral, light, soft, off dry, and eminently enjoyable. His Pinot Blanc deserves the attention of all wine enthusiasts. Konzelmann’s Pinto Noir and Meritage wines are light, well balanced, and display good depth. His dessert wines (Late Harvest and icewine) must be experienced to understand how well tended low yield vineyards and skilful winemaking can result in fine wines.
The weekend over, have another glass of Ontario wine and relax. You will want to return at your earliest possible opportunity to visit many other wineries on Jordan or Vineland. One of the greatest advantages of Niagara Peninsula is how much tasting you accomplish in two days, and enjoy extraordinary meals.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu