Why You Need a Niagara Wine & Food Tour
We recently had the occasion to explore the food and wine scene in the Niagara region for the first time since 2019 and the news is good. We found numerous new gems in St. Catharines that warrant visiting again. Two of the Wine Country restaurants that stood out were a new discovery and an old favourite.
Valley Restaurant near the lake in St. Catharines serves some of the best Italian food that the region has to offer with the added benefit of an excellent wine list with depth in both Niagara and Imports. They have an outdoor patio that actually offers partial privacy through the use of dividers. We started the evening with an Aperol Spritz apertivo. We then enjoyed Ragu di Cinghiale, a stew of wild boar served over homemade papardelle noodles, as a main. The wine was, of course, local – an excellent Pinot Noir from Domaine Queylus that made the cinghiale even better. A dish of delicious chocolate gelato finished the evening.
The other establishment, Vineland Estates Restaurant, has it all: remarkable local food, impressive wines, and a picturesque setting. Try and reserve a seat with a view over the vineyards to Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline. We chose the 3 course Table D’Hôte and paired a glass of the Estate’s wine with each course. The 1st was a Beet Salad garnished with bleu cheese and birch syrup paired with Off Dry Riesling, the 2nd was Duck Confit matched with their Estate Pinot Meunier, and the final was a strawberry mousse accented with shortbread crumb, lemon madeleine, and macerated strawberries. The dessert pour was their Vidal Icewine. All in all, a memorable dining experience.
So, when planning your next escape, keep Niagara on your radar. You’ll find a bounty of good wine, good food, and good company close to home.
As usual, my ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.
The Roost Pinot Gris 2021 ★★★½+ $29.75 (Online, Winery)
Pinot Gris is not common in Ontario and certainly not in our area. The fruit for this wine comes from 15 year old vines on the Georgian Bay facing slopes of 4 Wheel Farm near Creemore. The Roost makes it into a dry wine that’s richer than an Italian Pinot Grigio, but less textured than an Alsatian Pinot Gris. The crisp acidity, and nuances of rich apple, lemon, pear, and minerals render it quite flexible with food. We advise grilled salmon for the perfect pairing.
Baron de Hoen Réserve Pinot Blanc 2019 ★★½+ $16.95 (Vintages)
Pinot Blanc is a white mutation of Pinot Noir that is grown mostly in Alsace, France and in Italy (Pinot Bianco). It does not produce a complex wine, but very good examples like this one showcase its pleasing fruitiness. You’ll find it dry and medium bodied with an abundance of ripe yellow apple along with pear and peach built on a solid mineral backbone. Grilled chicken with fresh lemon would accompany the fruit nicely.
Niagara College The Dean’s List Chardonnay 2013 ★★★★+ $26.95 (Online, Winery)
When in Niagara, the College Winery is worth visiting; it often serves up gems like this barrel fermented Chardonnay. The chance to purchase an aged Chardonnay in good form like this 2013 is rare. It shows a deep lemon colour in your glass, it’s dry, and it’s starting to show why aged Chardonnays are desirable. The lemon, apple, and vanilla are starting to give way to developing aromas of toasted hazelnuts. Notably, the fruits are still quite fresh despite the age. It would be a perfect wine to save for your Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
Château de l’Escarelle Rosé 2021 ★★★½ $18.95 (Vintages)
If you are looking for a great refreshing end of summer wine, this will fit the bill. This pale pink blend of traditional grapes (Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah) presents the delicate aromas of red berries, orange peel, watermelon pith, minerals, and herbs that are so typical of good Provençal Rosés. Its lightness and fruitiness would do well as an aperitif or paired with seafood, especially sushi or sashimi.
La Fleur de François Brut Crémant de Bordeaux NV ★★★½+ $16.95 (Vintages)
A lighter bodied traditional method Sparkling made with mostly Semillon. It’s dry and delivers the typical cream and toast you’d expect, but the prevailing fruits are red and yellow apples followed by pear, lemon, and grapefruit peel. It’s good value for the quality offered. The wine would be quite enjoyable to sip on its own, but would work with apps or chicken salad too.
Palacio del Burgo Crianza 2018 ★★★★ $14.95 (Vintages)
Very good value. It’s uncommon to find an excellent Rioja Crianza under $15, but this one measures up. The tannins are still a bit noticeable, but fruit is nicely represented in this wine and it’s a shade over medium bodied. Intensely permeated with black plum and cherry, blackberry jam, and red currant mingled with vanilla and coconut. The finish is quite long. Grilled pork or veggie skewers with mushrooms would suit it nicely.
Between the Lines Cabernet Franc 2020 ★★★½ $24.00 (Online, Winery)
Being completely unoaked, this gives you the expression of the grape itself. Fruits like blackberry, black cherry, and plum dominate along with a modicum of licorice root, peppery spice, and florals. It’s deeply coloured, dry, and relatively tannic, which makes it better with food. Pair with charcuterie, red meats, and hard cheeses to bring out its best.
Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2019 ★★★½+ $24.95 (Vintages)
The addition of Grenache, Viognier, and Mourvèdre to this Californian Syrah gives a nod to the wines found in the Rhone. It’s a big wine in terms of fruit and body with intensity of plum and blackberry jam, vanilla spice, smoke, and sage together with a little alcoholic heat. Its smooth, fruity character would work well with ribs and BBQ sauce.