My best friend was visiting from Australia last week and her Dad, Gord, offered to take us on a tour of Niagara‘s wineries. Even at 30 it’s never too late to say yes to parents’ footing the bill. I am a proud member of the Boomerang Generation after all. Plus, with Gord as the designated driver, it’d be rude not to.
But I was skeptical. Three years in the UK buying $6.00 bottles of tasty European wines at my local supermarket and an unforgettable week of touring wineries in France’s Loire Valley had inadvertantly turned me into a Euro-snob who actually knows virtually nothing about wine, except that I like nearly everything, (OK, perhaps more of an ignoramous than a snob). But still, how could Niagara-on-the-Lake ever compare to the rolling hills and tiny wineries of France’s Loire Valley?
Let’s see how they measure up:
Loire Valley: As in all of France tastings are free. On both sides of the Loire Valley tiny country roads are well marked with Wine Route signs pointing to hundreds of small, family-owned wineries. If you don’t speak French try not to be intimidated, the language of wine is in the taste buds. Don’t be surprised if the wine is served to you by the owner himself – and keep knocking or ringing the doorbell, they’ll answer eventually.
Niagara-on-the-Lake: Tastings cost money up to $4 a sip (and I do mean sip) at Jackson Triggs and as low as $0.50 at smaller wineries. Expert, crisply uniformed staff will serve you with a smile. Some of the larger wineries offer guided tours.
LV: white, white, white. The region is reknowned for their sparkling wine and sweet white wines – if you’re into vin rouge, head south.
NoL: Virtually every variety under the sun. And while ice wines have always been internationally reknowned, all varieties of Ontario wines are winning international acclaim. Last year Jackson Triggs was the first North American winery to take home the Rosemount Estate Tropy for Best Shiraz at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.
NoL: The Vinters Quality Alliance stamp ensures all grapes are from Ontario. Any non-VQA wine (of which there are plenty) contains imported grapes or a mix.
EATS & ENTERTAINMENT
LV: Pitch a tent in one of the valley’s many campgrounds and live like the French. In the morning awaken to loud honks from the local baker’s truck announcing fresh croissants, pain au chocolat and baguettes. Head to one of the local markets to pick up fresh and local meats, cheeses, fish and produce – beautiful. Nightlife is Do It Yourself, except for one night a week of campground entertainment consisting of ‘animateurs’ juggling fire sticks to French folk music, (later they added drama by smoking cigarettes at the same time).
NoL: Camping is also available but you’re looking at smores and hot dogs from Loblaws. If you can afford it, shell out for a gorgeous meal at one of the many wineries. We headed to Hillebrand Estates for melt-in-your-mouth scallops were followed by “the tour” offering small cuts of rib-eye steak, salmon and some fancy chicken – each matched to a different wine – mmmm. Or take in one of the outdoor concerts by major entertainers offered at the big wineries, get tickets to a Shaw Festival play, or head to nearby Niagara Falls for gambling, debauchery and falls-lit-by night.
Both Niagara and the Loire Valley offer fabulous vintages and cuisine. Niagara is more commercial and will never capture the rustic solitude, beauty and mystique of some of the Loire Valley’s out-of-the-way regions like Anjou. Plus there are no castles at all, let alone a beauty like the Chateau de Chenceau.
But Niagara’s friendly customer service is a welcome change from Europe and the pride and expertise in the craft of wine making is on par with any leading wine producing region. Plus I’m now convinced of the sheer fabulousness of VQA wines. My short-lived Euro-snobbery is behind me and I’ll be sure to pick up a VQA bottle next time. Locally produced grapes are much kinder to the environment than vaccum-packed containers flown from Australia or South America. Thanks for a great day out Gord.
My favourite tipple of the tour? Jackson Triggs 2006 Gewurztraminer. According to Jackson Triggs it’s the only Gewurztraminer produced in North America, and its made using only Niagara grapes.