Niagara Icewine Festival (Part 1)

Once a year, if you head down to the Niagara region in Ontario, Canada, you have the chance to sample some of the most renowned icewines this planet has to offer. People travel from all over the world to try the sweet and succulent flavors that the Great White North has to offer.

The festival takes place every weekend in January and most wineries in the region take part with a pairing of icewine and a small plate. To partake, you can purchase a pass (or passport, as they call it) which allows you to go to 8 wineries. This costs $45 CAD.

Okay, logistics aside! Onto the trip!

He looks so thrilled

We split the trip up into 2 days. We went to 6 wineries the first day and 4 on the second (we somehow ended up with an extra stop ­čśŹ)

We chose our stops based off of wineries we haven’t been to before, and on the pairings offered. Usually every place has something special to offer so it is super tough to choose. But we managed.

Our first stop was the Niagara College Teaching Winery. We like to stop off here every once in a while because we always leave impressed with what they have to offer. This time was no different. I have to give props to the students here. Their products are always fun and unique and super affordable.

They were serving up the 2014 Dean’s List Prodigy and the Sparkling Balance Brut. These were paired with a savory mushroom and goat cheese tart and a raspberry cheesecake. These pairings were perfectly balanced. This icewine is a blend, and relatively light on the sugar content. An airier ice wine, the Prodigy brings all the flavors of pears and honey without tasting syrupy.

The 2013 Balance Brut is delightful. Heavy on the apricot and apple on the nose and follows up with floral notes and a mineral finish. At about $25 a bottle, it’s a lovely bottle of bubbly.

Next stop on the list was Wayne Gretzky’s Estate Winery. After reflecting on our trip, Thomas told me this was one of his favorites from the festival. If you haven’t been to the new facility, do check it out. It’s an incredible place that really combines a tourist destination with cozy Canadian decor. Even though it’s a busy place, the chic cabin decor and modern dining areas give you plenty of different spaces to explore and hang out in. The best part in our opinion, though, is the ice rink. Step out and pretend you’re the Great One himself and test your skating skills!

Now Gretzky served up a whisky cheesecake bar with dark chocolate paired with their 2017 Cabernet Franc Icewine. Now this pairing was great. It’s pretty tried and true that cheesecake and icewine go together well. The fact being that cheesecake is not the sweetest of desserts but balances out a very sweet icewine.

Even though Gretzky’s is typically large and busy, and we prefer the charm of the smaller wineries, we often suggest that people visit at least once. The employees at Gretzky’s are amazingly friendly and knowledgable and will help even the most inexperienced of wine and whiskey drinkers feel comfortable doing tastings.

And for someone who was born in the city of Edmonton, you can probably guess why I have a soft spot for this place.

Grape and Wine (2018) PART ONE: Angel’s Gate

Have you ever had a hangover last two days and think, “Yeah. I earned that one”?

Yeah. Yeah, you probably have.

But have you ever woken up the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, feeling like you completely avoided the jet-lag on your return flight from Drunk Town?

Yeah. Yeah, you probably have. And doesn’t it feel fantastic? Luckily, this is what happened to us — all of us. We brought a small crew with us to Grape and Wine this year and, somehow, all of us managed to awake the next morning unscathed, and ready to taste more wines the following day.

With that, let’s get into the winery visits, the discoveries, and the wonderful shenanigans that is the Grape and Wine Festival (or Niagara Winefest)!

STOP ONE: ANGEL’S GATE

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As we got into Niagara, the first stop was Angel’s Gate. I’ve been here a few times: a few times for recreation, and once for a meeting of i4C volunteers (and let’s face it, that was recreation, too). So I knew their back patio area was and is amazing, and I knew there was some wicked wood-oven pizza to be had.

But first: Wine.

We started with two whites. The first being the 2011 Mountainview Oaked Chardonnay. It had more characteristics of an Old World oaked chardonnay, with a long finish, medium-bodied mouth-feel, and a definite mineral-like quality. The kind staffer administering our tasting was talking about how the winemaker was comparing it to a Chablis-style chardonnay, and it definitely showed why.

Yes, we bought a bottle. Yes, we’ll have a junk food pairing for this beauty soon enough!

Next, we tasted the 2016 S├╝ssreserve Riesling. For as sweet as it is, it’s balanced perfectly with the right acidity. I’m honestly not partial to sweet wines, and I find that when I taste riesling wines, I’m looking for a good balance of sweetness and acidity (or just a dry riesling) so that I don’t feel overwhelmed.
It’s like this S├╝ssreserve was made to order.
So yes, we bought a bottle.

Then, remembering their 2012 Mountainview BIN XCV and how lucky I was to indulge in a bottle of that, all of my attention was focused on the 2015 Mountainview Cabernet Franc.

The Cab Franc was rich, bold, heavy, and just the way I like my reds. Notes of forest floor (yes, I’ve licked the forest floor), and massive flavours of currants, plum, and all the smokey goodness that the appassimento style brings to this wine combines to make another really good addition to the Mountainview series.

We did not buy this one. BUT HANG ON. I know, I know, I know.
“But Thomas, you just described a winegasm and you DID NOT buy this?!”
You’re right. Haaaaaang on.
We will be returning soon. And this wine can be cellared. And though it’s priced well at $30, we had to buy their 2016 Pinot Noir, as it is one of our absolute favourites.

We left with three bottles. But we’ll be coming back for more. No wine left behind… at least not for long.

On to the patio.

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Our group treated ourselves to a few of their wood-oven pizzas and glasses of pinot noir out on their patio for a bit. We were lucky to have the perfect fall weather for it and could see clear across the lake to Toronto.

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Another big bonus of being out on the patio is that our lunch was pleasantly interrupted by the sounds of harvest season. Music to our ears as the crusher destemmer started up and began to rumble, but couldn’t get close enough to ask anyone which kinds of grapes were being crushed.

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For those that don’t know, a crusher destemmer is just what it sounds like: It shakes a lot and crushes grapes while also sifting out stems.

All in all, it was a wonderful, very successful visit to Angel’s Gate.
We’re excited to return soon, and watch out for our pairing with the 2011 Mountainview Oaked Chardonnay!

Special thanks to Nicole Thorsley for taking the wonderful photos!