One of the reasons I wanted to visit Niagara Falls was to visit the wineries in Niagara on the Lake. I enjoy tasting and learning more about wines. A few years ago, I visited the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York and was impressed with the wines there.
Since Niagara is not too far from the Finger Lakes I figured it would be similar. Let me tell you about our Niagara wine tour and what we learned about the wines.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, please see disclosure for more information.
- About the Niagara Escarpment Wine Region
- Niagara Ice Wine Festival
- Niagara On The Lake Wine Tours
- Buying Wine in Niagara
- Grape Escape Wine Tour Review
- Is a Niagara Wine Tour Worth It?
- Expert Tips for Visiting Wineries in Niagara on the Lake
About the Niagara Escarpment Wine Region
While the nearby Finger Lakes region is known for its Rieslings (one of my favorite wines), the Niagara region has 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 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.
Ice wine is 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 know you probably want to try ice wine too, but it is not easy to find in stores. Luckily, you can find ice wine for sale online (Check the availability and prices of ice wine 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!!
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.
If you want to visit wineries on the US side, check out the Niagara Wine Trail in New York State.
Niagara Ice Wine Festival
If you like Ice Wine, then the best time to visit Niagara on the Lake is mid to late January for their Ice Wine Festival. During this time, you can attend the glamourous Niagara Icewine Gala, try unique wine and food pairings at over 35 Niagara on the Lake wineries, and enjoy vibrant outdoor street festivals. You can buy a Discovery Pass which includes eight unique pairings at your choice of over 35 Niagara Escarpment wineries during the Ice Wine Festival in Niagara on the Lake.
If you decide to visit for the Ice Wine Festival, be sure to also check out these things to do in the winter in Niagara Falls.
Niagara On The Lake Wine Tours
While you can visit the Canadian wineries near Niagara Falls on your own, I didn’t want to worry about someone being a designated driver. Plus, I was not familiar with the top wineries in Niagara on the Lake. I thought it would be easier to just take one of the Niagara Falls wine tours.
Most Niagara on the Lake tours include a pickup from your Niagara Falls hotel. There are lots of different options for winery tours of Niagara from full day to half day or big groups to small groups. You can also find some Niagara wine tour packages which include seeing both Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake.
I also thought about doing a bicycle wine tour. Some people even bike from Toronto to Niagara on the Lake. While I enjoy biking, I don’t know how well I would do riding a bike after a couple of wine tastings. 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.
Jackson Triggs Wine Tour
For our Niagara on the Lake wine country 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.
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 of Jackson Triggs Niagara on the Lake with a taste of ice wine. I wasn’t sure if Russell would like it because it is really sweet, but he loved it. We both did.
After our tour, 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.
Private Tasting at Reif Estate Winery
At our next stop, the Reif Estate Winery, we did our wine tasting in a private room. They catered the tasting to us, we got to choose from a selection of wines to try. This winery was owned and run by a German family who has been making wines for twelve generations.
We also tasted the icewine at Reif Estate. 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 of the best ice wine to save for a special occasion. (Update: We drank it to mark our first wedding anniversary.)
More Ice Wine Tasting in Niagara at Pillitteri
Our last Niagara on the Lake wine tasting was at Pillitteri Estates Winery, which opened back in 1993! After Gary Pillitteri won a gold medal for his Icewine in Niagara’s amateur wine competition, he knew he could create a successful winery. It truly is a family business. Now Gary’s grandchildren manage the growing export side of the Pillitteri Winery business.
They are the largest producers of icewine in the world, but they do also produce other wines. Here we tried our first red ice wine, which reminded me of strawberries. Again, I loved it. I wish ice wine was more readily available in other places. Maybe one day it will be?
Dinner at OLiV in Niagara on the Lake
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, such a nice way to end our Niagara on the Lake wine tour! It was definitely romantic.
The tour price included the three-course meal and a glass of wine. Even though I had heard great things about the dining in Niagara on the Lake, the food exceeded my expectations. For my main course, I had gnocchi with bison and porcini mushrooms. It was 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. They have so many different delicious flavors and you can try them before you buy them. I was tempted to buy the walnut balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately, they were all sold out except for the taster bottle!
Buying Wine in Niagara
You are going to be tempted to buy some wine when you visit the wineries in the Niagara region. One thing you need to keep in mind is the limit on how much alcohol you can bring back to the US. 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.
If you do plan on buying wine, consider bringing wine bags so that you can be assured the bottles are protected in transit. It would be heartbreaking to arrive home with broken wine bottles. For more tips on what to bring, check out my Niagara Falls packing list.
Grape Escape Wine Tour Review
We enjoyed our wine tasting tour with Grape Escape. It was nice to have such a small group and I liked the variety of wines that we got to try. We had just the right amount of wine too. I learned a lot about ice wine and we got to visit some of the best wineries in Niagara. Our dinner was a fabulous end to the half-day tour.
My only regret is that we didn’t get to see the town of Niagara on the Lake. I have heard it is a cute town, but we just didn’t have time. I would love to go back and explore the town, plus more of the best Niagara wineries.
Is a Niagara Wine Tour Worth It?
Yes. We had a fabulous time and learned a lot about the local wines. It was nice to have someone else do the driving and plan out the stops so we could just enjoy the wine. Overall, I felt like we got good value for the money we spent on our tour.
Have you been to Niagara on the Lake? Did you try ice wine? What did you think?
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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.
- You can book the Niagara wine tasting tour we did here.
- If you don’t do a tour, make sure that you have a designated driver!
- Check import rules if you plan on buying wine.
- If you are also going to Niagara Falls, be sure to check out my post: Practical Tips for Visiting Niagara Falls.
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Last Updated on March 12, 2023
We recently were in Napa but could not do the tour. Niagara wineries sound amazing. Saving this post for my next trip 🙂
Priyadarshini – Yes, I love Napa too. I hope you get to visit the wineries in Niagara!
Anything got to do with wineries gets my attention.. I love the caption of the pic – ‘more wine than she can drink’.. 😉 #TheWeeklyPostcard
Haha, yep I love doing wine tours! Do you have a favorite wine area?
I have only been up to the falls a couple of times, but have not visited any of the wineries in that area – seems like we need to do that on our next trip!
Jessica – yes, I am sure you would really enjoy it. They have some great wines!
My husband won’t drink wine, so we visit breweries instead. I enjoy visiting local breweries and wineries because you support the local small businesses and economy while getting excellent food and drink. This looks like a fun trip. Maybe I could find some breweries to mix in and talk my husband into doing it with me lol. Thanks for all the great info to help us plan a trip! We’re a little sad because we’re headed home from our vacation.
Cheryl – Funny, I don’t drink beer! They do have breweries in the area and tours to go visit them. Maybe that’s better for you. Unfortunately, I can’t give much advice on those.
I had no idea that the Niagara Region had wineries – I love a good winery tour 🙂 But I’m not a huge fan of sweet wines do they offer any dryer styles like a Chardonnay or Semmillion Sauvignon Blanc?
Sally – Yes it is a great area for wine. They grow lots of different types of wine. We tried Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc too. I focused more on icewine because it is more unique.
I visited the Jackson Triggs winery in the Okanagan, BC. I didn’t know they had another winery out east! I remember really enjoying a rosé wine there!
Bryna – Nice, they do have great wines! We didn’t try any rose. I will keep that in mind for next time.
Oh I love those wineries! Nice trip. Thanks for posting in #TheWeeklyPostcard
Glad you enjoyed it. We had a great time!
Mmmm…Icewine! Lately, we’ve become fans of the reds, but a good Reisling or Sauvignon Blanc will get our attention! Overall, though, we are not “wine people.” We like it – we are just not super knowledgeable. Touring wineries seems like a fun way to change that, though! #TheWeeklyPostcard
Yep, I have so much to learn about wine too. Going to wineries and doing tasting is a great way to learn.
hello, I had no idea that the Niagara Region had wineries – I love a good winery tour 🙂 But I’m not a huge fan of sweet wines do they offer any dryer styles like a Chardonnay or Semmillion Sauvignon Blanc?
Krista, yes! I was actually very impressed with the range of varietals that were available in the region.
My husband and I just moved to Buffalo/Rochestee area and excited to check out the wineries in the region. Glad to come across your blog on the wine tour (I was just looking up Graoe Escape!) We’re planning a weekend trip for our friends when they come visit and cannot quite decide if we should take them to Niagara on the Lake or Finger lakes. How would you compare the two?
That’s a hard question! I loved both areas. If you want to try the best ice wine though I would go with Niagara on the Lake.