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Favourite Niagara wineries to visit?

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I'm planning to visit a few Niagara wineries - just for fun. Help me pick a few to go to!

Large or small - I'm looking for anything interesting... Nice architecture, nice wine-makers, great food, great wine - any attractions.

One bias is that I'm more curious about smaller independent growers than the massive Vincor ones, but I'm happy to see whatever's worth seeing.

What wineries do you recommend?
And any wines to look out for are also appreciated! (Tasting notes?)

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  1. Inniskillin: some of the whites are quite good and the wine tasting setting is quite beautiful

    30 Bench: nice restaurant attached to the winery

    1. Here is a very recent thread to read:

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/40469...

      5 Replies
      1. re: bogie

        Here you go...(in no particular order, but each delivering on many if not all levels of great wines, service, design and architecture, tutored tastings, vineyard views and quality)

        Thirty Bench, Malivoire, Flat Rock, Hidden Bench, Tawse, Daniel Lenko (you will be visiting Niagara's renegade winemaker..in his kitchen at home!), Cave Spring, Henry of Pelham, Peninsula Ridge, Chateau des Charmes, Ridgepoint (Niagara's first Nebbiolo @ $40 a pop), Stratus, Le Clos Jordanne, Creekside and Thirteenth Street.

        All my favourite places to visit.

        1. re: The Macallan 18

          Any recommendations on where to stay... and I actually do intend this as a foodie questions. Are there any Niagara inns or boutique hotels where you can have a decent or even good dinner after a day or wine touring (and then just waddle back to your room)?

          1. re: Rabbit

            I'd say Inn on the Twenty and its restaurant which is facing the Cave Spring store in Vineland.

            1. re: Campofiorin

              I'm exceedingly sorry to dissent from this suggestion, but I just wanted to say that I unfortunately disagree here. I've had two horrible meals in wine country - both at Inn On The Twenty. Since the Olsen's left (ironically), the restaurant hasn't been the same (which is for years now). In fact, I'd go so far to say it's laughable (at least based on my two visits). The second visit, btw, was a comped business meeting that I was forced to attend.

              1. re: pixelchef

                From my experience, I can't say I agree with you, but I have heard similar reviews.

                Rabbit, even if you choose not to eat at On the Twenty, you may wish to stay at the Inn. It's quite nice... in Jordan, in-house spa, etc. It's only five minutes (drive) from Vineland Estates which I hear has an excellent restaurant. I prefer this area of Niagara to the much too busy Niagara on the Lake.

      2. I've heard that Hillebrand has an incredible restaurant - they actually employ a "forager" to go looking for produce etc.
        But it seems the restaurant is closed for renovations! Does anyone know anything about this?

        3 Replies
        1. re: bellywizard

          Hillebrand's restaurant is good, to be sure. As is Peller Estates. Penninsula Ridge has a nice restaurant as well, as does Vineland Estates.

          1. re: bellywizard

            The executive Chef at Hillebrand is Frank Dodd - very good.

            They are indeed renovating, on a fairly large scale. I was there on the weekend and was told that everything should be up by the 5th of July. They are putting a lot of work into it and it should be quite nice once complete.

            wrt to the original question my personal favourite vineyard is Malivoire, although they don't do tours or have a restaurant. The location is very relaxing and the wines excellent.

            1. re: bellywizard

              The restaurant is open. We just booked a reservation for next weekend.

            2. Some of my favourites are Strewn with it's restaurant Terroir La Cachette. Vineland Estates also has a fabulous resto. East Dell has a nice patio overlooking their vines, and a great summer rose. I'll second Daniel Lenko, if you make an appointment you'll likely be welcomed by his mum and a still warm slice of her amazing apple pie. Then stop by Kacaba right next door to Lenko, their Meritages are always good. I always hit Marynissen Estates when I'm in Niagara, they have huge reds that age really well are generally really great value.

              Have a great trip.
              K.

              2 Replies
              1. re: karose

                I was planning on visiting Daniel Lenko in the coming weeks and I know I have to make an appointment. Would you happen to know if they take credit cards as I want to buy wine but don't want to carry a pile of cash along.

                1. re: karose

                  Sadly, Daniel Lenko's mom passed away this winter. The winery is open on the weekends during the summer, but I believe you need an appointment during the week.

                  We had a very good meal at Peninsula Ridge recently. The Jordan House now has "lodging" available. It is run by the same people as Inn On The Twenty.

                2. I've eaten lunch @ Hillebrand awhile back and had a great meal (all 4 of us agreed). Not sure if they still have the same chef.

                  My wife and I also had a small post-wedding party at Vineland (in their little chapel), very nice views of the vineyards. It was higher end party food, well done (esp the chocolate souffle). We first went there in June when it was around 5pm, they had just closed, but there was so much fog in the area that it was quite magical.

                  Here's a few photos of the winery Vineland:

                  http://img455.imageshack.us/img455/39...

                  http://img455.imageshack.us/img455/81...

                  1. We did the area last summer in connection with a trip to Toronto. We really enjoyed Thirty Bench, Malivoire, Cave Spring, and Stratus. We visited others, but these were the ones where we actually decided to buy wine (icewine at all except Thirty Bench where we also bought Cab Franc and Reisling) Thirty Bench was the most interesting in terms of variety and the tasting room. Stratus had the coolest building (very modern) and the best icewine.

                    As to where to eat. On the way back from Niagara-on-the-Lake we had arranged to dine at La Cucina in Oakville. Thru the Wine Spectator boards I had arranged with the sommelier there (Andrew) to bring a nice 2004 Dain American Beauty Amber Ridge PN to dinner. We had a fantastic meal and the service was great. Not overly fancy, but very good Italian food.

                    1. I stayed at the Black Walnut Manor in Vineland last year. We had a candlelit dinner prepared by the owner on the front porch, then had dinner the second night at Vineland Estates. It was part of a weekend deal. The breakfasts were divine! The BWM is a beautiful B&B and the owner is incredibley knowledgeable about the area & which wines to purchase where. She directed us to Flat Rock Cellars to purchase their "Twisted" and to Fielding Estates (close to Eastdell) to pick up a limited supply of a wine made especially for their daughter's wedding.
                      Have a great trip!

                      1. My top pick for excellent wineries are: Thirty Bench (all their reislings are stars - esp the Triangle Vineyard - very Alsatian - NB there is NO resto at thrity bench!!), Stratus (Stratus White and Red), Clos Jordanne (Pinot Noir), Niagara College Winery (Gamay, Chardonnay), Cave Spring (Reisling, Chardonnay), Strewn, Daniel Lanko (have loved the wines, never been there though) Peller (despite being one of the "big" ones, they do have some good wines & it's a lovely plave- I really like their ice wines, some of the cab franc and Ice Cuvee - champanoiser with a splash of ice wine - it's a good place to stop to have a tasting and a lovely, sophisticated lunch)

                        IMHO, the best places to eat "fancy" are: Treadwell in Port Dalhousie (amazing tasting menu with incredible wine pairings) or Peller Estates Resto (food is made to go with their wines - much better than Hillbrand)

                        An amazing place for lunch or an afternoon coffee is The Pie Plate in Virgil (just outside NOTL) - their lemon merangue pie/tarts is/are not to be missed :-)

                        1. Definitely stop by Fielding Estate Wineries if you are around the Beamsville Bench area rather than Niagara on the Lake. Although they don't have a restaurant, they have a wonderful new winery with lots of yummy wines that aren't on the LCBO 'General List' and only available through the winery. http://www.fieldingwines.com/index2.php

                          Closeby are wineries such as Malivoire, Vineland Estates, Henry of Pelham, Cave Spring etc. http://winesofontario.org/html/trav_p...

                          Consider stopping in Fonthill for dinner at either Zest http://www.zestfonthill.com/
                          or The Wild Flower http://www.wildflowerrestaurant.com/ for a non winery dinner but great food and local produce etc., or Treadwell cuisine in Port Weller http://www.treadwellcuisine.com/

                          Check a list of the 2007 Ontario Wine Awards to see some of the various medal winners in various categories. http://www.ontariowineawards.ca/

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: smartalex

                            All this advice is fantastic!!
                            Now how to narrow down... ?

                            I won't be going for a few weeks, but maybe this warrants a *couple* of trips through the summer. I think I can handle that! :-)

                            1. re: bellywizard

                              I was there last month with some friends and stayed at the beautifully renovated Keefer Mansion in Thorold. The town is not much to look at, but the mansion is beautiful and food was fantastic. We had a spa package - dinner, our room, continental breakfast and a massage for about $200 each. Can't beat it.

                              And as for wineries, our favourite was also Daniel Lenko, as well we enjoyed Malivoire and Herny of Pelham. Have fun!

                              1. re: janis37

                                Le CLos Jordanne has a boutique for visiting? I haven't seen or heard anything about it this year yet..... would like to try their pinots on site.

                                1. re: doctorandchef

                                  I heard Le Clos Jordanne is not yet open to the public and someone can correct me if I'm wrong but I read they already sold all inventory of the current vintage to the LCBO, so there's nothing to buy at the winery.

                                  I recently bought one of the $35 Le Clos Jordanne (forgot which one) to see what the fuss is about. It was definitely more hype than substance. Nose was all right, nice scent of raspberry and blackberry, but taste was watery and light (even for a pinot) and the finish was short. It was better the 2nd day but still not worth the $35 asking price. I'd say it'd be a nice $18-20 pinot.

                                  I just drank a 2005 Coopers Creek pinot tonight and this $20 Marlborough New Zealander put the $35 Le Clos Jordanne to shame, IMHO.

                              2. re: bellywizard

                                I highly recommend About Thyme Bistro in Vineland. Excellent food, romantic atmosphere, and the prix fixe is $27.00, I think... Great value. Also, Stone Road Grille in NOTL is a gem, with amazing food at reasonable prices.

                                I had a wonderful tour at Lailey Vineyard, just outside NOTL, which I booked ahead of time. Very small place with some great wines.

                                For a fabulous lunch, I recommend the savoury items at Olson Foods at Ravine Vineyard. Picturesque location, you get to visit the winery, as well, and the food was really quite good, though I can't say I'm a fan of many of her sweets (except the lemon squares, which were worth the calories). There are also some local foodie finds, such as unsweetened cherry juice (quite tart and refreshing).

                                The PIe Plate has amazing butter tarts, better than Flaky Tart, in my opinion, and they come with nuts or raisins... Food there did look great, though I only tried the sweet stuff. It's a little rickety and cramped, but quite charming.

                            2. I really enjoyed Peller Estates and EastDell was fantastic. Don't forget Rockway Glen. Chef Josh is a wizard in the kitchen.

                              1. I agree with everyone on this thread and just want to add a suggestion to lunch at Henry of Pelham, if it's a nice day. I had lunch a handful of times there last summer, I think the restaurant is called the Coach House or something, anyway it never disappointed, the menu is super simple and the food is very very very fresh and rather well paired with their wines.

                                1. We brought a guest to Peller Estates and we went to the Art of Food and Wine tasting. Very nice experience! Would definitely recommend it for beginning oenophiles :-)

                                  http://feedingtheboys.blogspot.com/20...

                                  1. If icewine is what you have in mind, then I highly recommend Royal Demaria. The winery makes only icewine but do so from a whole range of grapes (from the typical Vidal to the less encountered Pinot Noir and Muscat Ottonel). No bottle is less than $70 (this winery is home to the most expensive icewine in the world) but they offer free tastings as a flight of 5 or 6 wines.

                                    1. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/433004

                                      i loved Flat Rock the best.
                                      Triggs and Hillebrand good for big tour experience.
                                      Strewn also half decent,
                                      Stratus incredible architechture.
                                      Henry of Pelham amazing lunch on the patio.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: LemonLauren

                                        The best winery in NOTL is Stratus. They are LEED certified and very proactive about using new and innovative enviromental practices. Their wines are incredible. A friend of mine who has spent years in Burgundy thinks the Stratus White is a remarkable North American wine. The architecture is beautiful, clean lines, modern. The wines here are pricey but (in my opinion) well worth it. I would definetly add this stop on your list of wineries to visit.

                                        1. re: ren horace

                                          Greatly second Stratus - was there two weeks ago, pricy yes but well worth it. Stay away from their Wildass brand, just cheap stuff. Do a petit verdot, which I don't think anyone else is doing as it's normally a "blender" grape.

                                          1. re: ren horace

                                            Have you visited Tawse. They are also LEED certified and have a very nice facility. Wines are produced through gravity filtration - no pumps at all. They do some excellent chards. Similar observations on their facility as you note for Stratus. Not quite NOTL, but they are on the bench.

                                        2. The wines at Hidden Bench are a revelation. Their commitment to quality is only matched by a very few others in Niagara (Le Clos Jordanne, and for some wines, places like Malivoire and Thirty Bench). Their Nuit Blanche (a Sauvignon/Semillon blend) is one of the best Canadian wines I have tasted. And their Chardonnays are outstanding, something between a Mersault crossed with the richness of Santa Barbara Chardonnay (they remind me of Brewer-Clifton's Chardonnays, a California winery that makes incredibly delicious and balanced Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, that while being richer and higher in alcohol, are very Burgundian in their complexity).

                                          Hidden Bench released their first red wines yesterday, a good Pinot Noir (reminded me of a Volnay) and a very good Bordeaux blend called Terroir Caché. Definitely check them out if you're in the Beamsville area.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: cybergod

                                            Black Walnut Manor is an unbelieveable boutique B&B. Must stay there. And you can't miss Tawse winery for sure. Brand new, high end wines, gravity fed tanks to "crush" the grapes is very cool.

                                          2. As I see this is a bit of an old thread, are the below recs still generally valid?

                                            My wife and I are visiting from NYC, staying at a B&B in Niagara on the Lake from 7/3 to 7/6 and plan to pretty much visit Niagara Falls and then focus on food & wine. Interested in reds, whites and of course icewines. We've travelled to a number of different wine regions around the world (Napa, Sonoma, Tuscany, Hunter Valley (AUS), etc.) so our main interest is in trying the best of what Ontario has to offer (i.e., more interested in the wines themselves than in tours and things like that). We are generally happy to make appointments if they are needed. It sounds like Daniel Lenko, 30 Bench and (of course) Inniskillin are a good place to start.

                                            We'd also like to hear about the best local restaurants. It sounds from below like Hillebrand is a strong recommendation - what others are best right now?

                                            Thanks for the help and for the very useful prior posts.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: jonasblank

                                              I highly recommend Hidden Bench-see cybergod's comments above. The Nuit Blanche, Terroir Cache and La Brunante are exceptional. Stratus is interesting from an architectural perspective, and Tawse's Chards and Pinots are generally well loved (although not to my taste). Thirteenth Street makes some lovely sparkling wines and Rieslings. Personally, I don't get the love for 30 Bench or Flat Rock wines.

                                              SWS

                                              1. re: jonasblank

                                                I think for the most part, yes, the recommended wineries are probably still the same as they were. I replied to a post above without checking the date, but all that is current from this summer (2009), and I do highly recommend the two restaurants (About Thyme Bistro and Stone Road Grille), as reasonably priced, top notch food. Some of the winery restaurants may have better ambiance and views, but you will pay for it, too.

                                                Definitely make reservations ahead of time, if possible. You should also do this for winery tours, if you are planning tours, as summer is peak period and very busy.

                                                Niagara is more known for its whites, but there are some good reds, too. Some of the big wineries aren't using only Niagara grapes (I understand some of what ends up in the wine came from France), though the smaller wineries tend to be (and usually state they are) producing wines exclusively from their land.

                                                1. re: jonasblank

                                                  Just a quick link for you to peruse as well:

                                                  www.ontariowineawards.ca

                                                  The site lists award winners in each category judged by top Canadian sommeliers/journalists.

                                                2. You don't need to go far from town to experience Hillebrand, Stratus, Jackson-Trigg. Lunch at Henry of Pelham was superb experience and food. Hillebrand Late lunch which with Jazz festival was very memorable. Don't miss these two venues for meals. Jackson-Trigg has best buy in icewine according to Wine Spectator with 1/2 bottle of Vidal in 50 (Canadian) dollar range. Eat breakfast at the patisserie next to Stone Road Grille.

                                                  1. I just returned from Niagara on the Lake - we go every year via sailboat and stay at the sailing club. My favorite winery is Lailey - great wine especially their oaked chardonnay. As for meals we always have one meal at the Angel Inn. It is a pub and not fancy however it is in the oldest building in Niagara and the food is quite good. I have been to most of the other restaurants there and have no other pics unfortunately.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: juliewong

                                                      Just got back from Niagara, I will be posting about it in more detail later when I have more time. Happy to say that Niagara is producing some stellar reds now to go along with the stellar whites it is known for (rieslings in particular).

                                                      By far the best reds were at:

                                                      1. A Foreign Affair - Making wines in the Amarone Style, their Cab. Franc is exquisite. I also really enjoyed their red blend called Temptress. The biggest, boldest and most complex/refined reds being made in the Niagara region imo.
                                                      2. Thirty Bench - Their vintage reds are excellent, complex and big flavours. Hands down the best Pinot noir coming out of Niagara.
                                                      3. Organized Crime - great cab. sauv, and a syrah that sadly will stop being produced soon, due to yields. The proprieter's are also real characters, worth going just for the show.
                                                      4. Strewn - Their 01's are a real treat, we are talking massive forward flavours, they also have a 98' Cab. Franc that continues to get better with age.
                                                      5. Vineland Estates - Their reserve reds, the Syrah in particular, are fantastic.

                                                      It bears noting that all the good reds, except for Strewn, were coming from the Vineland/Beamsvillie area. Niagara-on-the-lake has great whites but so-so reds. For instance the much talked about Stratus had their 2006's out for tasting, the white was by far the best white I had anywhere on my trip, but thevred was so tight it was nearly undrinkable, even after putting it through an aerator (the guy serving acknowledged it wasn't 'ready' to drink). A few years of cellaring would do it some good, still I am left wondering why that is the taste you want the public to sample and judge you by.

                                                      1. re: JPJ

                                                        Have you tried either Tawse or Les Clos Jordanne? Both make excellent pinot noirs. Tawse also has superb Rieslings.

                                                        1. re: Big Trouble

                                                          Yes, I was at Tawse (best tour of a winery I had, especially loved the chest of dirt and voodoo-esque stuff going on in their cellars) and tried both their 2007 and their Proprieter's Reserve (only available in the half bottle due to limited quantity) Pinot's. They were good but not as good as 30 Bench's Pinot imo. Still one would be remiss in not mentioning Tawse, an excellent winery for reds, and yes excellent Rieslings (although my favourite from this trip was at Hidden Bench, the acidity and mineral balance was spot on).

                                                          Les Clos Jordanne's pinot noir was good, but again ranked behind 30 Bench imo. Their lower end Pinot's are too "refined" for my liking, too light on the palate. The Le Grand Clos was still not as good as 30 Bench's 2007 Pinot which is half the price. The LGC was better than the Tawse Pinot's I had but at double the price it was not double as good. Still, Le Clos Jordanne is producing great wines and their pinot's are well received by wine critics and I would never turn down a glass. Not sure I would lay out $80 for a bottle of LGC though with cheaper and better options at hand.

                                                          Either way the Niagara Region has several proprieters making very good pinot noir, easily the biggest change from when I spent enough time there to make the rounds 5-6 years a go.

                                                          Great suggestions.

                                                          1. re: JPJ

                                                            Thanks for these excellent suggestions. I haven't tried either 30 Bench's Pinot or the Hidden Bench Riesling. Exciting times ahead!

                                                    2. You HAVE to go to Ravine. It is a new winery in an old 1800's farmhouse. The '07 Merlot is outstanding. There is a restaurant there as well - "Olson Foods" which is more of a bakery/gourmet food shop but has an awesome chalkboard menu. This is Michael and Anna Olson's new spot and when we stopped by they were both there cooking and schmoozing. Do yourself a favour and have lunch here or pizza at sunset on a Friday night (bring a sweater these days.)

                                                      1. Those who enjoy dessert wines may want to check out the topic about Niagara icewine at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/534832 I just posted my recent experiences there.

                                                        There's a website that I found very helpful in planning my visit; it covers wineries throughout Ontario, including those in the Niagara region. It's www.wineriesontario.com I especially liked their maps and information; they also publish a brochure that you can find at the wineries.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: nsxtasy

                                                          I just went to NOTL last month. And followed the advice here. We had a great time at Hillebrand and Inniskillen. The views were very pretty and we took lots of pictures.

                                                          Particularly enjoyed Olsen Foods at the Ravine. We already ate lunch but could not resist the menu. The large plates were delicious and a great value. Then we sampled some of the desserts and pastries. I will definitely stop by from now on each time we bring relatives to NF. Sitting on the heated porch for lunch was very relaxing. Thanks, everyone.

                                                        2. Was recently at On the Twenty. We had an amazing meal, amazing service and great wines - all Cave Springs. Perhaps the resto was in flux in 2007 when some other comments were made, but I believe they must be back in fine form.

                                                          -----
                                                          Inn on the Twenty
                                                          3836 Main Street, Jordan, ON L0R 1S0, CA

                                                          1. Inn on the Twenty is really spectacular and definitely a cut above the rest for dinner.

                                                            My favourite spot for lunch is the bakery at Ravine.

                                                            -----
                                                            Inn on the Twenty
                                                            3836 Main Street, Jordan, ON L0R 1S0, CA

                                                            1. I agree that some of the reds at Marynissen Estates are excellent. Also Pondview.... they opened to the public this past year. Thoroughly enjoyed one of their reds and a rose.