Whether you're armchair dreaming or planning for a future trip, content editor Suresh Doss' insiders’ tour around Niagara offers up finds beyond the usual suspects. Even if you’ve been before, these gems mean it’s time to plan on visiting again.
While we’ve known for years that great bottles come out of this corner of the province, the region is also home to a still booming food renaissance that is gaining global recognition. What sets Niagara apart is the full experience. You can start with a tasting of world-class sparkling wines with idyllic views and follow with street food inspired by the night markets of Asia. Visit fascinating breweries and then set off on a search for some of the best custard pies you’ve ever tasted. Here’s an itinerary for that happy time when you can explore Niagara wine country off the beaten path!
Hours of operation may vary. Now more than ever, check before visiting to avoid disappointment.
Two Standouts In NOTL
Every winery has its own specialty, whether a key varietal (Riesling) or a style of winemaking (assemblage). Start your tastings with these two wines at two of the region’s boutique wine houses.
Stratus Wildass Rosé VQA VINTAGES
Assemblage is a celebrated style of winemaking at this winery, where multiple varieties are blended based on style and vintage. This medium-bodied wine brings a flowery bouquet and ripe fruit. It’s a robust, food-friendly wine that works with anything grilled from land or sea.
Ravine Vineyard Patricia’s Block Riesling (Winery Only)
The tasting room at this family-run winery is set in a 150-year-old heritage building, where the standout is this vineyard-specific Riesling, raised by tartness and rounded with notes of honey.
Wine Country Spots For Foodies
In recent years, Niagara has become home to a formidable roster of talented chefs and cooks who have helped sculpt the culinary scene in wine country. Whether you prefer to graze your way through or stop for that one memorable meal, these are three places you shouldn’t skip.
It’s About Thyme
You’ll find this unassuming Lebanese restaurant located between Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Beamsville Bench. Locals frequent it for its punchy flavours and unadulterated home-style cooking. Try the falafel or shawarma plate. Or ask for the secrete item—the “pocket”—which combines all the familiar flavours of Middle Eastern cooking in one sandwich.
Niagara has seen burgeoning Vietnamese restaurants over the last decade. Tucked away from the main drag, this family-run restaurant offers unbridled traditional cooking with a focus on Southeast Asian noodle soups, stir-fry and seafood dishes. Try the laksa, the fiery cousin to pho.
St. Catharines Farmers’ Market
Niagara’s food scene is booming with food entrepreneurs and the farmers’ market is where you will discover exciting new things to eat. Historically run twice weekly (Tuesdays and Saturdays), it’s home to a rotating set of food popups where you can find regional Mexican cooking and street food inspired by the night markets of Taiwan.
Head to the Bench
Niagara’s Beamsville Bench is home to over a dozen boutique wineries all a short distance from each other. Use the Wine Country Ontario mobile app to learn about each winery’s specialty and to navigate from one tasting room to another. Bring your camera; wineries on the bench have some of the best lookout points in the region.
World-class Tasting Rooms and Bench Favourites
There’s no better way to understand the wines of a region than through the tasting rooms of its wineries. These two wineries produce small-lot wines — and have stunning vineyard views.
Hidden Bench Winery
This winery hides at the heart of the Beamsville Bench, surrounded by rolling hills and photo-ready surroundings. Premium estate wines are produced in small batches with minimal intervention, to truly highlight the expression of vintage and terroir.
Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2019
This is a highly sought-after wine that doesn’t stay on the shelves for too long. The Locust Lane Rosé is an example of the elegant style of winemaking at Hidden Bench, showing a delicate nose of citrus and ripe berries. A great rosé to kick off summer.
Even the most seasoned visitors to wine country may not know about this hidden gem in Beamsville. The family-run winery operates out of a 160-year-old house with serene views of the estate’s vineyards, home to some of Niagara’s oldest plantings of Riesling vines. Bubbles is the name of the game. Kew produces no fewer than five sparkling wines, each with a distinct profile.
Old Vine Chardonnay 2016 VINTAGES
A standout in Kew’s portfolio, this oak-aged Chardonnay is made from vines dating back to 1975. The palate brings tart apple notes with a buttery undertone. Pairs very well with a charcuterie and cheese board.
Craft Brewery Highlights
Less than a decade old, these three craft breweries are raising the barn. Using local seasonal ingredients, they produce a variety of internationally influenced beer styles. Each place also offers great rotating food menus throughout the year.
Niagara Oast House
Designed in the spirit of a farmhouse brewery, Oast House is most famous for its small-batch ales. During the summer months, bottles of watermelon gose and the fruity Belgium-style saisons are highly coveted and disappear quickly. At the back of the brewery, enjoy a fantastic barbecue lunch on the patio with vineyard views.
Niagara Oast House Barnraiser Country Ale
Try Oast's signature brew since the doors to the old barn opened, this is a hazy gold American Pale Ale that is vibrantly hoppy and sings of citrus fruit.
Silversmith Brewing Company
This family-run brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake was built out of a former church that dates back to the late 1800s.
Silversmith Brewing Co The Black Lager
Since the doors opened in 2011 they’ve produced batches of black lager made in the Schwarzbier style—a light-bodied beer that is layered with notes of malt, chestnut and dark chocolate.
The Beamsville Bench’s sole brewery is worth a stop to try limited craft beers that rotate throughout the season. Many of the beers are made with local Niagara ingredients, and there is a variety of styles to suit all palates.
Recent years have seen a boom in local distillation. Here are two producers worth checking out.
Dillon’s Rose Gin
Beamsville-based Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers quickly gained a cult following for its small-batch gin products. This is its signature spirit, a beautifully floral gin made with seven botanicals. True to its name, the gin has a pronounced floral bouquet with a touch of sweetness. Makes a great French 75, or enjoy it alone on ice.
Wayne Gretzky Red Cask Whisky
The Wayne Gretzky Estates distillery produces memorable spirits using locally grown grains. One standout is this ruby-hued spirit that inherits its colour from time spent in red wine casks. It hints of baking spices, oak and almond and will certainly add a new dimension to your next Old Fashioned cocktail.
Graze Through Wine Country
Expect big punchy flavours from these small hidden gems in the region.
The Diner House 29
Nestled in an unassuming gas station, Diner House 29 provides fresh takes on classic diner food with inspiration from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Country Fresh Donuts
These are some of the best cake-style doughnuts you’ll have. Don’t skip on the assorted crullers.
5076 Victoria Ave., Niagara Falls
A lively izakaya known for Japanese-style soft pillowy milk-bread sandwiches.
22 King St., St. Catharines
3 Top Niagara Food Artisans
Although Niagara is home to many world- class beverage producers, it is also quickly becoming a place where many food makers are establishing roots. Meet the artisans who are using local seasonal ingredients to create unique food products, from butter tarts to pies. Here are three places to plan to visit for a snack or to bring a taste of Niagara home.
13th Street Winery & Bakery
The best butter tarts in the region, say locals. At this bakery, you’ll also find an assortment of jams, jellies and preserves made using local ingredients.
The Pie Plate
An assortment of freshly baked pastries and seasonal pies are all the rage at this small family-run shop. During summer months look out for custard pies.
The Bagel Oven
A local secret for many years, this Beamsville gem gives a real taste of Montreal-style bagels.