Niagara-on-the-Lake is a town in southern Ontario known for its wineries – and my parents just happen to live there. So, while they were out in Italy having – you guessed it – more wine, we camped out at their place with our BFF Nicole for a little adventure. Because, sometimes the Best Day of the Week is one on the road.
If you’re not familiar with Niagara on the Lake, it’s nestled next to Niagara Falls, but could not be more different. While “The Falls” is super touristy and known just as much for its wax museums and casino as its iconic group of waterfalls, Niagara on the Lake is a small town that’s incredibly picturesque. In addition to the wineries, they’re also known for the summer Shaw Festival, a series of theatre productions. It also has a reputation for being Canada’s “Most Haunted Town.” Reason being, the only war fought on Canadian soil took place here. For such a small place, there was a lot of death and violence that happened here. As a result, there’s many stories about ghost sightings – so much that they host a ghost walk that we highly recommend.
Spend a couple of days here in the spring, summer or early fall. They’ve got some incredible wineries, great restaurants and a ton of other fun activities to take advantage of. We’ve shared our itinerary below that you can use as a guide. We’ve been here many times, so we’re sharing the best of the best.
- Bikes (optional)
- Photo ID if you look like a young thing
- An interest in trying some delicious wines
- An adventurous spirit
Hit Up the Bench: After breakfast, you’ll want to start the day by hitting up The Bench, which is just west of Beamsville. Reason being, if you’re staying in Niagara on the Lake you’ll have to drive to the Bench – it’s about 20-minutes. So, it’s best to start here and then ditch the car once you get some wine into your system. You’ll also want to draw straws for someone to be the DD, and take only the tiniest sips of wine so you can get around safe and sound. There are some of the best wines in all of the Niagara region on The Bench. Here’s our recommendations:
- The Organized Crime Winery: a small boutique winery with small production volumes. We all bought bottles here! We especially recommend The Download, a ripe and polished Bordeaux Blend. If you’re not looking to break the bank but are still after a nice red, their Pinot Noir is also gorgeous and only $21.95/bottle
- Rosewood Estates Winery: this winery also makes honey guys! They use that honey to make mead, the world’s oldest known form of alcoholic beverage. Commonly referred to as honeywine, mead is made using three raw natural ingredients; honey, water, and yeast. Vanessa nabbed a bottle of it, to be opened on a super special occasion.
- Angel’s Gate: A beautiful winery with an even more beautiful view, that has especially delicious sparkling wine. They’ve got sparkling wine for everyone: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot noir rosé and more. You will fall in love with one of them, we guarantee it.
- Vieni Estates Wine & Spirits: this spot has a ton of different varietals and styles of wine. We bought everything from rosé to Ripasso here and ps: they’re generous with their tastings!
Time for Lunch at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery: Ravine is in St. David’s, just outside of Niagara on the Lake, and conveniently on the way back from The Bench. In the summers, they make a mean pizza using their outdoor wood oven. They serve up that pizza on their patio, which looks out onto the grape vines. The view is almost as epic as the pizza. In addition to serving their wines, they also have local beers on tap if you’re looking to switch it up a bit.
Swap the Car for Bikes: Let the local Niagara on the Lake wine tasting begin. And that means it’s time to ditch that car. There are a couple of different places in Niagara you can rent bikes, like Grape Escape, Zoom Leisure Bikes and Vino Velo.
Let the Tasting Continue: Hop on that bike and hit up the first group of Niagara on the Lake wineries – the second you’ll do tomorrow (we’ve grouped them by location).
- Konzelmann Estate Winery: Now, usually most wineries you hit up for a tasting in Niagara on the Lake wave the fee for tasting if you buy a bottle of wine. Konzelmann’s does not, BUT they offer $5 off the tasting for every bottle you buy, and their tasting portions are larger than other spots, so you won’t be disappointed. They have a ton of varieties of wine, including ice wine, but they’re most known for their peach wine which is fresh and fruity and made from Niagara peaches. Well worth a visit.
- NOMAD at Hinterbrook: Hinterbrook is known for ice wine, which is a specialty of the Niagara Region but we found some other beautiful wines here as well. Our favourites were their Ripasso style Merlot and their Pinot Noir but we couldn’t resist taking home a couple bottles of their “Franc Blanc”, a white Cabernet Franc, just because it was so different and special.
- Strewn Winery: a gorgeous winery that’s also home to OLiV Tasting Room & Restaurant, who make their own Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars. They integrate the EVOO and vinegars into every item on their menu – including the cocktails. For dinner, we ordered their cheese, charcuterie and antipasto board, which paired well with their Pinot Noir.
- Small Talk Vineyards & Shiny Apple Cider: This spot not only has 11 grape varieties, but they also serve up ciders, including our all-time favourite: Pinot Noir Cider. They also do seasonal ciders, like plum and peach. Yes please!
Did Someone Say More Tasting?: Guys, we told you this trip was all about wine tasting and we weren’t lying. There’s more wineries on our must-visit list. Today was all about the epic estates.
- Peller Estates: now this is what we call an epic winery. This vineyards has a beautiful restaurant, an epic tasting room, and some very beautiful wines. Don’t leave without tasting the Sparkling Ice Cuvée!
- Two Sisters Vineyards: Right next door to Peller Estates, the Two Sisters is a spectacular winery with some gorgeous Reds for those looking to splurge.
Pay the Breweries a Visit: Niagara is now recognized for more than just their wine – beers are getting a lot of attention here too, and for good reason. Show ’em some love by hitting up these spots:
- Oast House: you can’t miss Oast’s red barn on the way into Niagara. These guys have some pretty awesome beers, the most popular being their Barnraiser Country Ale. They also make some seasonal beers like Strawberry Rhubarb Ale that’s a must-try in the summer. We recommend sitting on their back patio to grab a pint and a sammy from Brushfire Smoke BBQ. Vanessa said the Szechuan Chicken Sandwich was “the best sandwich she has ever had” and we have an entire post dedicated to the best sandwich in the world, so you know we’re familiar with sandwiches…
- Silversmith Brewing Company: these guys operate out of a church that dates bak to the 1890’s. They’re known for their award-winning black lager that we can confirm is absolutely delicious (smooth, but with a ton of flavour!). They also have a ton of other beers you’ll love, our second fave is their Bavarian Breakfast Wheat. This spot gets an A+ for atmosphere.
Grab Some Dinner: Here’s a round-up of our fave resto’s in NOTL:
- The Garrison House: super casual, delicious eats – this place was featured on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here!
- Ginger Restaurant at The Orchid Inn: not the trendiest spot in town, but they’ve got absolutely incredible Thai food.
- The Old Winery: Classic Italian fare, you really can’t go wrong.
- The Pie Plate: Right across from Silversmith, this place has incredible pies, baked goods, pizzas and sammies. We recommend the peach and prosciutto ‘za they do in the summer, followed by the banana or coconut cream pie.
On the Way Home: If you’re on your way back to Toronto and have to go through The Bench again, give it one last hurrah and hit up our fave lunch spot:
- The Good Earth Food and Wine Co.: This spot is gorgeous. Not only do they have vines for days, but they have peach trees…PEACH TREES. Not only do they have great wines, but they operate a farm to table resto with an every-changing menu. We grabbed lunch here, and it felt like we were totally off the grid.
This is the soundtrack to your wine tasting adventure – it’s filled with bright shiny tunes suited to backroad driving.