If you love wine and are staying in Toronto for more than a few days, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a worthwhile day-long excursion, just 90 minutes outside of the city. Toronto-based writer, Jennifer Weatherhead Harrington, tells us which wineries should be on your list.
Toronto’s amazing food and beverage scene gets nods from top critics all over the world (we can’t blame them, because you’ll never go hungry in Toronto). Part of what makes that scene so good? All. The. Wine.
Toronto’s restaurants play host to some incredible vino straight from a region just outside the city, Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to some of Canada’s most well-known wines. What is even better is that those amazing, tantalizing wines are just over 1.5 hours from downtown. We all know what that means — a wine-filled day trip is in order!
Here is a roundup of five wineries that can’t be missed on a day sipping chardonnays and rieslings in Niagara-on-the-Lake, plus how you can get your wine fix at some of the best restaurants when you’re back in the city.
Winery: Vineland Estates Winery, 3620 Moyer Road, Vineland, Ontario L0R 2C0
Vino points: Part of what makes Vineland so popular is its incredible setting. It truly looks like it could be tucked into the hills of Napa Valley with its stone tower and sprawling vineyards, but it’s just a short drive from Toronto. And for the past 30 years, they have been a staple in Niagara-on-the-Lake for their wines, tours and their restaurant.
The biggest legacy that Vineland offers has to be their riesling, which you can snap up at their wine shop housed in a century barn. Vineland also happens to open on the earlier side (10AM), so it’s the perfect place to start your Niagara-on-the-Lake wine tasting day.
Must-try: You can’t go here and not try the Dry Riesling, or the award-winning Elevation St. Urban Riesling.
Price range:$$: Tastings and tour packages range from $18 per person up to $40, depending on your package selection (try one that pairs some of the delicious food too!).
Where to find in Toronto: Stock up on Vineland wines at the LCBO, and many downtown restaurants.
Winery: Stratus Wines, 2059 Niagara Stone Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario L0S 1J0
Vino points: When Stratus opened its modern-chic doors, it had the wine scene buzzing. This spot offers up wine tastings in a super slick, minimalist, industrial-like setting with an incredible view (so your Instagram photo game will be strong here while you sip on four of their best wines during a tasting).
Another unique fact about this wine hotspot is that it’s one of the few ‘gravity flow’ wineries in the world (this means they don’t use pumps to transport liquid during the winemaking process) and that equals a LEED-certified site for this sustainable vineyard.
Given how undeniably cool the site is, plus the environmental initiatives the winery takes, an actual tour on top of a tasting is a highlight. Make this your second stop on a day trip for the chill vibe.
Must-try: Known for their blends of both red and white, make sure you get a sip of both the Stratus Red and Stratus White. Other stars include the Stratus Gamay, and the Stratus Ice Wine Red, for those who love a dessert wine.
Price range:$$: $10 for a flight of four wines, tours start at $35 per person.
Where to find in Toronto: Toronto’s Momofuku Daisho is just one spot where you can find a taste of Stratus, but many downtown restaurants serve up this Niagara wine.
Winery: Two Sisters Vineyards, 240 John Street East, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario L0S 1J0
Vino points: The story behind this vineyard is of two sisters looking to continue the family legacy with a passion for making wines. This picturesque vineyard setting comes with an incredible mansion and the on-site Kitchen 76 restaurant.
Not only does Kitchen 76 have perfect views of the vineyard rows, but seriously delectable Italian food too (think wood-fired pizzas, pastas and antipasti that would make the perfect lunch stop on a day trip). Named Best Small Winery in Canada, the vineyard produces some incredible chardonnays, rieslings and top-notch rosé and sparkling wines.
Must-try: Two of the can’t-pass-up sips are the Unoaked Chardonnay and the unexpectedly dry Rosé.
Price range:$$: Prices range from $20 to $60 per person depending on your wine tasting/tour selection.
Where to find in Toronto: A visit to Awai (the hot vegan spot in the west end of Toronto in Bloor West Village) offers a chance to also sip on some of the sisters’ wines.
Winery: Fielding Estate Winery, 4020 Locust Lane, Beamsville, Ontario L0R 1B2
Vino points: Whether you visit this winery on your own or as part of a wine tour package, what makes it so lovely is its smaller, more intimate size. Family-run and nestled in the rolling hills of the Beamsville area of Niagara-on-the-Lake, this quaint winery is all kinds of charming. It may be slightly smaller in comparison to other names in town, but Fielding has been named one of Canada’s Top 10 Wineries in the past and is known for sustainable grape-growing practices.
Aside from all that loveliness, Fielding is open 7 days a week, year-round for tastings and tours. Nibble on some local cheese, fruits and meats while letting their signature Fireside Red hit your palette. Daily tours at 2PM will take you down to the cellar for an inside glimpse at how they function.
Must-try: The Fireside Red with notes of cherry and plum is always a crowd-pleaser, as is the Cabernet-Syrah. On the white side of things, the Unoaked Chardonnay shows off the region’s crispness.
Price range:$$: $15 for four samples, or $25 per person and includes a tasting of four wines, four artisanal kinds of cheese and crostini should you be hungry and in need of an afternoon snack.
Where to find in Toronto: Get some Fielding samples at Chez Nous Wine Bar in downtown Toronto.
Winery: Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant, 290 John Street East, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario L0S 1J0
Vino points: One of the most well-known estates in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region is Peller Estates. Their award-winning wines make it worth a visit, but add in the gorgeous scenery and you might just think you’re at a French Chateaux. If you happen to do a wine tasting tour via bike, the view riding up to the estate is pure magic.
Founded in 1927, this classic vineyard has been in the Peller family ever since. Aside from being steeped in family history and having a regal setting, the other big seller here are the restaurants both headed by local celebrity chef Jason Parsons. It’s a wine and food pairing dream in the upscale setting of the Winery Restaurant. The Barrel House Grill is more casual, but only open during peak season. This is definitely where you will want to end a day of wine tasting.
Must-try: Winemaker Katie Dickieson’s Cab-Merlot blends are stellar, as are the Cab-Francs, Rieslings and of course, their famous ice wines are a must-try.
Price range:$$: $8 for a flight of three wines at the bar, or $15 for a flight of three wines at a seated setting.
Where to find in Toronto: Since it’s such a well-known and popular brand, you can find Peller Estates wines at tons of restaurants downtown.
Where to Find Niagara Wines in Toronto
Once you’re safely back in Toronto (with memories of rolling rows of vines, views and delicious Riesling and cabernets still intact), you can continue the wine experience at one of these Toronto wine bars — all serving up some of Niagara’s best vino.
Chez Nous Wine Bar, 798 Queen Street East, Toronto, Ontario M4M 1H4
Serving up all local wine and beer is the name of the game for this cozy nook in the city.
Grey Gardens, 199 Augusta Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2L4
One of the most buzzed-about restaurants and wine bars in the city as of late, this hotspot has a hefty wine list to choose from (with some of the best from around the globe) but also includes some key Canadian and Niagara wines.
Midfield Wine Bar & Tavern, 1434 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario M6J 1Y7
The extensive list here comes with no pretension, and while it’s heavy on wines outside of Canada, it has a few Ontario selections, and its casual atmosphere means you can easily learn about your new faves with a sip on tawny ports, gamays and pinots.
Drink locally at these other Toronto bars and restaurants that make local selection a priority.
Follow the QEW towards Niagara. After crossing the Garden City Skyway at St. Catharines, exit QEW at 38B, follow the Niagara-on-the-Lake signage onto Highway 55. Take Highway 55 northeast until it ends at Queen Street to get you in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Approximate time will be 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Take the Go Transit from Toronto’s Union Station to St. Catharines VIA Rail Station. Then hop on a bus to the Niagara-on-the-Lake drop off located at the corner of Picton and King. Visit GO Transit for times and changes to service during off seasons. Adults: $20.60 each way. Children (6-12) and Seniors over 65: $10.60 each way.