When the mercury plunges below freezing, most of us are tempted to retreat indoors and curl up by a fireplace. But bone-chilling weather is good news for Niagara’s icewine makers, because it means the frozen grapes are almost ready to harvest. And it’s downright fantastic news for you: You get to drink the results. For three weekends in January, the Niagara Icewine Festival invites you to try ice wine – a quintessentially Ontario drink – right at its source.
But first, what is icewine? It’s a product of perfect timing, for starters. At least three full nights of below -10C weather is needed to coax the grapes to release their unique concentration of sugars, acids, flavours, and aromas into the juice. In the middle of the coldest night, pickers don winter gear and head into the vineyards to hand-pick the grapes. The clusters are then gently pressed, with each grape yielding just one drop of the prized juice.
Something this special deserves a celebration, so bundle up with some friends and head out to explore this festival’s many facets:
Toast of the Town – Jan. 9
The annual Xerox Icewine Gala kicks things off in fine style on Friday, January 9. Put on something fancy but bright (maybe red or gold, in a nod to the coveted beverage’s colors) and sashay around the swanky scene at the Fallsview Casino Resort. Be warned: You and your friends might want to think about splitting up and comparing notes later, as there are more than 35 wineries represented here. Enjoy a cute little glass of something sweet and delicious alongside delectable dishes that pair well with the wines–and sometimes incorporate them. You’ll want to especially seek out the rack of Ontario lamb glazed with jammy Cabernet franc icewine.
The Great Outdoors – Jan. 9-11
Over in the tiny village of Jordan Station, they’re doing their own thing at the Twenty Valley Winter WineFest. This event, which is run independently from the gala, is a far more homespun affair. Huddle together with your buddies and wander around the streets, taking in the aroma of roasting chestnuts and the sparkle of ice sculptures. Get your body temp up by jamming out to the sounds of some live country music – and if that doesn’t work, be sure to sample all kinds of wines, alongside tasty fare from Ontario’s favourite food trucks.
Hit the Road – Jan. 9-11, 16-18, 23-25
Explore even more icewine and cuisine with a Niagara Icewine Festival Discovery Pass, where you can wander into various wineries along the designated Wine Route, nibbling and sipping as you go. (Don’t worry, designated drivers: There’s a cuisine-focused driver’s pass as well). When you go, be sure to check out Icewine Mixology at Megalomaniac, where you can schmooze with your fellow oenophiles and enjoy a fun take on traditional icewine. Sample the luscious sweetness of Coldhearted Riesling icewine’s mango and pineapple flavours in a cocktail while you snack on cheese and crusty bread.
Another Discovery Pass highlight is Peller Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Here, as you roast artisanal icewine marshmallows around an open fire, you’ll realize that the best way to experience the adventuresome spirit of Ontario’s sweet nectar is to bundle up, head outdoors, and share it with friends.