Warming up to Winter in Niagara on the Lake

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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

This winter has been tough. If you are not Canadian I am sure you see picturesque photos of white powdery snow and think we’re all building snowman and skiing down mountains. The truth is after the first snowfall the season becomes a slushy, wet cold miserable season and frankly I hate it.


Winter blows.


This year I wanted to take shorter getaways so I asked my friend Matt if he wanted to head to Niagara on the Lake for the weekend for the Niagara ice wine festival.

Despite living in Toronto for over a decade I am ashamed to admit I had never been to this wine region. It is silly as it is only an hour a way and I’m pretty much a lush but after visiting vineyards in Portland and the Okanagan I have realized I need to discover the best wine in my backyard. Rather than just go for the day I wanted to take my time and do it right. I don’t like my designated driver to drink even a sip of alcohol so we got a driver  and decided to stay the night.

Even with all the planning I approached this weekend with a bit of trepidation, I don’t really like a lot of sugar in my drinks and so I usually pick red wine or really dry white. I have had ice wine once prior as a dessert wine, it was the typical maple syrup and far too sugary for me. But I thought this time could be different as I saw a lot of savory food pairings – and lots of pork.


It wasn’t what I expected at all.


I was really surprised how much I liked ice wine. With over 300 wineries in the region there are a lot of different personalities. The vibe of each was distinct and for me going to Niagara isn’t simply about the wine but about the experience, I wanted to have a fun weekend away and learn a bit about ice wine. Here were my favourites:



Best overall experience

Inniskillin is a pioneer in the region.  Karl Kaiser an Austrian moved here in the 70s and found that vineyards were growing concord grapes (think Welch’s grape juice). He partnered with Donald Ziraldo and they were determined to grow great wine.

While this is definitely one of the big players in the region the people all have interesting stories. In fact, our sommelier Don, who retired from working in steel and went back to school to follow his passion.

He took us through one of the Signature Experiences. I was really happy we started here as Don explained why the vineyard has its own signature Riedel stemware and how it really did affect the taste of the wine. Also I was so pleased to see the ice wine paired with savoury food like pulled pork. Apparently ice wine doesn`t have to be a dessert wine.

The only downside to starting with Inniskillin is that you will want to linger all day. They have food on an outdoor grill and big chairs around fires so the time can pass quickly.


Chateau des Charmes

Great value

Many friends unanimously recommended Chateau des Charmes and while the tasting room is sterile and lacks personality the wine is fantastic. I was really surprised to see great choices under $20. Unfortunately my favourite ice wine was $75.

Why do I have such expensive taste?


Colaneri Winery

Best wine consulant

Our driver Bobby recommended Colaneri, a new Italian winery in the area.

Our wine consultant Mike has worked in wine and cruise ships for years and it’s easy to see because he was so much fun. The winery is owned by a family and has a very distinctive Italian feel.

We spent most of the time laughing and he introduced me to Unita, a big jammy red that reminded me of Okanagan wine. He shared the story of the labels as each one represents a family member.



Best place to stop for wine and a snack

Ravine Vineyard is a small estate winery and everyone raves about the restaurant. We started off with lunch there and the charcuterie plate is incredible with chicken liver parfait and pickled veal tongue. They raise their own heritage Tamworth pigs. You can really taste the difference.

The vineyard is organic but they don’t play up on it for marketing purposes. They believe it is part of their values in preserving the land. They have fascinating stories about how they deal with the weather and its challenges.


Lailey Vineyard

Most surprising attitude

Lailey Vineyard was also recommended by friends. I was surprised to see such a modern building focused on sustainability. Although I learned it was very much in line with their beliefs to be a farm of the future.

But this isn`t what surprised me.

When I tried the 2009 Redacted I noticed much of the label had been blacked out. It turns out they created it to be an ice wine and processed it in the same manner but they were not permitted to call it an ice wine because of its taste.

I respect their feisty attitude as they changed the name to Redacted and blacked out all the forbidden words. It`s a conversation starter and great wine.


Reif Estate Winery

Most passionate sommelier

Archie at Reif Estate Winery blew me away as we went through a formal tasting lesson. I learned so much I have to put it into an upcoming post but he made my day.

My best advice if you are going to come is to stay the night and hire a driver. We stayed at Shaw Club, a really modern hotel in the midst of old Victorian buildings with a restaurant so good it also deserves its own post. It was nice to be able to take things slowly and know we could see more the next day. I don`t like designated driver to have even a sip of alcohol so it`s worth the money for everyone to just relax. Our driver Bobby from Niagara Classic Cabs was amazing and gave us lots of recommendations.

My only warning is that this can be really addictive. I actually liked walking out in the vineyards in the snow and when I heard February would feature wine and chocolate pairings I wondered if it was too soon to go back….


Disclosure: Some but not all of my weekend was complimentary. I was a guest of Inniskillin, Ravine Bistro, Reif Estate Winery and Niagara Classic Cab but I did pay for my hotel and wine at the other vineyards. No one requested a favourable review or had any clue that I was under the impression that I would absolutely hate all ice wine. I surprised even myself.



Join the Conversation

  1. I too have never been to the Niagara wine region, but always think I should. I like your idea about getting a driver–that’s always the part that stops me–who’s going to come with us but not drink?

    You’ve given me some great ideas for next winter…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Really I am shocked you haven’t been either. I guess so much happens in Toronto you forget to go away for the weekend.

  2. Camels & Chocolate says:

    Great, I’m supposed to be alcohol-free and now you have me absolutely CRAVING ice wine. I freakin’ love that stuff. Off to check our very well-stocked alcohol cabinet to see if we have any leftover from Europe…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Alcohol free is not fun. Where is your ice wine from?

  3. I’ve never even heard of ice wine! I went to Niagara Falls for the first time this summer and while it was entertaining, I definitively want to try out Niagara by the Lake next…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The wine in Niagara is pretty good, it is actually sad because we don’t sell the best of it in our government stores so you have to go out to the wineries to get it.

  4. I’ve always been curious about ice wine. I think I’ll have to find some.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I did not think I would like it at all but I emptied my bank account on some really great wine.

  5. Mmmm – I love ice wine…we tried quite a bit in New Zealand.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I had no idea they had it in New Zealand but it makes a lot of sense.

  6. You have NO idea how my feet itch after reading this! Confession – didn’t even know Canada produced wine, though I should because went around a couple of wineries in West New York and it’s only a stone’s throw, and they were excellent wines. So – something else for the bucket list, then!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s okay, wine in Canada was not great for many years but I love the wine from British Colombia and this trip convinced me we have some great wine in Ontario as well.

  7. That snack plate looked divine!

    I really need to check out the Texas wines around here. I really haven’t given them much of a chance. I think I’m scared after being in Argentina and I loved malbecs sooooooo much.

    1. Actually, you don’t.

      Beer? Yes. Wine? No.

      Not until they start importing their grapes from somewhere other than Texas. The brutal heat of the day is not offset by cool nights… and therefore, the vines just can’t produce quality grapes.

      Beer, BBQ, Organic Small Farm Veggies… THAT is Central Texas.

    2. Ayngelina Author says:

      I was not a fan of Malbec, and actually they are starting to grow the vines here so I hope with terroir it tastes better.

  8. Lauren @ roamingtheworld says:

    Wine consultant? Fancy fancy.

    I don’t think I’ve had the chance to taste ice wine, yet… Adding it to the list!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It was funny when I asked for an official title everyone paused to think, but I think consultant is a good title. I tell him what I like and he suggests something delicious.

  9. Post bookmarked! I’m headed to Hamilton, Ontario this June and was planning on doing a wine tour. This post has helped a lot.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It is only an hour away, but definitely stay overnight. You will have a much better time.

  10. Ron | Active Planet Travels says:

    Oh wine…how it’s the downfall of us all! lol It looks like you had a fantastic experience out there though. My first ice wine I tried while out in Hawaii working as a bartender & I absolutely loved it (being that I have a huge sweet tooth of course!). I was always astonished at how particular they are when picking the grapes to create the perfect batch. Then again, something so nice can’t be that simple to make! 😉 Thanks for the article!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You had ice wine in Hawaii? Where was it from?

      1. Ron | Active Planet Travels says:

        Yeah, I believe it was an Oregon ice wine though…Johnson Estate perhaps? It came in a slim, tall blue bottle. Either way, it was delicious if you ever get the chance to try it out! 😉

  11. Emily in Chile says:

    Interesting! I definitely have a stereotype of ice wine in my head, hopefully I eventually get the chance to prove myself wrong with a trip like this.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I had said many many times that I hated ice wine. I’ll never say it again.

  12. Niagara a wine region? That is news to me all by itself!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      One of the warmest regions in Canada, next to the Okanagan in British Colombia.

  13. As always, love your food posts! Nothing is better than red wine on a cold winter day. I’m not an ice wine girl though. 🙁

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I said the same thing but I was doing it all wrong. Come to Canada and we’ll teach you how to drink ice wine.

  14. Dave @Budget Travel Guide says:

    I’ve been to Niagara on the Lake in the summer but never in winter. Great idea about hiring a driver.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It makes a big difference, then you don’t have to worry about the designated driver being bored with all the tipsy passengers.

  15. What a fun weekend! The ice wine I’ve had in the past is usually too sweet for me as well, so that’s promising to hear that you found some you liked at the festival.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I always thought of it as being very sweet and eating it with dessert but I had it with savoury food and it wasn’t too sweet at all.

  16. Kristin Addis says:

    Ice wine, how interesting! The more I read about Canada, the more I’m dying to visit.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Despite being Canadian I haven’t seen much of my country so I am trying to make it more of a priority.

  17. oh that festival sounds like fun, would LOVE to try some of that ice wine 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I brought home far too much, it is really great wine.

  18. Fantastic looking getaway, and thinking about that wine paired with that meat platter is making me drool!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You have to get the charcuterie plate, I felt kinda bad for Drunkntrvlr with all the meat so I let him have the fruit and nuts. They weren’t as good!

  19. TammyOnTheMove says:

    I had no idea that Canada has a wine region near the falls. I love ice wine so much. It is my favourite. I once went to vineyard in Germany and was able to do a dessert wine tasting. It was heaven.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      One of the few people who says they love ice wine! I still don’t like dessert but it pairs well with pulled pork sandwiches.

  20. January Roads says:

    Ice wine festival and your photos create visions of winter wonderland for us living in the tropics. Would love to visit Canada soon. In the meantime, your posts, happily, will suffice. Thanks!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Living in the tropics, that must be so tough 🙂

  21. Wenie Langacre says:

    The wine is pretty interesting. I wanna taste it, and wow the food looks good. yum yum!!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Great food. Great wine. It was a perfect weekend.

  22. I’ve been having a lot of ‘ice wine’ lately – as in red wine in an ice bucket. You’d think with Brazil being so close to Argentina they’d have figured out how to serve it properly by now!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well that is not surprising. It is so hot in Brazil the wine probably gets a little too warm. But on ice? Only if it’s sangria.

  23. I love ice wines from Canada. Though I must say that I haven’t tried the other kind of Canadian wines. I’d love to visit those wineries next time I’m in Niagara. I’m not too far south of its border.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The best wine in Niagara is not sold in the LCBO, but it’s a good reason to go check out the wineries.

  24. Thanks for the great blog! We don’t live too far from Niagara and this inspires me to take a trip up there.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You should definitely go, there are events all winter.

  25. I’ve heard this is an awesome town! Definitely going to have to check it out for myself…especially for some ice wine. 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      So so cute. The only downside was that I spent so much time in the wineries I didn’t get a chance to walk around town. Next time…

  26. Morocco day tours says:

    Awesome blog you have posted contents for it. Really it is worth knowing about anything. I want the way of tasting wine. you had.

  27. Cannot wait to try some of these amazing wineries this summer!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It reminds me I really need to go back in warmer weather.

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