Let’s face it, Canada can get pretty cold in the winter. As tempting as it may be to escape to warmer climes, you can enjoy and embrace the Canadian winter by finding a fun event and wrapping up warm!
When it comes to us, anyone who knows us well will know that are not huge fans of wine. However, they will also know that we do have a sweet tooth, so when Expedia.ca got in touch and asked us to sample local icewine from the Niagara Region, we thought ‘why not?’
To get us up to speed, here’s a quick lesson on this sweet drink. Icewine is made from grapes which have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. They are typically left until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached. This allows the grapes to dehydrate, concentrating the juices and creating the characteristic flavours and sweetness of icewine. Ontario is recognized as producing some of the finest icewine, as with its hot summers and cold winters, it has the ideal climate for icewine production.
Touring the wine route with the Niagara Icewine Festival Discovery Pass
The best way to sample icewine is through the Niagara Icewine Festival and to pick up a Discovery Pass ($40 each). The Pass includes eight tickets which can be used to enjoy award-winning wine and food pairings at any one of the participating wineries over the three weekends of the Niagara Icewine Festival. There were over 30 wineries to choose from, and you’ll notice a definite theme to the ones we picked!
Armed with our Discovery Passes and our Zipcar ‘Spinach’, we headed to Niagara’s wine country. It took us just 75 minutes from Toronto to reach our first stop, Stoney Ridge Estate Winery. Our Discovery Pass entitled us to sample three cheeses – an aged cheddar, a Blue d’Elizabeth and a somewhat strange chocolate fudge cheddar. The cheeses were paired with a 2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine, or a delicious non-alcoholic raspberry drink for those of us getting behind the wheel.
Next stop was Rockway Vineyards, with its very friendly staff. Our favourite wine was the one sampled here – a beautifully smooth and sweet 2013 Cabernet Franc Icewine. Most importantly, for the theme that will soon emerge more clearly, this was paired with a cranberry and chocolate tart.
Leaving Rockway Vineyards behind, our trip immediately become entirely worth it, no matter what else happened. There we were, driving through St Catharine’s, when we spotted a man taking his pet squirrel for a walk!
Invigorated on this cold day by the man with his squirrel, we swung by Diamond Estates Winery. Not the most scenic of locations compared to Rockway Vineyards, we entered their marquee where we encountered two frozen members of staff. Fortunately, they were still able to serve us up their Lakeview Cellars 2013 Gewurztraminer Icewine, as well as their delicious roasted red pepper and mascarpone tart, topped with pancetta and caramelised onions (OK, this place bucks the chocolate/dessert trend!).
Back on trend, the next winery, the Riverview Cellars Estate Winery, offered a chocolate fountain, in which we could dip strawberries, bananas and cinnamon-cranberry biscotti. Naturally, the wine takes a bit of a backseat when there’s a chocolate fountain in the room, but for those who are interested, the wine here was a Cabernet Franc Icewine.
Dragging ourselves away from the chocolate fountain, we stopped at the grand Peller Estates Winery. We weren’t the only ones stopping here, and the reason why was clear. Once again, the Cabernet Franc Icewine became a bystander to the main draw, of roasting fist-sized icewine marshmallows on an open pit fire. It was all extremely exciting, until you got about halfway through your marshmallow, and realised that you were starting to feel a bit sick.
But push on we must, and our final stop was the Pillitteri Estates Winery. Here they offer something a little bit different from the other wineries – a choice! The options presented to us were a Kerner Icewine paired with a Niagara apple fritter drizzled in an icewine caramel sauce and topped with chopped walnuts, or a selection of three rare icewines. Given what had gone before, you won’t be surprised that we went with the apple fritter option!
You can watch our experience at the Icewine Festival – including those giant marshmallows – here, or below.
The majority of the wineries are open year round and offer tasting experiences, so you don’t necessarily have to visit during the Icewine Festival. However, the festival does provide a cost effective way of getting around to many different wineries and trying a variety of wines (and some yummy food too!), whilst also bringing the community together.
If, like us, you have a driver in your party, then non-alcoholic drinks are available, or alternatively pick up an Icewine Festival Driver’s Discovery Pass for $30 ($10 less than the full Discovery Pass).
Check out our map below to see all the winery locations for the 2016 Niagara Icewine Festival. Those in green are the ones we paid a visit to!
Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Icewine Village
Closed to traffic, Queen Street, in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake, entertains over 25 local wineries, who set up their stalls around the landmark Cenotaph and clock tower. Pick up an Insider’s Pass for $32, and sample three icewines in your souvenir icewine glass and four culinary treats from local chefs.
Already in possession of a Discovery Pass, we gave the Insider’s Pass a miss, but still took the time to wander through the Icewine Village. We enjoyed watching a young local band, before heading to one of our favourite places in Niagara-on-the-Lake – the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory! Known for their awesome toffee apples, we spotted that the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory had got in on the festivities too, with its own icewine bomb apple.
By now, having spent our day stepping in and out of several wineries, as well as wandering around Niagara-on-the-Lake, our toes were getting frosty. So we stepped into the regal Prince of Wales Hotel and its Churchill Lounge to warm up. All very British sounding so far, so it was only appropriate to indulge in some fish & chips whilst we sat by the fireplace. They were good, but not a match for a local chippy back in England!
Icewine isn’t the only reason to visit these parts, because of course, this is where you will find the world famous Niagara Falls. We paid the wintry falls a visit back in February 2015, on a day when the temperature dropped far below 0°C. This might seem crazy, but you’d be surprised by how many other people were also there on that freezing day!
You could easily make a visit to the Niagara Falls a day trip in itself, but they also make a good excursion if you are touring wine country.
Don’t expect to see the Falls frozen, as given the sheer volume of water and the Niagara River’s flow being controlled for hydroelectric power generation, this is unlikely to happen. However, do expect to see some spectacular ice formations created by the mist and spray, whether it is on the rocks around the Falls or on lampposts!
It was so cold that when we went that the Niagara River had frozen over too, creating an ‘ice bridge’ between Canada and the USA. Sadly, there’s no walking allowed between the two countries though!
If you’ve seen the Falls in the warmer months, then a winter trip is worth it, just so you can make that comparison between the seasons. The only downside of visiting in winter is that not all the attractions might be open, depending on if the weather gives them a chance!
Take a look at the Falls here, or below.
So there we have it, the Canadian winter isn’t all that bad!
Why not give it a go, and enjoy a great winter day out, sample some local food and wine, support local businesses, and take in the sights, right on your doorstep.
Stewart and Emma