I’ve had some great birthday celebrations in my 25 years… Pool parties as little kid, taking a limo to see the second Harry Potter movie when I was 13, and gourmet dinners at Blacktree in more recent years… but my 25th birthday was hands down the best birthday I’ve ever had. I celebrated with my friends and family last weekend, and this weekend was JZ’s present to me: a Niagara on the Lake wine tour!
We started at Zoom Leisure where they set us up with bikes, a map, a tour booklet, and some vouchers for wine tastings at various local wineries. It was pretty busy so there was a bit of a wait, but otherwise it was a smooth process and we were on the road by 11 am.
Our first stop was Jackson Triggs Winery, which was just down the road. We were just in time for a tour, so we decided to join it. It was neat to learn about their wine-making process and get some samples along the way. I enjoyed their white Meritage (like the Canadian version of a Bordeaux) blend, but wasn’t a big fan of the shiraz – I actually had to pour it out after my first sip! My favourite was by far the ice wine, which was so sweet and peachy!
We had some meat and cheese in our coolers and for fear of leaving them out in the sun too long and getting food poisoning, we decided to have lunch next (okay I may have insisted upon it… blame it on all my schooling on the pathologic microorgansisms of food!). We actually enjoyed our picnic last weekend so much that we almost exactly replicated it this weekend. Can’t ever go wrong with baguette, cheese, and meat.
We hopped back on our bikes afterwards and pedaled to Oast House Brewery for our only beer experience of the day. I’ve tried so many times, but I just cannot get accustomed to the taste of beer – I couldn’t finish and had to give mine to JZ. I know, I’m a wuss. I wish I liked beer though because the venue was so cool – they even sometimes get live music and food trucks on weekends!
After this stop we had a longer bike ride through the vineyard lined back roads of Niagara on the Lake to get to Pondview Estate Winery that had a great vibe thanks to the soft John Mayer music playing in the background (although JZ begs to differ). We did a couple wine tastings here along with some fantastic olive oil and balsamic samples.
Just down the road was Caroline Cellars. This was one of the standout wineries of the day – the wines were amazing and the service was even better. Our sommelier was really knowledgeable and recommended the perfect wines for our tastes! We both finished off with an ice wine that she told us would “punch us in the face”… and it did.
After this we headed onto the riverside trail, which didn’t have great views of the river but was still a pretty ride! It took us right by Inniskillin, which was our next stop. The Riesling here was awesome! The ice wine was great too, but you can never go wrong with ice wine. The vibe of this place was also really cool – there was a lunch grill and a huge outdoor area where you can hang out.
Our final wine stop was at Reif Estate Winery. I actually can’t even remember what wine we had here… I swear it’s not because I was drunk! However there was a man at the tasting bar who was raving quite loudly about a cheese sample he had tried, and I’m pretty sure he managed to convince every single person there to try this cheese, including us. It was definitely worth the $1 sample price! If only I could remember what dairy farm it’s from…
We almost got lost on our way back to the bike rental place – totally my fault – but eventually found our way back in time to make our 5:30 dinner reservations at Zee’s Grill. We had the choice of eating inside, on the veranda, or on the patio – we wanted to eat outside so we opted for the veranda because it had a nicer atmosphere than the patio.
The meal itself was spectacular – smoked salmon amuse bouche, bread and butter, mixed greens salad with pickled beets and carrots in a lemon Dijon vinaigrette with bee pollen, smoked pan seared salmon with orange scented quinoa and vegetables, and a vanilla cheesecake with strawberry rhubarb compote. Oh, and we had more wine if you can believe it!
We digested dinner while walking around Picton Street, which is full of touristy shops and restaurants – it would be a great place to spend an afternoon. We were losing steam by this point though, so we called it a day and hit the road by 8 pm. I was almost sad to leave… but I have a feeling we’ll be back soon!
Have you ever done a wine tour? How about a bike tour?