Weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake

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Oh, my friends, do I have an adventure to share with you: Peanut’s first international travel!  Last weekend (which happened to include my birthday), hubby and the kid and I hopped across the border for a few relaxing days in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.  This trip was my anniversary present from hubby, and I was so excited; I’ve been wanting to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake for at least five years.  And now that we live so close (it’s about 40 minutes from the border, which is less than ten minutes from our house) it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We headed up mid-day on Saturday, after Peanut woke up from her morning nap, and we arrived just in time to feed her and put her down for the afternoon nap.  (It was a bit of a scramble, because I realized I had forgotten the sleepsacks, and Peanut doesn’t sleep without a sleepsack.  But hubby found a Wal-Mart and was able to run out and pick up some emergency sleepsacks without crossing the border again, which he really didn’t want to do – the line to get into the States was loooooooong.)  Saturday afternoon was low-key; when Peanut finished her nap, we headed out of the B&B and explored the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake for a bit (it’s a gorgeous, meticulously preserved nineteenth-century town in the heart of the Niagara wine country) and then had dinner in a pub.  We shared an order of fried pickles, which were amazing, and I had the turkey burger I’d been craving for weeks.

The next morning, we got up early for a walk down the Niagara Waterfront Trail.

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Peanut enjoyed checking out the boats and the wildlife.  We walked for about 45 minutes, then headed back to the B&B for breakfast – which was out of this world good.

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I wasn’t really hungry for lunch, after such a big breakfast, but I knew I wanted to try out the Irish Tea Room.  After Peanut woke up from her morning nap, we headed back into town for tea and a scone (with real Devon cream! oh, yes) and even though it felt as though I was trying to stuff an already-full tummy, it was worth it for this:

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Come to Mama.

I had Earl Grey and a raisin scone with cream and jam, and hubby had a cappuccino.  I’m picky about scones – I can’t stand scones that taste like doorstops, which is most American scones.  This one was perfect.  Light and fluffy, with perfectly chewy raisins and a sweet crust.  Yum.

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Fortified by tea and scones, we headed out for an afternoon of wine tasting.  I knew better than to set too ambitious of a schedule – even without a baby in tow, four wineries is pushing it for me.  I decided we’d try to visit Konzelmann, Palatine Hills, and Small Talk, but that if we didn’t make it to all three I’d be perfectly okay with that, too.  (I want to visit every winery in the region, but that’s going to take some time, and quite a few trips.)  Well, we made it to Konzelmann and Palatine Hills, and I was happy to check two off my list.  (We probably could have squeezed Small Talk in, too, but I got to chatting with the winery folks who were pouring my tastes – it happens – and lost track of time.  So it was my fault, not Peanut’s, that we didn’t get to our third winery.)

We started at Konzelmann, which was absolutely beautiful.  The building looks like a castle on the outside, and the tasting room inside was breathtaking.  I tried quite a few of their dry reds and whites, which were all spectacular, but it was the sparking rose that really blew me away.  I have a thing for rose wines, and for sparkling wines, and especially for sparkling roses, and this one was magnificent.  I bought two bottles and will buy more the next time I’m up Canada way.

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After tasting, my inhibitions were lowered just enough for me to poke around and take a few pictures.  This is a shot of some of the vines, and of the working part of the winery – where the magic happens – taken from a cute observation deck off the parking lot.  I am fascinated by viticulture and oenology – have been since I took “Introduction to Wines” at Cornell – and I love seeing the business end of a winery.  (Fun fact: did you know that women make better winemakers than men?  Our noses tend to be more sensitive.  I capitalize on this factoid when I imagine myself as the hottest new winemaker in Sonoma as I drift off to sleep at night.)

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Here are some grapes ripening on the vine at Konzelmann.  (This was also right off the parking lot.  I said I poked around a little, and I mean a little.  I didn’t actually stray more than three feet from the parking lot.  Darn my goody-two-shoes tendencies.)  The employee who did my pours told us that they’re just starting to harvest the white grapes, and the reds will be coming off the vines in a few weeks.  Wish I was there for that – I love watching harvest.  We saw a little bit of the beginning when we visited Napa and Sonoma in September of 2009.

I don’t have any shots from Palatine Hills, because my wine-student memory muscle was working overtime as the tasting room manager made me guess what each wine he poured was.  (And then I got into a discussion about terroir with the trainee.)  Their wines were fabulous too, and I brought home two bottles: a steel-barrel Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.  I was so relieved to find that, at both Konzelmann and Palatine Hills, I was able to get a full tasting in, just on the “dry” side.  I’m not a fan of sweet wines, and I expected Niagara to be all Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Icewine, which I can appreciate but which I don’t particularly enjoy.  The region is famous for those, and I’m sure justifiably so, but I had more than I could handle just sticking to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, and those were absolutely delicious.  I’m glad to know that the Niagara region makes superb dry wines as well as sweet – now I’m even more enthusiastic about my project of tasting my way around the region.

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We headed back into town for dinner at a yummy, casual bistro (casual is the word for us right now – white tablecloths are out until a certain member of our party can eat without smearing sweet potatoes on everything).  After dinner, we found ourselves caught in a chilly Canadian October downpour… but I really wanted gelato.  (For some reason, Niagara-on-the-Lake is lousy with gelato places, and they’re all raking in the stars on Trip Advisor.)  We were wet and cold, but it was my birthday, so we went with it.  We popped into Il Gelato di Carlotta (ranked #1 out of all of the restaurants in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Trip Advisor) and I had a dish of half hazelnut, half caffe.  Perfection.

We headed back across the border as soon as breakfast was over the next morning, and thus ended Peanut’s first international travel experience.  (I still think it’s hilarious that we have to travel about four times as long to get to Peanut’s local grandparents, than we did to get to Canada, a foreign country.)  I loved Niagara-on-the-Lake, and I’m already scrolling through my calendar, trying to figure out when we could get back there for another weekend.

13 thoughts on “Weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake

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