Hard edges. Delicious middle.

It’s amazing how much difference a half-hour can make. We left for Niagara half an hour later than we wanted on Saturday, and it ended up adding 90 minutes to our trip. A trip which should barely take 90 minutes anyway. Stupid GTA traffic.

We hadn’t been down to Niagara this year, and needed a bit of a weekend away, so down we went. I wasn’t planning to do the epic winery visits of years past, but I did have a plan. (Obviously.) First up: lunch at Two Sisters‘ restaurant, Kitchen 76.

I want to hate Two Sisters, with its obnoxious faux Italian villa and perpetually-selfie-ing clientele, but the wine is just too good. So, it turns out, is the food. Our caprese salad was excellent, as were our pizzas, and the patio space is stunning.

We planned to do a tasting as well, but my god…the crowds. Too many people, too drunk, too loud, too woo-hoo-y. I dashed in, bought the three bottles I knew I wanted (cab sauv, cab  franc, Lush sparkling) and fled.

Our hotel for the night was a new one for us both: Queen’s Landing. It might be one of the least precious of the Niagara-on-the-Lake hotels, and our room had a nice view of the river, so we made the most of it. We checked in as soon as we could, and checked out the next morning without a minute to spare.

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That afternoon, while Lindsay had a nap, I walked into town to check out the Exchange Brewery. I’d tried one or two of their beers before, but hadn’t been to the brewery itself. When I got there it was pretty hectic, and their bottles aren’t labeled super-well, and when I asked the taste the bartender sent me upstairs. I ended up lucking into a prime balcony spot, since some rain had just ended. I tried their Saison, Berliner, Porter, Bill NyePA, Oud Bruin, and breakfast stout. The Saison and Bill NyePA were pleasant surprises, but the Berliner, Porter, and Oud Bruin were a touch disappointing. The breakfast stout was as good as I thought it might be. Points for trying a few interesting styles though. I bought a few bottles (the Saison and stout, and another stout called The Exchange stout) and walked back to the hotel while it drizzled.

By the time I got back it was pretty much time for dinner. We’d booked a table at what I consider the best restaurant in Niagara, Treadwell. Sadly, the menu they have posted online bears no resemblance to the meal we actually ate, so I won’t remember the finer details of each course. But here’s the gist:

  • We had trouble deciding on which two appetizers to choose, but landed on the peach salad, which was chock full of local fruit and veg, and the tuna, served with (among other things) some amazing smoked cashews. We had this with a bottle of Kew Tradition sparkling.
  • Ultimately the other appetizer we’d considered — the cured duck — was too much to resist, and we ordered that too, while finishing off the sparkling.
  • For our mains Lindsay got BC halibut with mussels and smoked tomato risotto. I got the pork tenderloin with pork belly and crispy polenta, and I fully expect that dish to end up on best-things-I-ate-this-year list. We paired it with a bottle of The Farm Pinot Noir 2014, which I learned is made by Thomas Bachelder from the same grapes that produced Le Clos Jordanne’s “La Petite Colline” wines. And it was amazing.
  • Not quite ready for dessert, we ordered a little tasting of aged cheddar to go with the rest of our Pinot.
  • Still, amazingly, having room for dessert, we shared the cheesecake coated with graham cracker, alongside maple bourbon ice cream and some cherries. We each had a local ice wine with it.

By this time we’d pretty much shut the joint down, so we wandered slowly back to our hotel and konked out.

The next morning was a master class in chilling out. Room service breakfast (an absurd amount, really), leisurely showers, and dumb TV. We rolled out of there at the very last minute and into our trusty steed. After a brief stop on the parkway down to admire the quiet and the river, we arrived at Ravine. I hadn’t been in four years or thereabouts. We hurried through a quick tasting and bought a Cab Sauv and a reserve Chard before heading to lunch next door at their restaurant.

We had PEI oysters, followed by spiced cauliflower ‘steaks’ w/ navy bean salad, smoked eggplant, roasted garlic emulsion, labneh, and dukkah (Lindsay) and duck leg confit w/ K2 milling artisanal grains ‘salad’, Niagara corn and peach succotash, tarragon aioli, sour cherry, and duck jus (Dan). We each had a glass of cab franc, but given my driving duties mine was shockingly small.

On the way back to Toronto we had three stops lined up, two for tastings as it was my first visit, and one for a quick pickup. The first visit was Westcott. It was a little chaotic but we managed to try two chard and two pinots, and loved them all. We left with four bottles.

Next: Domaine Queylus. I’m more than familiar with their wines (and winemaker) but this was my first visit. Again, I couldn’t really taste thoroughly as I was driving, but I fell hard for the chard, the reserve pinot, and their cab franc. Oof.

Finally, after a winding drive through the back roads, we made our last stop, a quick in-and-out at Thirty Bench to acquire some of their recently-lauded 2015 Cab Franc. I’ve always been a fan of that wine — it might have been the first Ontario wine, or any wine — that I fell in love with, and have bought every vintage. But ever since Decanter freaked out about the 2015, I was worried that I’d miss out, so I grabbed what I could and ran.

Speaking of running, we quickly realized that the drive back to Toronto was going to be tight to make our 5pm drop-off. As it turned out, we pulled in to the rental place with about five minutes to spare, and Ubered home with our loot.

So, fine: maybe the drive down and drive back weren’t all that relaxing, but overall it was a damn fine 30-hour break.

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