My Niagara, Part I of IV parts:
By Rick VanSickle
At last count, there were over 75 wineries in the Niagara Peninsula. Even for me, who lives here, you just can’t get to each and every one of them comfortably in a year.
In fact, living in the heart of Niagara wine country for four years and visiting extensively before that, I still have not been to every single winery despite my best effort. And it’s my job to visit and write about the wines of Niagara.
Wine country is an addictive experience. Once you visit, you want more. After you get comfortable with tasting and exploring in wine country you keep coming back. Even if you live here, it becomes part of a healthy lifestyle of enjoying locally produced wine and all that comes with it: the food, the beauty, the people.
It’s such an idyllic lifestyle. Good wine, made from the blood, sweat and tears of local farmers and highly skilled winemakers, just tastes better when paired with regional food.
But if you can’t live here, the next best thing is visiting and getting to know what’s available as new wines are released throughout the year.
While I haven’t been to every winery (don’t worry, I will get there!), I make it part of my weekly routine to visit as many as possible given time restraints. Of course, I have my favourite spots, where everything comes together from the wine to the friendly winery staff to the spectacular views and incredible food.
What follows is Part I of four tours, or well-traversed routes in wine country, that I can highly recommend.
The Golden Mile
I’m not really sure if it’s a mile or not, but from the bottom of Mountainview Road, off of King St. in Beamsville going south, to the end at Fielding Estate Winery, what I call the Golden Mile, is about as good as it gets in Niagara for a quality concentration of wineries, far away from the glamour of the mainstream wine route.
If you make it from top to bottom in a day of tasting, you have sampled some of the best wines Niagara has to offer on the Beamsville Bench and you’ve barely put a dent in your gas tank.
I find myself travelling this road a lot. It’s not too far off the QEW (exit Ontario St. in Beamsville, go south to King St., turn right and then left at Mountainview) and traffic is never an issue.
Some legendary wines are made on this golden stretch of heaven — Thirty Bench single vineyard Rieslings, Hidden Bench’s Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Rieslings, Rosewood Estate’s mead wines as well as some very fine reds, and finally, when you’ve reached the top, the wines of Fielding Estate.
Here are the highlights of a tour worth taking:
Rosewood Estates Winery:
What: Rosewood Estates Winery and Meadery
Where: 4352 Mountainview Road, Beamsville
Tastings: Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Winemaker: Natalie Spytkowsky
Rosewood is the first winery along Mountainview and a great place to start your Golden Mile trip. The winery is focused on table wines, especially Riesling, a rare 100% Semillon, and the delicious just released reds, as well as mead, or honey wine, from flower nectar collected by honeybees on the estate.
Make sure you try: Rosewood Merlot Reserve 2008 — This is a naturally fermented wine and made in limited supply (only 77 cases) from estate fruit. A gorgeous Merlot with a nose of black cherry, wild berry, Espresso, vanilla and a nice touch of eucalypt. It’s all about the wow factor in the mouth with generous cassis, mature cherry and plums playing in harmony with the oak, spice and fine tannins. A structured and firm Merlot built for aging.
Thirty Bench Wine Makers
What: Thirty Bench Wine Makers, part of the Peller family of wines since 2005.
Where: 4281 Mountainview Road, Beamsville
Hours: Sunday to Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winemaker: Natalie Reynolds
Website: Thirty Bench
Thirty Bench may be owned by a big winery but it’s all about the intimate surroundings here and the personal attention visitors get from the friendly and attentive staff. The winery is clean and has a pretty view of the vineyards through the all-glass walls. While it’s all about the three single-vineyard Rieslings that are some of the finest in Niagara, that’s not say you shouldn’t give the other wines a taste.
Make sure you try: Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Vineyard Riesling 2008 — Another Riesling from the 2008 vintage that topped its counterpart from the previous year. Thirty Bench is a Riesling specialist with a gorgeous trio of single-vineyard wines made each year. It’s hard to single out just one them but I keep coming back to the Wood Post. It has just the right mix of white peach, orange-melon, sweet citrus and mineral that I love in Niagara Rieslings.
Angels Gate Winery:
What: Angels Gate Winery
Where: 4260 Mountainview Road, Beamsville
Tastings: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Winemaker: Philip Dowell
Website: Angels Gate
This beautifully situated winery was only recently discovered (at least by me!) for one reason or another. I was blown away by the view from the outdoor patio, the growing collection of affordable wines and the friendly staff.
There’s a lot to like here — Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, Merlots, Chardonnays and, recently, an eclectic lineup of sparkling wines. Also a solid late harvest collection. Everything is reasonably priced.
Make sure you try: Angels Gate Mountainview Merlot 2007 — A shockingly good Merlot with ripe red fruits, light toast and interesting spices on the nose. It shows elegance and finesse on the palate with red fruits, spice and oak all working in harmony. Delicious.
What: Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery
Where: 4152 Locust Lane, Beamsville.
Tastings: 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m daily (11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter)
Winemaker: Marlize Beyers
Website: Hidden Bench
Just off of Mountainview Rd. and well worth the detour. Hidden Bench specializes in super premium, single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. The tastings are bit more expensive than other wineries but you might want to shell out to taste the 2008 Roman’s Block Rosomel Vineyard Riesling, 2009 Felseck Vineyard Gewurztraminer, Terroir Cache Red Meritage, Nuit Blanche 2008, a Sauvigon Blanc-Semillon white blend, and 2007 La Brunante, made in only two vintages as a blend of the best of the best red varieties. It will be money well spent.
Make sure you try: Hidden Bench La Brunante 2007 — Is this the class of 2007? Could this be the wine of the year? Only two vintages of this extraordinary wine have ever been made. The other was 2005. Only 2,200 bottles were made from the finest Bordeaux grapes grown in the three estate vineyards with fruit cropping at less than a tonne per acre (hence the $85 price). There are a lot of platitudes to heap on this wine, so let’s just start by saying it’s a huge red with a nose that doesn’t quit giving concentrated currants, blackberry, mocha, oak and spice notes. The fruit rages on the palate with tar, leather, velvety texture, ripe tannins and length on the finish all adding to this immense, highly concentrated wine.
Fielding Estate Winery:
What: Fielding Estate Winery
Where: 4020 Locust Lane, Beamsville
Tastings: 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Winemaker: Richie Roberts
There’s a reason this winery is one my favourites in Niagara — everything about Fielding Estate Winery speaks to Niagara. Its owners, the wines, the winery … all quintessential Niagara.
The wines produced there are some of the most personable and distinct local wines you’ll find anywhere in Ontario. And owners Heidi and Curtis Fielding work hard to make sure they bring their exceptional wines to the people of Niagara. Young, dynamic winemaker, Richie Roberts, is masterful at putting together a collection of wines that speak to the vintage, crafting wines that are best from what Mother Nature delivers. Diversity is key to the Fielding portfolio — great Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, and the full spectrum of reds.
This is the perfect place to end the Golden Mile trip with the best Muskoka chairs in Niagara on the back patio with a view all the way to the CN Tower.
Make sure you try: Fielding Estate Syrah 2007 — A riveting red for fans of Rhone-style syrah with aromas of roasted meats, blueberry, wild berry, leather, smoke, creosote and game that comes at you in wave after wave. The dark fruits on the palate are joined by mint, licorice, tar and smoky notes. This is a wild, spicy and exotic red that needs decanting for several hours and perhaps some time in the cellar.
End note: If time permits, you can also check out Organized Crime, EastDell Estates and the new Good Earth wineries, all within spitting distance of the other wineries listed above.