8 Wine Tasting Tips for Niagara Wineries | Great Lakes Guide (2023)

    If you're reading this and live in Ontario, there's a 50/50 chance the country's largest wine region is less than an hour from your doorstep.

The Niagara Peninsula is emerging as a place where premium wines are made and enjoyed in small batches. And it's just around the corner.

This guide will tell you what you need to know to create your own authentic wine country experience. It also shows how every grape, glass, sight and landmark you experience in Niagara connects you to the Great Lakes.

Fall is the best time for wine tasting in Niagara

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Tom Flemming, Flickr:shortcut

Harvest season runs from September through November and is one of the best (or most delicious) times of year to visit Niagara's wineries. Many wineries offer tours of the vineyards, local cheeses, and even food trucks. You can also stop at roadside farm stalls to buy apples, corn, squash, and grapes from the surrounding fields.

If you want to ride a bike, ride Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving weekend you can take advantage of the specialGO Train Niagara Parks Tour-Paketwhich takes you from Toronto Union Station to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The train stops along the way and has special compartments for bicycles. When you arrive at Niagara Station, you can drive to the nearest wineries (about 6 miles away) or take the connecting WEGO and Niagara-on-the-Lake buses. Transfers take you straight to the cellar doors overlooking the Niagara River, where you can start your day with wine tasting on your bike.

Look out for the Niagara Escarpment

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Image Ontario

The Niagara Cliff is a (very) long cliff stretching 1,000 miles from the south side of Lake Ontario through the Niagara region, through Ontario to the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island, and then back down the west side through the United States states crooked . of Lake Michigan.

The escarpment took millions of years to form. The soft rock slowly crumbled and was washed away by the ancient seabed, creating a cliff face that today overlooks Niagara Wine Country.

Even if you're new to the name, you've seen the cliff before. Just think of Niagara Falls. The top of the falls is the top of the escarpment. The Niagara River flows over the rim, dropping 188 feet and continuing to flow to Lake Ontario.

If the escarpment is the first ingredient in Niagara wine, the second ingredient is Lake Ontario.

The large body of water helps keep temperatures moderate in the area. In the summer, the water helps keep the air cool. In winter, the water helps keep the air relatively warm. The escarpment's huge face captures this temperate air over the Niagara region, creating a climate conducive to fruit.

Find the grapes that grow best in Niagara Vineyards

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Reigh LeBlanc, Flickr:shortcut

Niagara has more than 46 types of wine, but there is a list of grapes you should try.

White wine grapes such as Riesling and Chardonnay are very popular and compare well with their European relatives. If you prefer red wine, look for Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, and Baco Noir. Red wines on the lighter end of the wine spectrum do well in cooler climates, where there are fewer hot sunny days that sweeten the grapes.

Winemakers here tend to write the names of the grapes on the bottle. If you drink 100% Pinot Noir grapes, they will tell you. When you drink a blend, you're told all the varieties on the bottle and sometimes the percentage of each grape variety.

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Reigh LeBlanc, Flickr:shortcut

In traditional European wine regions, wines are often named after the place where they grow. For example, to find something similar to your favorite French wine, tell the cellar staff that you like "Beaujolais", white "Bordeaux", or "Burgundy", etc. They will point you in the right direction. (In this case Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir).

You might love that giant fruit bomb from a California Cabernet Sauvignon, but when you're in Niagara, focus on wines that thrive in cooler-climate wine regions.

If you're visiting wineries for the first time, choose one or two types of wine and taste them at different wineries. You'll quickly discover that different winemakers, different fields, and different aging techniques can result in the same grape tasting very differently. If you taste the same grape everywhere, you'll soon find that you understand the true influence of the cliffs and the lake.

The wine word for this phenomenon is "terroir". It denotes the way in which a region's climate, soil, slope, plants and altitude combine to make that region's wine taste unique. Science has never tasted so good.

Look for wine that is 100% Ontario

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RA. Killer, Flickr:shortcut

The entire Niagara region is referred to as the Niagara Peninsula Viticultural Area or "Appellation". It consists of ten sub-designations. They are areas with unique properties of air, ground, and altitude. Over time, you will be able to tell the difference between grapes grown in different sub-appellations.

When starting out, look for one of these names on the bottle or ask the winemaker if your grapes were grown here: Beamsville Bench, Creek Shores, Four Mile Creek, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara River, Short Hills Bank, St .David, Twenty Mile Bank, Vinemount Ridge.

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Karen Maraj, Flickr:shortcut

You can also look out for bottles marked "VQA Ontario" to ensure you're drinking wine made from 100% Ontario-grown grapes. Just note that some of the smaller wineries don't bother with the formal labeling process as they sell all their wine in their own stores.

If in doubt, ask the winery staff. Sometimes the winemaker is even available and willing to talk. Learning sub-names is one of the best parts of wine tasting in Niagara. No one knows more about the connection between the cliffs, Lake Ontario, climate and soil than the people trying to grow grapes in this region.

A note on ice wine

Niagara is known worldwide for its ice wine. Icewine can be made from any grape, but Vidal and Riesling are the most common, as their thick skin protects the grape until the first frost. Ice wine is more expensive than regular wine, but you can taste it at most wineries. For the best effect, enjoy a piece of chocolate before the first sip.

Refine your search: Niagara Escarpment or Niagara-on-the-Lake

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Reigh LeBlanc, Flickr:shortcut

With 99 wineries in the Niagara area, you can't visit them all in one day. Before you go, do some research to find the best wineries in Niagara that suit your wine tasting style. For the best experience, point your car or bike in one of two directions: towards the top of the Niagara Escarpment or towards the flat river region of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

For nature lovers, photographers, and people looking to explore off the beaten path, visit the wineries located at the top or slopes of the escarpment. Bench Wines offer truly stunning views of Lake Ontario and are often nestled in parks and wilderness areas where you can hike or picnic.

For cyclists, the flatter area around the Niagara-on-the-Lake Wineries is ideal for cycling. The wineries here are also closer together, so you can easily visit several in a day.

If you ride a bike or are the designated driver, don't be shy. Each winery will provide you with a glass or container to spit out your wine. It's common (and encouraged) for people to test responsibly.

Pack a picnic

If you're in wine country, be sure to take a moment to admire Niagara Cliff and the Great Lake below. The best way to do this is with a picnic and, if you feel like it, a walk in the woods. These are the destinations we recommend:


Ball's Falls Nature Reserve

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Jason Miles, Flickr:shortcut

Ball's Falls dot the Niagara Cliff and are nearly (two-thirds) as tall as Niagara Falls. This is a beautiful wooded reserve with over 1km of walking trails if you want to stretch your legs.


Beamer Monument Conservation Area

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Martin Cathrae, Flickr:shortcut

Located at the top of the embankment, Beamer offers stunning views of Lake Ontario. It is an important birding area where many raptors can be seen including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, vultures and sharp-shanked hawks.


Queens Royal Park

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Guillen Perez, Flickr:shortcut

Queen's Royal is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, right at the bend where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. Here's a pavilion to sit and relax in just a few blocks from the bustling center of town.

Be sure to visit the large granite memorial that celebrates the people who completed the 52-kilometer swim across Lake Ontario. The swim from Niagara to Toronto is considered one of the greatest athletic feats in the world. The first person to swim the lake was Marilyn Bell in 1954 at the age of 16.


What are the 8 steps to tasting wine? ›

  1. Tilt and Look. Obviously, you'll need to pour yourself a glass first for this step to work! ...
  2. Swirl It! This can take a bit of practice, so don't do it anywhere near your in-law's perfect white upholstery without a few hours under your belt. ...
  3. Watch The Legs. ...
  4. Have A Sniff. ...
  5. Take A Sip. ...
  6. Taste It. ...
  7. Slurp It. ...
  8. The Finish.
Mar 3, 2018

What are the 7 S's of wine tasting? ›

The Seven S's of Tasting
  • See. Hold your glass to the light and look through the wine. ...
  • Swirl. Air is beneficial for a wine. ...
  • Smell. Generally, you want to avoid sticking your whole nose into the glass. ...
  • Sip. Take your first sip of the wine. ...
  • Slurp. ...
  • Savor. ...
  • Spit!

What are the 5 S's of wine tasting? ›

Wine tasting doesn't have to be intimidating. By using the 5 S's (see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor), you'll be able to get the most out of any glass of wine, especially Prairie Berry Winery wine. Not only will you be able enjoy the wine more, but you'll gain an appreciation for it.

What are the 4 S's in wine tasting? ›

Swirl, sniff, sip and spit was the phrase used in the 1980s and 1990s by our Sonoma County Wineries Association to help people in a humorous way to taste wine responsibly. Easy to remember not always easy to do especially the last word.

What is the most important step in wine tasting? ›

Swirl. Chevriere calls this "the most parodied step in the process"—but if you're serious about wine tasting, it's an essential one. "The point here is to expose the wine to oxygen and kick-start the process of it 'opening up' and expressing its full range of aromas and flavors," she says.

What are the 3 main factors to consider if wine tasting is to be done correctly? ›

  • There are three main components of wine tasting, visuals, smell and taste.
  • Good glass is essential to the tasting process.
  • Whether you're swallowing or spitting, it's a great idea to make notes about how the wine taste, looks and smells.


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