One of the reasons I wanted to visit Niagara Falls was to visit the wineries in Niagara on the Lake. I really 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.
The Finger Lakes region is known for its Rieslings which happens to be one of my favorite wines. I was pretty impressed that the Niagara region had 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.
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. 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.
About the Niagara Escarpment Wine Region
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.
Jackson Triggs Wine Tour
For our 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. 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.
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.
Ice Wine at Jackson Triggs
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 wasn’t sure if Russell would like it because it is really sweet, but he loved it.
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 icewine 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!!
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.
More Ice Wine Tasting Niagara
Our last Niagara on the Lake wine tasting was at Pillitteri Estates Winery, which opened back in 1993! Afte, 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 really wish ice wine was more readily available in other places.
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 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.
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!
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. 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.
Grape Escape Wine Tour Review
We enjoyed our tour. 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.
Have you been to Niagara on the Lake? Did you try ice wine? What did you think?
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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