For my 31st birthday, H and I decided to travel back to Canada, a country we had visited together a year prior. This trip would be a little different however as we planned to witness the famed Niagara Falls. In addition to seeing the Falls, I was also anxious to see what the Niagara region had to offer outside of its most famous attraction.
As I was doing research on the Niagara area, I discovered the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a short 30-minute drive from the Falls. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a popular destination due to its location between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment, which produces the perfect microclimate for growing wine. H and I decided that it would be a great idea to explore the wine scene in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area to round out our trip.
Niagara Vintage Wine Tours & Niagara-on-the-Lake
While looking for wine tours to take during our trip to the Falls, I came across Niagara Vintage Wine Tours, a highly-rated family-owned wine company based in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Started by husband and wife team Chris and Gabriela Fucillo, Niagara Vintage Wine Tours aims to provide high-quality personalized experiences that help visitors to have a better understanding and appreciation for Niagara Wine Country.
Niagara Vintage Wine Tours has a wide range of tours in the area ranging from half day wine tours to food and wine tours. In addition to group tours, they also offer private and corporate tours.
As a person who has a slight obsession with both wine and food, I opted for one of the most popular tours that the company had to offer: The Epic Food, Wine and Beer Tour; an interactive tour created for people who love to indulge in fresh local foods, delectable wines, and enticing beers.
On the day of the tour, H and I were picked up at our hotel by our guide Jeremy. With over 18 years of experience in the Niagara Wine Region, Jeremy was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about wine, the Niagara wine region, and the food in the area.
Jeremy started the tour by giving us a full introduction to the wine region in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. He informed us that although the Niagara wine region was small at only 18,000 acres, it produced some really good quality wines, especially icewines, which have helped to bring Niagara wines into the international spotlight.
As Jeremy whisked us past different wineries in the region, he discussed what they were each known for. He told us that during the tour, we would be visiting a total of five places: three local wineries, one large winery, and one brewery.
PondView Estate Winery
The first stop on the tour was Pondview Estate Winery, a small 80-acre VQA winery located in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Founded by the Sicilian Puglisi Family in 1974, PondView winery currently produces several variations of wines including white wines, red wines, and icewines.
Jeremy left us in the hands of Keith, a very knowledgeable wine guide at PondView Estate to give us more insight into Niagara-on-the-Lake and what makes PondView stand out in the region.
Keith started the wine tasting by giving us basic knowledge about what to look for in a good wine. He told us that when you go to drink a glass of white wine, you should first look at the clarity of the wine by slightly tipping your glass to the side and holding it over a piece of white paper to make sure there are no bugs or impurities inside of it. After checking the clarity, you should then check the smell of the wine; if the wine smells like wet dog, it has gone bad.
Keith then moved on to discuss the properties of a good red wine. He stated that good red wine should be purely red in color, and should not be brown, as brown is a sign of oxidation.
After discussing what to look for in both red and white wine, Keith explained how to properly pair wine and food. Each couple was provided with a charcuterie board and I started to reminisce about the wine and cheese pairings that I had done at Reypenaer in Amsterdam and Murrays in New York City.
One new thing that I learned during this particular tasting was that red wine is always recommended to be eaten with protein-filled foods because the tannins in the wine remove the natural proteins from your mouth, giving it a dry feeling. When a protein-rich meat is consumed at the same time as a red wine, the mouth does not feel as dry and depleted.
Another interesting thing that I learned at PondView was that sometimes people are not fans of Chardonnay because it might not be served at the optimal temperature. Keith went on to explain that some Chardonnays actually taste better a little warmed up, something I never considered doing with a white wine. After tasting a slightly-warm Chardonnay, I had to agree with Keith that it certainly did taste much better when it was not served cold.
Keith concluded the tour by teaching us several important things about drinking wine such as how to properly hold and swirl your wine in a glass, the benefits of placing an aerator in a bottle of wine when consuming it, and how icewine can be made from any frozen grape.
Silversmith Brewing Company
The next stop on the tour took us to Silversmith Brewing Company, a fairly new craft brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Founded by friends Matt and Chris in 2011, Silversmith was built inside a former church whose origins date back to the 1890s. Currently, Silversmith is one of only four breweries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area.
Silversmith currently makes four different beers: The Black Lager, which is their flagship beer, the Hill 145 Golden Ale, the Bavarian Breakfast Wheat, and the Dam Buster English Pale Ale. Occasionally, Silversmith will also have a limited release beer added to their menu as well.
During our trip to Silversmith, we were given a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and a beer flight that included all four of the brewery’s signature beers.
My favorite of the four beers was definitely the Hill 145 Golden Ale, which was an American Blonde Ale style beer that was light amber in color and had subtle notes of fruitiness. I also really enjoyed tasting the Bavarian Breakfast Wheat but unfortunately, I had to give most of it to H because as I learned in Germany, wheat beers do not necessarily agree with my stomach.
After leaving Silversmith, we boarded the van and Jeremy drove us over to Rancourt Winery, a former peach-tree-farm-turned-boutique-winery that was ranked as the ‘best cottage winery in Niagara Wine Country’.
Before heading into the winery, Jeremy led us over to the vineyards to teach us a little bit about the wine growing process and to discuss the wines in the area.
Jeremy discussed the role that mother nature plays in the wine growing process and how crucial both the sun and canopy growth is to the yield that will be produced during the year. He also explained how it important it is to constantly farm and manage the growth of the vines to get the best yield.
Jeremy went on to discuss the best two markets of wines in the Niagara region: Reisling and Pino Grigio for the whites and Cabernet Franc for the red. He also explained that the high cost of icewine is due to the fact that it takes 10x the amount of grapes to produce a bottle that is half the size of a regular wine bottle in addition to the risk that the farmers have to take to grow the grapes in the winter.
After learning more about the wine process, Jeremy led us inside to Rancourt’s Tasting Room, where we were greeted by a stone slab filled with fresh delicious homemade goodies from the local Harvest Barn Country Markets and three of Rancourt’s best wines.
The first wine that we tasted was the 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay that had subtle flavors of melon, fresh green apples, and citrus. We paired the Chardonnay with the cheddar and garlic breadstick that was made fresh that morning.
The second wine that we tasted was the 2016 Rosé, which has the flavors of strawberries and marmalade. We paired the Rosé with a cool and refreshing beet salad.
The final wine that we tried was a big bold beautiful pure 2012 Cabernet Franc. We learned that in 2012, Niagara had an absolutely amazing vintage year because it was hot and dry – which is the optimal weather for growing grapes. Due to the fact that the weather was so dry and there was very little rainfall during that season, the grapes were more fruit forward and produced more sugars.
The Cabernet Franc was oaked for 2.5 years and had a very oaky flavor with black cherry notes and a smooth vanilla finish.
As we had learned during our trip to Pineview, red wine, such as Cabernet Franc, pairs well with very protein heavy meats such as steak, ribs, and lamb due to the tannins attacking the protein in saliva and producing a tongue-drying effect.
Since the tannins in the red wine attack the protein in the mouth, our Cabernet Franc was paired with the protein-heavy Steak and Stilton Pie from Harvest Barn.
After filling up on food and wine at Rancourt, we were invited to pick some fresh and delicious peaches from the row of peaches at the front of the property. They were so fresh and delicious that it was a perfect way to wrap up our experience at the winery.
The fourth stop on the tour was to Canada’s most awarded winery, Jackson-Triggs (Niagara Estate).
Jackson-Triggs grows three grapes on site: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Reisling, which are used for the production of their sparkling wines. In order for Jackson-Triggs to produce other wine varietals, they obtain their grapes from 33 local farmers.
Guided by our hostess Rachel, the first wine that we tried was the Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Entourage Sparkling Brut, which is very similar to a champagne, but cannot be named as such since it is not produced in France.
While drinking the wine, Rachel discussed the benefits of producing wine in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region in addition to how wine is created on site. She took us past the vineyard making sure to note that the vines are pointed towards the sun to receive the optimal amount of sunlight.
Rachel then brought us past the crush pad where we learned about the technical aspects of sorting and crushing grapes before heading into the tank room where the fermentation process occurs. The tank room reminded me of the one that I had visited at the Brooklyn Winery but on a much larger scale.
Before leaving the winery, we sampled one more white wine and a red wine and traveled down to the wine cellar, which was my favorite part of the tour.
Between the Lines Winery
The fifth and final stop on the tour was to a winery located in a barn called Between the Lines Winery.
Between the Lines is a family-run winery created by brothers and the youngest winery owners in Canada, Greg and Yannick Wertsch. The winery has unique varietals such as the popular Lemberger, which is produced from Austrian grapes.
The first wine that we tried at Between the Lines was a light and refreshing Reisling and then we moved to the 100% Pinot Noir Rosé, which had a dry flavor to it and had fruity notes of watermelon, strawberry rhubarb, and cherry.
While drinking the rosé, we learned the key difference between a blush and a rosé, which I was unaware of prior to visiting the winery. A Rosé is purely red and contains no white wine; a Blush, on the other hand, has white wine inside of it, which gives it a lighter color.
Our guide at Between the Lines went on to explain how to make rosé the perfect summer drink. The first suggestion that she gave us was to add frozen strawberries and blueberries to a rosé to bring out the naturally fruity flavors. The second suggestion that she gave to us was to make rosé ice cubes and put them inside of a glass of rosé to give it a nice chill. The third and final suggestion that she gave us (which I cannot wait to try at home) was to make a frozen, which includes making rosé ice cubes and then popping them into a blender with half a cup of chilled rosé, a cup of fresh strawberries, and simple syrup to make a delicious and fun slushy-style rosé.
The last wine that we had at Between the Lines was a big bold and meaty Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend that was oaked for two years in both French and American oak barrels. We paired it with a light and delicious parfait cup filled with fresh cherries, blackberries, and raspberries; it was the perfect way to end our food and drink experience.
Overall, our tour with Niagara Vintage Wine Tours was both informative and delicious. There was an abundant amount of food, wine, and beer. Additionally, our guide, Jeremy, kept us entertained along the entire trip.
I highly recommend taking this tour when you are visiting either Niagara Falls or the Niagara-on-the-Lake region. If you do take the tour, make sure to let them know Chanel sent you!
H and I were guests of Niagara Vintage Wine Tours for The “Epic” Niagara Food, Beer and Wine Tour during my trip to the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Canada. All opinions in this post are completely my own.