It’s always fun to take a drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) and visit some of the local talent we have so close. I must admit I find myself frequenting the Beamsville Bench a lot more often than NOTL, but I was pleasantly surprised at the wines I discovered during my visit. Here is a run down of where I visited on my recent trip and what to look out for when you take your next visit.
Dillon’s Distillery has been around for a few years now, they continue to experiment in the spirits realm, creating some really interesting finds. I stopped in to pick up a new Walnut Amaro liquor they had just released- it is delicious! Fellow Italian aperitif drinkers- this shouldn’t be missed. Dillon’s makes Gin, Vodka, and a number of seasonally flavoured spirits- some of my favourites include Rose Gin, and Cherry Gin. They also make bitters for your cocktails that have just recently started showing up in the LCBO. Staff are helpful and you can try any of their spirits in the tasting room. It is a great spot to pick up all the fixings for that Old Fashioned, Negroni or Manhattan you are craving!
New on the scene, Hare Wine Co. is located right on Glendale and it is a site to see- it was designed with an open court yard in the middle of the structure and built with reclaimed brick from Detroit. The tasting room and barrel room are great spaces to host events and it is extremely flexible in terms of movable furniture. A great amount of detail has gone into the brand and what the winery represents- very nice!
We tasted their red wines and I was impressed. Their Frontier Cab Franc was well balanced, with an herbal and spicy note from the Cab Franc grape, married well with the silkiness of the Merlot that was blended in the wine.
The Noble Cab Franc was a treat, with a lot more depth than you would expect from a cab franc blend as the wine maker used the appassimento method to make this wine. It is luscious and delicious, and with very limited bottles produced, a true collector’s item for your cellar.
I had the pleasure of meeting the owner, John Hare, who is truly passionate about his winery and he gave me the “behind the scenes” tour. A great venue, with some delicious wine, and friendly staff- this winery is one to look out for in NOTL.
I haven’t visited Lailey in about 6 years, and I used to dream of their Syrah - it was a visceral experience with fond memories of togetherness with my husband and being in the vines watching harvest by hand. But my recent visit left much to be desired. Their wines fell short; they lacked the vibrancy and acidity that NOTL is known for. Their current vintage Syrah lacked depth, it had a strong pepper component, but almost tasted like a watered down version of what they produced in the past. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, knowing that last year the area was hit hard with frost and hail in late May-so perhaps this contributed to the issue. I believe their wine had been opened a few days prior and they were concerned of oxidization, because the staff kept checking each bottle before they were willing to serve it.
This is a quaint, family owned winery, just off the beaten path of NOTL. The tasting room is intimate with a home-grown feel. But don’t let that fool you. Their wines are very good, well balanced and their reds –especially the cab franc is excellent. I would consider their winery to be small but mighty, and a definite worth the visit- whether you are looking for a refreshing chardonnay, or a meaty cab franc, it is definitely worth the visit.
Driving up to the winery is like a scene out of a movie- it is grandiose and majestic. My husband and I looked at each other and said "we aren't in Kansas anymore Toto" and while the opulence of this gorgeous property might have you in awe, the physical space is backed by elegant, well-balanced, well-made wines (in a blind tasting, you might not think are made in NOTL). The winemaker, Adam Pearce is a genius with this wine. The un-oaked chardonnay reminds me of a Meursault from Burgundy and the oaked chardonnay is rich with subtle oak and great fruit notes. The wines are beautiful. And, while the price point is a little more than most of its neighbours, they are worth every penny. When you arrive, there is an intimidation factor; I have been to Chateaus in Chateauneuf du Pape that left me less intimidated; my advice: don’t get overwhelmed and get in there and try their wines- they are delicious!
Exchange is located right in the heart of downtown NOTL and is relatively new to the craft brewery scene in the area. What is interesting about their approach is that they are always making new types of beer- so depending on when you drop in, you might find something you have never tasted before!
With German influence to their beers, the brewers know what they are doing, and create some great, easy drinkers and some heavier, interesting beers. The peppercorn Saison was my favourite- mainly because it was barrel aged in a wine barrel (you can’t take the wine out of the wine-lover). The staff knows beer, and are true enthusiasts. Definitely a great place to stop in every time you find yourself walking down the main drag in NOTL; you never know what you will get to try next.
A great time overall sipping and savouring what we have in our own backyard, the wine industry in NOTL has come a long way over the last 10 years, and it really isn’t what it used to be. Whenever I speak to people about wine from our area, they make a face about red wine and assume it just isn’t that great. This is simply not true, the wineries seem to have come to a point where they know what they can make best, and they are doing it- really, really well.
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