Love tasting wines, but hate going in groups to wineries? Group tours never give you quite enough time to really get a feel for the label’s offerings, and there can be a lot of pressure to buy bottles fast. Luckily, the Niagara Falls region boasts dozens of wineries, many of them easy to visit in a self-guided group. Here’s how to plan a great self-guided exploration of the area’s wines.

Arrange Transportation

The first thing you’ll need for a DIY tour of the wineries on both sides of the Canadian-U.S. border is transportation. If your group includes someone who is willing to be the designated driver, so much the better. However, if you’re pretty sure everyone in your party would like to sample the wine, there are other options. For example, if you have enough friends with you, hire a tour bus or a limo with a driver for the afternoon. With some negotiation, you may be able to get a private tour going from one of the area travel agencies. Or, if you feel like getting some exercise and fresh air on the way, many of the wineries are close enough to local hotels that you can bike to the tasting rooms. If this seems like the way to go for you, bicycle rental in the area is affordable and easy to arrange through your hotel or a local travel agency.

Do Your Homework

The Niagara region has fine wineries to the north and south of the national border and if you have the time, there’s no reason you should limit your wine tour by country of origin. However, if your itinerary only allows for one excursion into the vineyards, it will pay off to do some research first and find out which wineries seem most likely to please your taste buds. Some of this research can be done right at your dining room table with a few samples purchased from your local wine shop; otherwise you should consult the websites of the Niagara Wine Trail USA or the Canadian Niagara Falls Tourism Association to find out which local wineries will be convenient for your visit.

In addition to country, when possible, keep your palate in mind when structuring your tour. If you know that you want to try a particular dry red, try to schedule that winery after you do your tasting of white wines.

And if you find yourself very short on time to dedicate to the wineries, see if you can catch one of the region’s several wine festivals, such as the Icewine Festival, which will be held on the weekends from Jan. 10-26, 2014, on the Canadian side.

Schedule the Tastings … And a Meal

Because many of the unique vineyards here have small runs of each vintage and are often operated as a family or small business, it can be helpful to call ahead and make sure your group will be able to have a tasting on the day and at the time that is most convenient to you. Though this takes some of the spontaneity out of your trip, it will help you spend the most time enjoying wine and countryside vistas and less time trying to guess where to go next because your destination winery happened to be fully booked the day you wanted.

If you visit more than a few wineries on your tour in the region, another point to consider is staggering your tastings with a light meal or snack. Reserve a meal at one of the wineries or at a countryside restaurant to sample some of the area’s fresh produce to complement your wine choices.

Give Yourself Enough Time

Once you begin scheduling your trip, it may become clear that you will need more than an afternoon or a day to truly explore the region’s wine offerings. It can also be confusing to the palate to sample too many different wines on the same day. Giving yourself enough time to truly explore the region will also allow you to make unscheduled stops and sightsee along the way.

About the Author: G. G. Parsons has yet to meet a grape she doesn’t like. When she visits the Niagara Falls area, she always checks out Niagara Falls Hotel Deals.

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