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Niagara-on-the-Lake in March

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With joint March birthdays as an excuse, we got away for a long weekend, visiting Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake. In Toronto, one of us got to the Tim Burton Exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lighthouse, while another visited MEC. There was definitely a strong Johnny Depp’s presence at the Burton exhibit (like Depp’s outfit from Edward Scissorhands), but most impressive was really Burton’s own paintings and sketches.

Mostly, though, we were there to visit with the sisters and their families, which was nice. We were well fed and had some interesting discussions on topics such as technology, politics, pet ownership, and Canadian wines.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stayed at Harbour House Inn for the first time. We were really impressed with that. We had selected one of their more modest offerings, but it was still quite a large room with fireplace. This was the bathroom:

Bathroom at Harbour house

The rooms also had an iPod dock, big-screen TV, DVD players, and fresh-made cookies. They also offered a very good European-style breakfast; DVD rentals (current movies; DVD player and big-screen TV in the room); a daily wine tasting; and shuttle service to and from restaurants for dinner—all included in the price of the room. Which, because it was low season and we had booked on Expedia, really wasn’t that extravagant. (Apparently, quite a different story in the summer.)

And of course, while there, we visited a number of wineries. Our big discovery, I would say, was Caroline Cellars, which our Harbour House shuttle driver recommended. We had certainly found some nice wines at other wineries, but they were quite often over $20 a bottle. At Caroline’s, we honestly liked everything we tasted, and all were under $20. Some well under. We were particularly impressed with the 2007 Cabernet Franc ($15.50) and the Bradley White (Sauvignon Blanc), at just $11, but we also got the Enchantment (Riesling / Gerwurtz) and 2007 Cab Sauv. None available at LCBO.

In terms of location, Megalomanic (nearer to Beamsville) was the most fun, as it’s up on a hill, and you get a great view. (Maybe I’ll add photographic proof later). We tried three wines there, including a Riesling so cold you couldn’t tell how it tasted (not so useful, that), and bought the Bigmouth Merlot ($25), a fairly bold red.

Other visits (over two days):

  • Tawse Winery, known for good but not cheap wines. We got a Riesling and a 2008 Pinot noir there—at $54, the most we spent on one bottle.
  • Creekside Estates, a source for a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Shiraz.
  • Coyote’s Run, which offers the interesting experience of tasting the same wine grown in two different soils. They’re noticeably different. We bought a Red Paw Chardonnay here ($22) that we’ve been enjoying this week. Full but not overly oaky.

We also tried mostly new (to us) restaurants this time. Stone Road Grille may have impressed us most. Jean had foie gras poutine (!) followed by duck confit. I had the Chef’s salad (which included duck confit, Niagara Gold cheese, and quail’s egg) and a pasta stuffed with sweet potato entree that was just amazing. Each item on the menu had a recommended wine (from all- Canadian list), and each entree was offered in a smaller portion, which was great. Then there was the dessert of chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice cream, chocolate chile sauce, and spiced almonds. Yum. (And not too big a portion, either.)

Our fanciest meal was probably at Hillebrand Winery, where we had a three-course lunch. Can’t complain about the food quality there, either, and they did a very good job of matching the food to the wine. That was a big midday meal, though, so supper that night was at the Old Winery restaurant, which offers more pizza and pasta. All well-prepared, though, with good-quality ingredients.

So the only disappointing meal was at Inn on the Twenty, where we had lunch on the way in. It was mostly good—I was quite happy with my bison and mushroom main—but Jean’s mussels just weren’t fresh enough. Several weren’t open and those that were tasted kind of fishy. A restaurant of a certain caliber shouldn’t serve sub-par mussels.

And between all that eating and drinking, we did a little shopping, some walking, a lot of relaxing. Weather was quite cooperative for March, either sunny but cool or cloudy but warmer. After this week, there’s no complaining about that!

One thought on “Niagara-on-the-Lake in March

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