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 😍)

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.

2017 Sandbanks Pinot Grigio vs Super Nibs

There’s a lot to be said for cold, easy-sipping, summer wine.

And then there’s also that wonderful flavour of cherry licorice that reminds me of road-trips that I used to take every summer from St. Catharines, ON, to Sauble Beach, ON. My grandmother always had nibs or licorice because it would shut my brother and I up for at least a minute.

Sauble Beach.

In a way, this pairing is not just of a wine and a junk food, but of my childhood summers and adult summers.

So let’s get into it.

2017 Sandbanks Pinot Grigio

First thing anyone notices is the beautiful amber colour on this Pinot. You ever see your grandma drinking Pinot Grigio and notice that it’s a really clear looking wine? Yeah. Not this one. This one has the perfect amount of colour from the skins to make sure that you don’t mistake it for a rose, but you notice this thing glimmering in the sun.

This is a dry wine, some decent acidity on it. For me, I feel like this is a truly old-world take on Pinot Grigio in that the acidity is high but managed, and it does have a bit of a heavier body feel to it. What I learned from a few botanically-inclined Italians back in Niagara is that sometimes Pinot Grigio might get harvested earlier in the season just to keep that acidity higher.

Now, when I think summer wine, I think citrus, tropical flavours, and that refreshing feeling in the back of your throat that makes you loudly exclaim, “AHHH!” at the end of a good sip (read: gulp). I get some pear, lemon, and grapefruit flavours out of this one. And as mentioned, that high acidity makes this wine come across as incredibly refreshing.

All I’m really driving at here is that sometimes a pinot grigio goes down like water; you hardly notice it and you drop that bottle like a bad habit right on top of your liver. But you notice this one.

The Pairing


I honestly straight up lack the descriptors for some of the things that happened here, but I’m going to do my best.

At first, the sweetness of these Super Nibs cut the acidity of the Pinot Grigio, mellowing out the wine. But then, as the flavours mingle, I got more of an anise flavour (think black licorice), but then the aftertaste was something just wholly new to me.

It was like the artificial cherry flavour and citrus came together to create a whole new candy flavour and I just couldn’t stop eating and drinking. I was addicted. This was new. Like hearing a cool song for the first time, I just threw that on repeat until I was just… drunk.

For me, this was one of our best pairings yet. It was honestly more of a shot in the dark that brought these two things together, but man, did it pay off.

Give it a shot and tell us what you think!