Ice, Ice(wine) Baby

I wouldn’t classify myself as a picky eater. I’ve only truly hated two types of food in my life: cilantro (it tasted like soap to me and I know I'm not alone) and salmon (thanks to getting sick after eating it). When I read an article about overcoming food aversions few years ago, I started to feel silly about turning my nose up at them. Apparently if you continue to try small amounts of whatever it is you don’t like, you develop a taste for it. I've been successful with this strategy so far. I love salmon again and I tolerate cilantro now. 

I wanted to lead with that because I always thought I hated icewine. Last year, S and I were gifted a weekend getaway in Niagara on the Lake during the Niagara Icewine Festival. Our stay included free tastings at a handful of wineries. We went to Château des Charmes first and had such a lacklustre experience with both the wine and the service that we lost interest in trying any of the other wineries. Later, we wandered through the downtown festival area for a bit but didn’t taste anything. We spent the rest of our trip having fun antiquing.

 I didn't take many pictures at the festival because, frankly, my hands were cold and my phone dies in the cold. I also try to keep foodie pics to a minimum in public because it always feels weird. 

I didn't take many pictures at the festival because, frankly, my hands were cold and my phone dies in the cold. I also try to keep foodie pics to a minimum in public because it always feels weird. 

This year, we went to the festival again with my parents and had a completely different experience. Instead of heading to a winery, we went downtown first. We got tasting glasses and tokens and wandered through the huts to see what the different wineries offered. 

Generally, you will see most ice wines made from Riesling, Vidal, or Cabernet Franc grapes with the latter two being the most popular in Ontario. The Vidal produces a rich, buttery yellow wine and the Cabernet Franc produces a beautiful, deep amber strawberry color. 

What makes icewine different? The grapes are left on the vine until temperatures dip to -8° Celcius or lower, which concentrates the sugars in the grape. The grapes are then harvested and pressed while frozen. It can be a tricky business, from harvesting at the right time to working in conjunction with unpredictable weather. The result? Smaller yields and sweet, fruity wines with hefty price tags. Since Ontario gets warm summers and cold winters, we are one of the few regions of the world the produces icewine.

 I think next year they should spruce the tents up a bit. They look kinda boring, no? My bar is high after researching Christmas markets in Europe. 

I think next year they should spruce the tents up a bit. They look kinda boring, no? My bar is high after researching Christmas markets in Europe. 

Our first taste was an Iniskillin Sparkling Vidal. Much to my surprise, it didn’t taste like the horrible cloying sweet icewines I remembered. This had more character and 100% more bubbles of fun. It was sweet, yes, but also tart--like a perfect fall apple mixed with ripe grapes. It felt celebratory. I wanted a full glass! Perhaps I like ice wine after all? 

We perused the food next, letting our noses guide us as deliciously warm and hearty scents wafted through the air. There were multiple kinds of pulled pork with long lines. Pass. Some macaroni and cheese that looked amazing. I can’t have dairy, so a reluctant pass. It was a lonely duck confit cassoulet from Peller that caught our attention. No one seemed to be manning the station. A pretty little yellow Le Creuset pot sat atop a portable single burner. Was it empty? 

We went to the end of the aisle and realized none of the other food sounded as good as the cassoulet. By the time we walked back, there was a woman behind the counter. We walked right up and got a small bowl. It was so good that after one bite each, we turned around and got a second bowl.

 Delicious, delicious cassoulet. It disappeared so fast I almost missed my photo op.

Delicious, delicious cassoulet. It disappeared so fast I almost missed my photo op.

I still have no idea why there wasn't a long line up for it, but I feel like we found an under appreciated gem. It was rich and hearty but not heavy. There were tons of beans and everything had a beautiful duck flavour without being too fatty or strong. It’s still the morning as I write this, and I would eat a whole bowl right now if I could. Probably some for lunch, too. Who am I kidding? And dinner. I love duck. 

We considered spending the rest of our tokens on cassoulet, but that’s not what we came for, so we tasted three more wines: a Vidal from Joseph (ok), a Vidal from Trius (yum!), and a Cabernet Franc from Peller (meh, too sweet for me). 

Afterward, we wandered around some of the stores that were open and then drove to Iniskillin. We sampled their Vidal, a Sparkling Cabernet Franc, a Sparkling Vidal, and an Oak-Aged Vidal. I genuinely liked them all, but holy moly did I love the Oak-Aged Vidal and both of the sparkling offerings. 

All in all, I was shocked. I really enjoyed the day and the wines. I’m not sure I’ll ever be the type of person who loves ice wine, but I can see having an after-dinner glass on a very special occasion, especially one of those sparkling beauties.

So I guess I do like icewine after all. The lesson? Try again. 


Want to have the full icewine experience, too?

The Niagara Icewine Festival runs each year for three weekends in January. 

Since the 2015 festival is over, there is always the option of going to the wineries and doing your own tasting or looking into a tour, like Grape Escape Wine Tours or Niagara Vintage Wine Tours.