So here’s my dirty little secret: after almost 12 years of living in the Northeastern US, I have not been to Niagara Falls. And sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who has not witnessed this miracle of nature. Which was why, when Stu came to visit me in Toronto for the weekend, I decided it was now or never. Niagara is only a 1.5-hour drive from Toronto, so it’s an easy day trip, and there’s plenty of time to explore some of the other attractions of the Niagara peninsula. Which in my case of course means only one thing: ice wine. Happy days.
Whether you visit Niagara Falls on the US or Canadian side, there is a little boat that will take you right up to the falls – since we were staying on the Canadian side, that meant the Hornblower for us. And now please excuse the rant that follows.
The Hornblower website is one of the most useless and self-serving ones I’ve ever come across. The “What to bring” page basically said, “No need to bring anything, you can buy it all in our gift shop!”. Looking for driving directions? The most useful information available on the “How to get here” page was, “Sometimes there’s traffic and it takes longer.” Thanks.
Now, where was I? Oh yes – the one useful feature on the website is that you could buy tickets in advance. They’re valid for any sailing time on a specific date. That can save you some time when you get there because there’s one less line to stand in.
We got to Niagara Falls early enough to get the second boat of the day, at 10am. After swathing ourselves in our free pink ponchos, Stu and I, and 300 of our closest friends, boarded the Hornblower and set off on our “cruise”. Past the Bridal Veil Falls, we headed straight for the Horseshoe Falls, and it was like walking into a rain storm. The winds whipped our suddenly flimsy ponchos, and the water came at us from all sides. The roar of the falls drowned out all other sound. At 75,000 gallons passing through every second, I suppose that’s not very surprising.
10 minutes later, we were back on dry land, and went to explore the promenade that takes you up to the top of the falls. Within about 1,000 feet of them, it again felt like it was raining. Very refreshing on a hot summer’s day, but less so in the gloom we found ourselves in when we visited. To my surprise, there was a life-size statue of Nikola Tesla by the promenade (there’s actually one on the American side too). As it turns out, Tesla designed the first hydro-electric power plant there, although he never actually visited in person.
At this point, we decided to eschew the casinos and other attractions of Niagara on the Lake, and started making our way back to Toronto, via a couple of wineries. First stop, Royal DeMaria , who have garnered many prizes for their ice wines since their first harvest in 1998. “Ice wine for dummies” in hand, hairdresser turned wine maker Joseph DeMaria made what might be called an error producing his first vintage. However this error resulted in a spectacular ice wine devoid of the cloying syrupiness a lot of wines in that category display. Henceforth this “error” became part of the Royal DeMaria method.
We tried 8 different ice wines, four red and four white, that were all from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. And we found them truly exceptional – as announced, all of them were less syrupy than expected and well-balanced with a refreshing tartness. I enjoyed the white ice wines the most, and was particularly struck by the Chardonnay, which had a surprising smoky note.
Armed with several bottles of our favorites, we then headed over to Megalomaniac Wines. Their branding is very cute, but the wines themselves turned out to be a little disappointing – the whites were watery, and the ice wine didn’t come close to the ones we’d tried at our previous stop. I do have a bottle of their Bigmouth Merlot sitting in my wine rack now, which may turn into something drinkable in a year or two.
Finally, at Stu’s insistence, we stopped at The Beer Store for a supply of Canadian beer. Not only does it seem to be rather good (I can’t comment myself, but the feedback’s been very positive), it also brought back memories of his misspent youth at the University of Rochester.