Swirl up and quaff some of the finest premium wine varietals in the lush Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region in Ontario and the panoramic Okanagan Valley wine region around Kelowna in British Columbia, Canada.
Driving out of Canada’s largest metropolis, Toronto, ninety minutes down super lanes brought us into the land of plenty. As we cruised past signages of catchy winery names, we felt a warm welcome as we entered the famed Niagara wine region. The celebrated territory of Canada’s legendary ice wines and much more, this lush wine province in Niagara-on-the-Lake boasts premium, award-winning vineyards that produce world class VQA varietals and vintages.
PELLER ESTATES WINERY
The iconic Peller Estates Winery was our first stop. This legendary winery creates remarkable cold climate wines that have won consistent awards and their Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2017 and Riesling showcased fine bouquet and apricot flavours. The Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2017 and the select Signature Series Riesling Icewine 2015 were enchanting, the distinct honeysuckle palate bowled us over at their bespoke, underground minus five degrees Celsius all-ice tasting cellar!
Peller’s Private Reserve Late Harvest Vidal 2017 exemplifies the virtues of a classic Icewine, matching spicy hot curries, rich and matured cheeses. The truly aromatic bouquet of apricot, lemon drops and meringue make for a splendid white, indeed. We quaffed the superb Private Reserve Baco Noir 2017 and this boutique varietal displayed silky-smooth fruity flavours, ripe plum, cherry and blueberry flavours asserting presence, ones that we enjoyed to the hilt.
Our drive to the historic Monastery Cellars near the Niagara Falls introduced us to the centuries-old tradition of wine making. With spirituality as their benchmark, they produce boutique qualities of fine limited wines. Their crisp 2016 Prior’s Cask Vidal exhibited fresh floral aromas and their 2016 Prior’s Cask Merlot Cabernet displayed distinct blackcurrants and peppery oak on the taste buds.
WAYNE GRETZKY ESTATES
Our much awaited tasting sojourn at the tres chic, ultra snazzy Wayne Gretzky Estates-Distillery-Brewery was well worth the tasting coupons handed over to us! Here, the maverick owner stirs up creative signature wines that wowed us. The super hero No. 99 2018 Cabernet Merlot had excellent light tannins and raw woody notes that we took our time to savour. No.99 Whisky Oak Aged Chardonnay 2018 was among the best we had quaffed, the hay and pineapple hints were enough evidence of a fine grape stock.
But the best was yet to unfold: NO. 99 Platinum Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 was the crown jewel of our tastings. The full-bodied, firm wine with blackcurrant, pepper, eucalyptus, Earl Grey and violet sang meritoriously with blackcurrant and heady spice.
CHATEAU DES CHARMES
The iconic Chateau des Charmes was another exceptional winery we visited. Across sprawling lawns and tended vineyard turfs, we sampled the classy 2017 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, their 2017 Estate Grown Pinot Noir with spicy flavours of clove and medium tannins and 2017 Cabernet Merlot with smooth cherry and prune flavours. The much admired 2018 Vidal Icewine was graced with peach and lingering nectarine flavors.
Their old world classic style 2015 Chardonnay fermented in French oak barrels displayed full-bodied, complex notes of citrus, melon and popcorn butter. The fine 2017 Gamay Noir ‘Droit’ offered us cherry flavours in a medium body style with warm smoky, spicy notes.
Our most unique and exotic gourmet experience allured us to a friendly destination that welcomed us with sweet so-many-things. At the iconic Niagara landmark, The Maple Leaf Place, we were pleasantly cajoled by yummy trays of inviting goodies that were the top, one-of-their-kind specialities of Ontario.
Mouth-watering, melt-in-a-wink fudges in all combos, the very finest of world chocolates that covered every conceivable ingredient wowed us completely. The highlight of our tastings was an entire array of the exclusive world-class quality products of The Maple Leaf Trail – maple leaf syrups of Ontario (yes, you got that right!), from light to medium to strong, signature liqueurs, fresh jams and loads more that enticed us to tickle our sweet innards endlessly!
Okanagan Valley wine region
Our flight to the famed Okanagan Valley wine region five and a half hours across Canada was a highly awaited one. Landing in salubrious Kelowna, the cheery town on the stunning Okanagan Lake shores, we braced ourselves for some of the most unique quaffs-of-the-season experience!
Our spirited, experienced host and guide, John Denney from Okanagan Wine Country Tours, met us on the dot for our truly enjoyable and memorable Okanagan Valley wine tour. The easy-going and knowledgeable John spoke about the region’s fascinating geography, terroir and the various boutique wineries sprawled across the picturesque miles of the Okanagan Lake surrounds.
CEDAR CREEK ESTATE VINEYARD AND WINERY
At this boutique winery overlooking the grand Okanagan Lake, we tried out their 2017 Gewürztraminer, which exhibited rose and white flowers on the aromas, pear, tropical melon and Bartlett pear on the lingering palate. Their 2017 Senator White had bright tropical guava and gooseberry notes with a citrus-driven palate.
We had notable tastings of the fine 2016 Meritage with blackcurrant, blackberry, plum, cassis, vanilla and cloves all on the symphony of character. Their 2017 The Senator Red had Cabernet Franc notes with the fresh bumbleberry of the Syrah. A nice juicy, fruity wine.
THE VIEW WINERY AND VINEYARD
On bringing us to the kerb side of this fine vineyard, John smiled his triumph. At this dynamic winery-cidery, we discovered innovation is the key driving factor. Their ‘Bling’ Sparkling wine in a can (!) is a runaway success – a revolutionary product that’s a marriage between the bottle of bubbly and the six pack.
Pretty placed in pink, ‘Bling’ is actually 100 percent estate-grown grapes nurtured by the mellow Okanagan sun from Gewürztraminer, Ehrenfelser and Riesling grapes. Their Rosé Bling is made from Pinotage, Ehrenfelser and Gewürztraminer. Both sparkle with fresh notes of berry fruits and melon.
Alongside this zesty creation is their Silver Lining White that jostles the fruity Gewürztraminer, the floral notes of the Ehrenfelser and the crispness of their fine Riesling to create a multiple gold medal winner. Sante to this one. Next is their classy, one-of-its-kind White Pinotage, actually a blanc de noir, meaning a white made from red grapes. Aaaahh! We exclaimed.
But The View’s classy marvel was the Pinot Noir Reserve with excellent luscious, aromas of violets, ripe berries, warm forest floor and teasing spice. The open flavourful raspberry and bright cherry are complemented by smooth oak and velvety tannins on the back palate.
MISSION HILL FAMILY ESTATE WINERY
The Okanagan Lake is Kelowna’s identity and most loved aquatic jewel. Most of the outstanding wineries of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia inhabit this verdant region of gentle sloping blue hillocks around, while scores of lush vineyards at inclines gently colour the canvas in the backdrop of the mighty Rockies.
Grand lake views across the carpeted green Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in west Kelowna awed us with the vast sweep of tended vine rows almost fringing the lake shores. In their grand, signature tasting lounge we quaffed two outstanding Mission Hill varietals. Their award winning 2017 Perpetua white, a tribute to a remarkable Chardonnay, with finely fragrant pear and lime bouquets and going on to a long, intense lingering palate.
We visually absorbed the mellow winter tones across the horizon, raising our goblets of a superb 2013 Quatrain that saluted Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in planned proportions. What a wine! The truly, very intense, full-bodied number echoed a fine cassis, dry herbs and black plum palate nicely structured around firm tannins, ripe fruit and cheery spice.
Our tastings lingered on further to include 2012 Compendium, one of their red grandmasters in winemaking. Cigar, musk, oak, raw leather asserted their masculinity with right royal distinction. Nothing like it on Mother Earth.
NAGGING DOUBT WINERY
Rob Westbury lives his free-hand style passion in his tiny, boutique winery on the crest of his vineyards over a hillside. He thinks wines are life and he doesn’t mince his dreams, which he bottles in his smart, catchy and artfully created wines. Nagging Doubt isn’t about reservations, it’s about ridding our minds of them, with centre-focused creativity. Our friend John called him up and he was there in a jiffy to give us a showdown on the cellars!
We drank in his 2018 ‘Inclination’, the super white blend, highly aromatic and created with bespokes – Ortega, Siegerrebe and, of course, Chardonnay. We discovered intense pear, white peach and floral notes and acidity to balance in this off-dry white. His 2016 ‘The Leap’ did it as his first vintage, Bordeaux-style blend – a rich and juicy combination of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
The 2016 vintage exhibits a full-bodied, bright wine, aged for 24 months with tempting flavours of dark fruits, blackberry jam, and tart plums, enhanced by notes of allspice and candied ginger. Rob’s 2015 ‘The Pull’ is a Merlot-based blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. What a rich wine with a beautiful, elegant and refined nose and palette – we experienced intense plum, black cherry and baking spice, all echoed on the palette with soft tannins.
At this scenic lake-facing, ultra-plush winery’s tasting lounge, the wines scored as much as the straight line décor. Presented with the 2016 Old Vines Riesling to match the gorgeous views, we discovered striking lemon zest and hints of wet slate and chalk.
The palate was deliciously juicy with striking apricot, nectarine and fresh lemon in good measure. The Tantalus 2018 Bear Chardonnay was a proud, pale gold effervescing with fragrance of sweet white blossoms, lily and granny smith apples. Exciting flavours of tart mandarin and lime leaf matched hints of warm butterscotch and there was good acidity there.
We relished the fine, young and vibrant 2018 Maija Pinot Noir, a deep garnet in tone, exhibiting classic Pinot aromas of Bing cherry, Doris plum, clove and cinnamon spice. Hints of cedar and liquorice add sophistication to the sensory, while, on the tongue, are sun-warmed plums, ripe raspberry and a splash of cranberry, brought into play with French oak.
One-of-their-kind, distinguished and memorable – our Canadian wine pilgrimage was truly unforgettable.