Niagara: Ontario’s Tipsy Adult Playground

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I used to love going to summer camp as a kid. I think part of me begrudged getting old not simply for the aching joints, grey hairs, and fading memory, but for the absence of an adventurous summer getaway just around the corner. Fortunately, in the past few years my friends and I have found our own adult version of summer camp in Ontario’s burgeoning wine scene. We’ve explored Prince Edward County together and rode bicycles haphazardly through the Niagara vineyards, but this year we were back to do Niagara in style.

This year’s third annual wine trip was our opportunity to highlight our bountiful experience of planning. Modern Mississauga’s own Jay Kana secured us a fancy 2019 Kia Sorento SXL with enough space to fit four people and wine for eight. We booked into the luxurious 1865 Toad Hall, literally crawling distance from wineries. We rented a ridiculous stretch limo to haul our drunk asses through the vineyards while posing for awkward prom-esque photos. Most importantly, we lined up a tour of 9 wineries over two days, with the understanding of inevitable last-minute changes.

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The drive down was an absolute blast, though a good reminder to me that I’m a writer first, a wine drinker second, and a car reviewer dead last. One would think that an engineer such as myself would have a better appreciation for motor vehicles, but I drive so infrequently that every time I step into one I feel like I’m sitting in the cockpit of a Boeing 747. As we cruised along the QEW I recall thinking to myself that I was worried about the potential negative review I might have to give the Sorento for its lack of pickup. It would only be an hour later while nearing our destination that one of my passengers asked me why I was complaining about the pickup in Eco mode. Then I found sport mode. I quickly retracted my previous thoughts and comments.

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The Sorento ended up being the perfect set of wheels for our weekend jaunt. It was enough for four tall individuals to ride to wine country in style, had enough space in the boot for 6 cases of wine (oops), wasn’t terrible on gas considering the size, and had air conditioning built into the seats (an outstanding feature for a sweaty hog such as myself). All the bells and whistles were there to play with and, so long as you were conscious of which drive mode you were in, it handled like a dream glued to the winding Niagara roads.

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Friday night we dined at the Restaurant at Pearl Morissette. Though not cheap, the space was breathtakingly beautiful (and not just for a barn), the food was a unique and delicious experience with every new bite, and the wines were out of this world. All six at our table also unanimously agreed that our third course was the best potato any of us had ever eaten.

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Our Saturday was a tactical strike on some of Niagara’s finest wineries. We sipped our way through Chardonnays, Pinos, and more while riding around in a Limo from stop to stop. Our driver casually invited us to feel free to open a bottle of sparkling in the back during one of our drives, but we were already so sauced from tastings that the thought of drinking during our short five to ten minute breaks between each vineyard was laughable. We had an incredible experience at Five Rows vineyard, being taken through our tasting by the winemaker’s sweet and captivating mother. However, Big Head wines stole the show that day with some of the best red wines I’ve ever tasted and by far the best I’d ever seen Ontario produce.

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On Sunday, we did a couple of quick stops on our way back to the GTA and I’m glad we did. After a quick sniff at one of our favourite vineyards, Kew, we headed over to Leaning Post after having it recommended numerous times. We found ourselves across the table from owner and winemaker Ilya Senchuk and proceeded to have one of the greatest, nerdiest, wineiest tastings of our lives. Ilya took our crew through their entire set of wines (I, having to drive, restraining myself to sipping the tiniest of drops) and spent nearly an hour sharing stories of his craft with us. The greatest compliment I think I can give a winemaker is that I don’t think they had made a single mediocre wine and we walked out with the cases of bottles to prove it.

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And while I could talk for days about all the wonderful wines and experiences we had, everyone - especially Dave Letterman – loves a good top 10:

10) Kia Sorento Sport Mode

9) Strewn 2016 French Oak Chardonnay

8) Big Head 2016 Hunter Farms Pino Gris

7) Ravine 2015 Sand & Gravel Redcoat

6) Reif Estate 2017 Cabernet Gamay

5) Kew bubbles… anytime

4) Five Rows 2015 Syrah

3) That friggin potato at Pearl Morissette

2) Big Head’s 2016 Petit Verdot Select

1) Ilya Senchuk and anything Leaning Post makes, ever

Happy trails!