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.

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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!

2016 Konzelmann Pinot Noir vs Reese Minis

Konzelmann and Reese
I grew up in Niagara and with that comes a certain familiarity with the wines in that region. Konzelmann Estate Winery has been a semi-frequent stop for me since my early twenties. They’ve consistently produced good wines at good prices with the odd surprise to keep things interesting (like their peach wine).

Also, I really like peanut butter and chocolate together. I don’t think anybody has ever disliked Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups — unless maybe they’ve got a peanut allergy. Then that just sucks, buds.

Anyway! Our pairing this week is a Niagara wine industry favourite. The first person I heard tell of this one was a fellow by the name of Jeremy Miron, who was working for Niagara Vintage Wine Tours at the time. He coined this “Peanut Noir.”
I tried this at home at his recommendation and it was a hit.

For Pinot Noir Day, we’ve revisited this divine combination:
2016 Konzelmann Pinot Noir and Reese Minis.

If you’d really rather just skip to the TL;DR, click here.

Reese Minis — Why?

So, here’s the thing: We could have gone ahead and bought the full sized cup, but those typically only come three to a pack and when you commit to drinking an entire bottle at a time like we do, you’re gonna need your pairing to last. So, grabbing a small bag of the minis made the most sense, ya dig?

Normally, there’d be a review of the junk food here, but uh… You seriously don’t know what a Reese Peanut Butter Cup tastes like? Seriously? Of course you do.

2016 Konzelmann Pinot Noir

Konzelmann’s pinot noir has always been a steady and consistent go-to for me whenever I feel a need for pinot noir in my life.
I’ve paired it with mapled salmon, with hot dogs (yes…), light red-sauced pastas, and weekdays.

It’s at a wonderful and accessible price point of $15, making it a perfectly acceptable every-day wine.

It’s light in colour, light in acidity, and very well rounded with notes of red berries and red licorice. Its tannins don’t really bite at the back of your mouth and, though it’s a dry wine, it won’t give you that cottonmouth feeling the way a lot of bigger, more robust reds might.

All that said, this wine won’t leave you astounded, and it doesn’t try to. It’s just a very versatile and enjoyable light red.

The Pairing

Take a Reese’s Mini. Put it in your mouth.
Take a sip of your pinot noir.
Swish and chew. Then bear witness to the unbelievable change in flavours.
First, that chocolate and peanut butter comes busting through hard, but as the wine begins to mingle with it, you’ll find that it just explodes with a sort of cherry and raspberry addition that mellows the peanut butter taste.

It just straight up becomes an alcoholic PB&J in your mouth without the bread.
It’s a god damned come-to-jesus moment as your relive every one of your days as a poor, indebted university student subsisting on ramen and PB&Js and wishing you didn’t blow all your OSAP cash in two nights out.

Those were rough times.
But now there’s wine in your glass and you’re not stressed about it.
Now there’s candy in front of you, and it actually isn’t being eaten as “dinner.”
Now, you’ve successfully blended your adult life with your stugglin’ 19th year on this planet.

That’s what this pairing does for you. It’s a taste of the past mingled with your current success.
I’ll toast to that every single time.

THE TL;DR

The 2016 Konzelmann Pinot Noir is a perfect every day, affordable wine, that won’t bring with it the same kind of tannin bite as the bigger reds and its acidity is balanced well. Makes for a very versatile wine as far as pairings are concerned.

Reese’s Minis are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but there’s more. And you know what these things taste like.

Together, it’s kinda like having a peanut butter and jam sandwich without the bread and it’ll get you drunk.

If you try this one, let us know what you think on Twitter, Instagram (to your right), or even in the comments here!