Welcome to Second Ferment! Wine pairs well with life ... and food, travel, people, work and play. Grab a glass and join me as I explore the wine scene in Ottawa, Canada, and beyond. Love hearing from my readers, so please leave a comment or drop me a line. Cheers! - Bethany

Thursday, May 01, 2008

How to Spend a Summer Vacation

It’s funny, the second the snow melts and the weather even hints at being warmer, we all start planning summer vacations.

We’re hoping to have at least a few days in Niagara sometime in June to stock up on our favourite winery-only selections for the cellar, and maybe splurge on a fancy-pants dinner out. It’s a great way to spend a short vacation. The blood pressure drops the second we pull off the QEW onto good ol’ Hwy 81. It’s like we’re in another country and most definitely another frame of mind. Going during the week is best – no line-ups at the tasting bar, no busloads of tourists hoarding all the icewine for themselves. No traffic, no hurry. A true vacation.

I've had a lot of people ask me what my favourite winery is in Niagara. And I always reply, “I have to narrow it down to just ONE??” There are SO many now, and the list keeps on growing. And not just the places on the Wines of Ontario-sanctioned map. Every year, we make it our goal to try and find some new, stellar, off-the-beaten path place to enjoy. We’re rarely disappointed.

So here you go, in no particular order, my favourite places to sniff, swirl and savour along Niagara’s Wine Route:

Maleta Winery – Best Meritage. Nicest people ever: on our first anniversary, Stan and Marilyn offered us a free glass each and invited us to take a break on their private patio.

Creekside Estate – Best Sauvignon Blanc. The 2001 so far has been the most stellar vintage for them, but consecutive years have still been pretty delicious.

Peller Estates – Best tasting room, cool winery tour. Their Cab Sauv and the Iced Cuvee are definitely worth trying.

Henry of Pelham – Hands down, the Baco Noir, their pride and joy.

Daniel Lenko – EVERYTHING. But mostly cuz we got to try it all in Helen’s Kitchen, with Daniel himself doling out the goods. Go early in the summer – they sell out FAST.

Royal deMaria – Didn’t think icewine could come from that many grapes? Think again. And bring your sunglasses into the tasting room so you aren’t blinded by the glint off their thousands of awards.

Malivoire – Best Rosé. Fascinating and beautiful gravity-fed facility. Their logo is a ladybug, which is both cute and ironic, given the negative effect those little critters have had on the vineyards in recent years.

Cave Spring – Best Gamay. Tucked into Jordan, a tiny, one-street village crammed with shops, purveyors of local food and a few outstanding restaurants.

Tawse – Best Chardonnay, along with über-cool architecture.

Strewn – Best Blends. Their Strewn Three and Two Vines are delectable.

Lailey Vineyards – Best Cabernet Franc, and the most approachable, friendly and available winemaker we’ve ever met.

As one cannot survive on wine alone (OK, maybe one can) I’ve included some of my favourite Niagara eateries:

For elegance, romance and exceptional, five-star gourmet dining, choose The Restaurant at Peller Estates, On the Twenty (next door to Cave Spring in Jordan), or Terroir La Cachette at Strewn. For lunch, try the sandwiches at the quirky, retro-50s Zooma Zooma Café, across the street from Cave Spring (can you tell I really like Jordan Village?) Or pick up some cheeses and meats from the shopkeepers in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and find yourself a sunny spot roadside for a picnic in the vineyards.

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