Ice! We battle against it, scraping it off our windshields, shovelling it from our driveways, and ploughing it off our roads. In January especially, we wistfully look at our snow-covered gardens and dream about the flowers buried underneath, bitterly resenting the ice that keeps them frozen in the soil.
But this year, why not call a truce with the white stuff, and instead celebrate it at the Icewine Festival in Niagara that takes place over the last three weekends in January (14th to the 30th ). Icewine-inspired culinary treats, ice furniture, icewine cocktails, ice bars, ice sculptures, and of course, there’s the icewine itself.
This sweet elixir put Niagara’s burgeoning wine industry on the map 20 years ago when Inniskillin’s Icewine won ‘the academy award’ of wine-making, the Grand Prix d’Honneur in Bordeaux, France. Today, Canada’s icewine is enjoyed around the world, and in the last four years alone, almost 700,000 bottles have been exported, with Asia as the biggest purchaser.
It’s a high-risk, labour intensive wine to make, since every frozen grape yields only a single precious drop of super-concentrated juice. The same tonne of grapes that makes 1000 bottles of table wine will only fill 100 bottles of icewine. Regulations stipulate that temperatures must be 17F before the frozen grapes can be picked. Most wineries wait until it’s even colder, which can mean workers picking the grapes by hand at 2 am in the middle of a blustery January night.
But, it’s not all frozen sweat and tears. The idea behind the three-week festival is to have fun with the amber liquid, which if done right is liquid heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth.
With so many wineries and special events, it’s impossible to do it all, but here are some ideas to get you started:
Indulge in a ‘Grownup’ Childhood Treat
Icewine-infused marshmallows are one of the most popular menu items in town this time of year and you’ll find them at Peller Estates Winery. Jason Parson, Peller’s celebrity chef, says he loves the fact that it’s not sophisticated. “It’s fun to see people in tuxes and gowns outside toasting marshmallows on the open fire.”
During the festival, you can toast the gooey treats paired with an icewine sample or better yet, have it for dessert after an exquisite multi-course winemaker’s lunch or dinner.
At Strewn Winery, Icewine milkshakes keep people coming back year after year. “We couldn’t take it off the menu if we wanted to,” says Jane Will who owns the winery with her husband Joe. “People look forward to it.” I had my doubts about the combination, until I tasted it. The icewine adds a delectable smooth honey taste to the vanilla ice cream and it’s a winning combination.
N’icewine slushies at the Ice House Winery and Chardonnay Icewine syrup on waffles at Pillittier are some other fun options.
Savour Icewine Culinary Pairings
Icewine is often seen only as a dessert, but it also complements savoury dishes beautifully as you can discover at the Sensory Wine Bar at Reif Estate Winery. Our host, Archie, explains that for a true pairing, you need to match the textures as well as the flavours. He extols a French approach to tasting food and emphasizes the importance of savouring each morsel. “Leave the food in your mouth,” he encourages, “Then have some wine, so you can taste them together.” After doing this with butternut squash soup, duck terrine, blue cheese and a strawberry truffle, I’m convinced that this how food should be experienced all the time.
The Niagara College Teaching Winery names their pairing “Morroccan Spice with a Kiss of Ice’ and combines Chicken Tajine with couscous, dates and nuts with their Cabernet France Icewine. Of course, you’ll find plenty of more traditional pairings of cheeses and desserts at the wineries, too.
Furniture Made of Everything Ice
Visitors to Inniskillin can relax on ice chairs at the Icewine Lounge while looking out at the vineyards that still have the frozen grapes clinging on the vines.
“We leave them there during the festival because some visitors don’t believe grapes actually grow here and that we actually pick them during winter,” says Debbie Pratt, the winery’s spokesperson.
Icewine samples are served on a bar made from -- you guessed it -- ice. Ice bars are a prominent feature of the festival. On January 22 & 23, you’ll find plenty of them along historic Queen Street in Niagara-on-the Lake where festival goers take to the street to indulge in wine and tasty edibles while listening to Jazz music. On the evening of January 22nd, bartenders strut their stuff, competing to create the winning icewine cocktail.
Ice bars are set up in nearby Jordon on January 15 & 16, when icewine is celebrated along with sparkling and other premium wines from over 30 wineries during their outdoor festival.
Other festival events range from extravagant ten- course winemaker’s dinners and formal galas to getting your hands dirty (in this case, cold) harvesting the grapes. Or simply enjoy a glass of wine outside, toasting our former foe.
Here’s to ice!
For more information about the festival visit:
Find Niagara-on-the-Lake along with other daytrips and more than 200 other attractions and 1400 photos in the Toronto Essential Guide iphone app.- http://sutromedia.com/apps/Toronto_Essential_Guide
Featuring google maps, offline content, free updates and insider information that goes beyond the generic blurbs or unfiltered lists of free apps, it’s the only guide you’ll need on your visit to Toronto.
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After travelling the world teaching ESL, she’s now 'settled down' in Toronto, but continues to indulge her passion for travel as a family travel writer. Her website/blog www.justkidstravel.com helps kids plan and get excited about their travels.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: family,culture,nature,soft adventure, photography,food