It’s not often I wake up at 7:30 am on a Saturday. And by not often, I mean never. But I made an exception for the Days of Chocolate and Wine Tour in Niagara-on-the-lake.
Every year, my gal pals and I trek up there to taste the new wine and chocolate pairings offered by the participating wineries, with dishes ranging from sweet to savoury. Not to brag or anything, but one time we hit 12 wineries in a day.
We usually book a shuttle for the tour, share a rambunctious ride with some unlucky couple, then stay in a Niagara hotel for the night. But due to skyrocketing shuttle prices, we made a bold, baller move; we cancelled our hotel and booked a limo to take us from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-lake, drive us to all the wineries, and then take us back to Toronto that night.
At 9:30 am our monstrous white stretch limo pulled up and we immediately burst into laughter. So much for not drawing attention to ourselves.
You can usually buy extra tastings for about $1 each ($3 for Icewine), so we tried their famous peach wine, a light, crisp drink that screams summer. Note: you must strategize your additional tastings. There’s this unspoken rule that if you make a purchase, they’ll waive the cost of your (and your friends’) pairings. You’re welcome.
At Jackson Triggs, our fourth winery, a few awesome things happened.
1) The drunkenness bubbled to the surface, breaking like a giggly fever.
2) After our pairing of 2012 Grand Reserve Shiraz and red wine chocolate cake with smoked almond cream, we tried a “Canadian Mimosa”: Méthode Cuve Close with Cabernet Franc Icewine. As an orange juice hater, this is a mimosa I can get behind.
3) The tagline of our trip was coined: Ride or die.
4) Laura made a purchase and cradled her wine bottle, singing “Rockabye Baby” to it.
We then went to The Garisson House for lunch, where we obviously had wine to keep things moving along. Incredible food, and as a bonus they were all about the 90’s wayback playbacks – Googoo Dolls, Brandy, Mariah Carey, Third Eye Blind. For some reason we were the only ones singing along. Weird!
Next we went to Stratus, arguably one of the prettiest wineries.
Remember that moment in Beauty and the Beast when Belle sees the Beast’s library for the first time? Now imagine all those books are wine. Yeah.
Prettiness aside, this winery also had one of my favourite yet unexpected pairings. They paired their 2010 Tollgate Fume Blanc with a roasted fennel, beet & dark chocolate salad.
Beets and chocolate? Barf. But I was shocked by how amazingly the two worked together.
Reif Estate wins for most romantic. We enjoyed our 2011 Merlot and chocolate chicken tortilla soup in a quiet, candlelit hideaway.
It’s also where we saw someone propose to their girlfriend. As I was paying for my wine, I turned around to see a man on his knees before a woman with tears in her eyes. She cried “yes!” just as my credit card payment was approved, and the whole winery burst into applause and cheers. Yes, I teared up. I was 7 wineries in, okay?
Our last stop was at Château des Charmes, where we made an impression on some fellow winery-hoppers. On their way out, they asked our limo driver, “Are you the one escorting the 6 young girls?” (Young. Teehee.) He said yes, and the man responded with a laugh, “They’re in there having a great time!” Probably something to do with us loudly deciding how many bottles of wine we should purchase for the ride home. (2 bottles of Aligoté.)
Altogether we visited 8 wineries, and I bought 6 bottles to take home. It wasn’t our best but when you stop for lunch, not hitting 12 wineries is a sacrifice you make.
Back in Toronto, Caroline and I stayed true to the “Ride or die” motto; we played beer pong. With vodka. And lost. Then after THAT, we went to Cocktail Bar, an intimate spot on Dundas West with awesome drinks and old timey jazz music. The ambiance was only dampened when my friend casually asked, “May I draw your attention to the guy motorboating his girl at the bar?” And sure enough, this dude was nose-deep in his lady’s chest. We laughed, we felt increasingly uncomfortable, and then we surmised she was most likely a prostitute. Ah it’s good to be back in Toronto.