Niagara-on-the-Lake holds a special place in many hearts and minds alike. Located at the western end of Lake Ontario, it was one of the earliest regions for settlement– due in part to the War of 1812. There are many key sites which helped establish Canada as unique and separate entity from the United states– who at the time– wanted to absorb the fledgling colonies. Today, you can visit the many historic sites that played an integral part in championing Canada as an independent nation- such as Fort George, Navy Hall, and Butler’s Barracks.
Today, the region boasts picturesque settings, the arts, culture and entertainment- events such as the Shaw Festival and the RiverBrink Art Museum.
Thanks to the adjoining lakes and being one of the two regional appellations within the Niagara Peninsula, it receives an ample supply of sunshine. Also, because its topography is marked by a steady incline from the lake, it receives well-drained soil. As you can imagine, this makes for an ideal setting to grow fruit. It is no wonder then that the region has excelled in being a major player of viticulture. With an ample supply of wine varieties- historic inns, B&Bs and restaurants in the region have stepped up their culinary game to offer gourmet fare to pair with the region’s award winning wines.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is considered one of the Top 10 destinations in Canada by ‘Trip Advisor’s Travellers’ Choice’ in 2015. And now that summer’s set up shop in the delightful region, chefs at various wineries are celebrating the local harvest with delectable dishes and sublime wine pairings.
Over at Ravine Vineyards, Chef Ross Midgley and Winemaker Martin Werner make magic with Chef’s charcuterie board and Martin’s pairing of it with a 2014 Cabernet Rose. The low sugar and higher acidity in the wine is the perfect counterpoint to the rich, housemade charcuterie board. In raising their own pigs, sourcing ingredients from their backyard or from their neighbours down the road (aka no carbon footprint!), Ravine is a champion of the farm to table philosophy. Everything is ethically sourced. And as chef says, “It tastes better too”. And boy does it ever. Eat the creamy mortadela studded with nutty pistachios. Revel in the lush and decadent pancetta, then take a sip of the rose. Wild ramps and pickled vegetables cleanse and awaken your palate. Dive into that chicken pate with its mousse-y texture that is perfect for spreading on crisp crostini. With stunning view of the vineyard, you’ll want to come here and linger for hours with good wine and fantastic seasonal plates.
When you’re at Southbrook Vineyard, you’ll marvel at the modern aesthetic of the Leed -Gold certified building for environmental sustainability designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects. Additional bragging rights include the winery being the first in Canada to earn both organic and biodynamic certifications for its vineyard and winery. And it’s still an ongoing project for Bill Redelmeier, owner of Southbrook, with his wife Marilyn. Bill doesn’t like waste– so how does it translate into the food and wine? Well, something pretty unique, that’s what. With Chef Shawn Murphy at the helm of the kitchen, guests will delight in the fresh oven baked pizzas he makes in the summer on the patio. The dough is made with Red Fife, a grandfather grain from the prairie provinces. It’s hearty, wheat flavour is intensified with Bioflavia powder. Rich in antioxidants, it is organic red wine grape skin powder that Southbrook winery produces. Chef Shawn has perfected the ratios so that the dough now produces its own yeast and leavening power. The earthy undertones the grape skin lends to the crust is unmatched– even more fun when sipped with their smooth 2013 Organic Cabernet Franc. As much as possible, Chef Shawn sources locally. With their own herd of sheep(!) helping to reduce the weeds in the vineyard and providing a source of meat, Chef makes a pizza pie dotted with juicy lamb sausage, feisty sweet and sour hot peppers, wild garlic mustard pesto and gooey buffalo mozzarella. Yearning for something a tad lighter? Try the simple but sumptuous strawberry salad. Fresh Ontario gems from Quiet Acre Farms and baby arugula are sprinkled with salt and pepper, then drizzled with sweet and tangy reduction using petit verdot vinegar, and shards of shaved Gunn’s Hill handeck.
If you’re seeking romantic dining, look no further than 5 Diamond rating Vineyards Estate Winery. Whether you’re eating in the renovated 1845 farmhouse or seated on the patio overlooking the vineyard, the picturesque setting is the ideal place to try their ever-changing tasting menus. Or if you’re seeking one item that will make your fellow diners envious, get the “VEW” Burger. Born and raised in the small town of Vineland, Chef Justin Downes has great relationships with nearby suppliers and uses local ingredients. The beef is 100% chuck from Cumbrae’s, it is generously drapped with thin slices of jus drenched sous- vide beef tongue over top of it. And with assertive Bleu d’Elizabeth at the base of the house-made challah bun, the towering wonder is a decadent dish to devour. As you satisfy your carnal cravings, you’ll love to lap up their Reserve 2012 Cabernet Franc with it. Recommended by their Sommelier Sarah, this red has body and is smooth as silk. Another not-to-miss dish: their Heirloom Beet Salad. Local beets are lightly pickled and nestled beside house-cured salmon. The buttery fish pairs perfectly with their crisp, refreshing 2012 Chardonnay.
Saunter over to the laid back digs of Good Earth Food and Wine Co for globally-inspired cuisine. The food is attractively priced and Chef Therese De Grace along with owner Nicolette Novak, keep you coming back with their themed dinners and cooking classes.
One of the staples is always their fun take on a poutine– such as their recent Polish inspired creation using perogies instead of frites. Also on rotation is their seasonal soup. If you’re visiting in the summer, try their chipotle red pepper soup. You’ll bekon for more of that sweet heat at the back of your throat. Then sip on their 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; with its higher acidity and light sweetness, it is the ideal wine to refresh your palate with.
A special thanks to Magdalena and Joanna of Wine Country Ontario who advised me on which wineries to go to and make my visit extra delicious.
Photos by Tiffany Leigh