Days of Fire and Ice... and Marshmallows

You know that when winter starts setting in, after the excitement of the Christmas season, it can only mean one thing: time for the Niagara Icewine Festival! For those who don't know, icewine is made from grapes which are left on the vines to freeze. There are rigorous criteria for making icewine, and it's generally this time of year that the finally temperatures drop enough. In fact, the harvest just started this week. While I'm so not interested in actually harvesting the grapes, I do love the end results. So I was quite happy to join my brother this past Sunday at the festival, which takes place in Niagara-on-the Lake.

The main street is shut down, and local wineries and other businesses set up booths with food and drink samples, along with ice sculptures. Unfortunately, high winds resulted in the cancellation of the outdoor festivities on Sunday. After seeing large chunks of ice that had toppled down, I couldn't blame them. It was disappointing, but the stores were still open, and there were a lot of special events at the wineries. 
Remnants of the Ice Lounge
First, we stopped in at Cheese Secrets, a store I had heard about a while ago but hadn't had the chance to visit yet. They sell a fantastic range of cheeses, including local and regional options, and associated items like cheese boards. They also have bulk olive oil and balsamic vinegar! We didn't get to taste any of the cheeses, but only because they fed us some of the chili they make every year for the festival! I'm going to have to visit again, and hopefully try the different olive oils they have. And the vinegar. And the cheese...

Our next stop was Wine Country Vintners, a tasting spot that features a few local wineries, to taste some great icewines. If you've never had it, icewine is very sweet - and I'm not one for sweet wines. But the great icewines are nicely balanced - the sweetness is definitely there, but it's not cloying. Icewine, however, is one of those thing where you get what you pay for. That's why tasting are so much fun - you can try a $95 icewine without actually paying $95 - and keep in mind, that price is for a half bottle!

White icewine flight
First up was a flight of three white icewines - and I really should have written down what they were, because I cannot remember. I think they were all Vidals, and I do know that one was oak-aged. I normally like Riesling better than Vidal, but the oak-aged Vidal was quite nice :)

Next - the very best thing on the face of the earth.

Cabernet Franc icewine
Cabernet Franc icewine is seriously the best tasting thing I have ever had. I LOVE this wine. LOVE it. If it was a person, I would marry it, or at least stalk it. If I won the lottery, I would buy enough to have a glass every night. If I knew I was going to die... okay, enough already. But seriously, this stuff is GOOD. Again, I should have recorded what each was, but I do know one was from Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery.

And this is where I eat some crow to go along with my wine. I have never had wines from Wayne Gretzky Estates, because I figured the name was the selling point, not the quality of the wine. But their cab franc icewine was the best of the bunch - I'm going to have to try some of their other wines now!

After that, we wandered around, stopping in at Greaves, of course (I had to buy my favourite, black currant jelly. Not jam, jelly. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find black currant jelly? Greaves is the only company I know that makes it - and they are local. Win-win!).

George Bernard Shaw - dressed up for the Christmas season!
Not your standard Starbucks!
 After braving the cold, we had to stop in at Balzac's for a coffee - again, it's one of those places I've been wanting to visit for a while!

Look at all the coffee goodness...
Do you think Rob Ford has his own coffee blend? Yeah, me neither.
I had enough coffee at home, so I didn't buy anything (other than a latte to warm up with!). But I will be back...

We then decided to go to some of the wineries. There are so many of them, I couldn't even begin to name them, and more are starting up all the time. But we settled on three - Peller, Pondview and Colaneri.

Peller was fun - they had a special food menu for the weekend, and in keeping with the spirit of the festival, everything was outside.

Did I mention it was really cold? And really, really, really windy?? Fortunately, they had a bunch of these scattered about:
And some of these:
So you could do this:

To get this:

So you could then try to eat it. In the wind. Without getting any in your hair :)

Oh well - marshmallow washes out easily, and it was the first time I ever roasted marshmallows in the winter! I think that needs to become a new Christmas tradition...

After tasting some great Peller wines, we went to Pondview, where I saw the whole reason for the entire event:

It's hard to see (I didn't want to walk across the vineyard to get a better picture), but yes, those are grapes still on the vine. We tasted a few nice wines, including an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, and then were treated to their special pairings for the festival: a slice of cucumber topped with cheese and hot pepper icewine jelly, and bread topped with blue cheese, both paired with their Vidal icewine, followed by a chocolate cup filled with their Cabernet France icewine. Which tasted exactly like a chocolate covered cherry. A very good, very expensive chocolate covered cherry :)

Our last stop was at Colaneri, a winery I had never visited before. My brother wanted me to taste their equivalent to icewine: Recioto. Recioto wine is made from dried grapes, and results in an intensely flavoured, sweet dessert wine. We tasted all four of their Profondo line: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. My favourite of the four was the Gewurztraminer, and again, I'm going to have to stop back in one day, both to buy some recioto and to taste some other wines!

Gewurztraminer recioto
After all that, we decided to call it a day. Looking back at this post, it seems like we drank a lot of wine, but keep in mind: each tasting is a small amount of wine, and my brother, the designated driver, was spitting, like a good taster does!

This is definitely an event that any local wine lover should go to, and I'm looking forward to next year - hopefully, the weather will be more cooperative, and I'll get to experience the entire event!

Full disclosure: My brother worked for a local winery in the past, and still works in the industry. All tastings were complimentary, but this did not influence any of my reviews.

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