I really hope that this Icewine Festival blog becomes a tradition. We gathered at Spring Manor on an atypical winter Friday (thank you mother nature!) to start our Discovery Pass tour. For $40 you get to choose 8 wineries for a sample pairing of icewine and in some cases, amazing food.
Of course we couldn’t start the day without some cocktails first! A huge thanks goes out to Meghan and Lindsay for the bubbly!
A sabre service and some great sparkling cocktails sent us on our way to the first stop, Chateau des Charmes. We decided to start here because they sold the discovery pass that we needed, (also available online) but also because they were serving Pork Belly Tacos with their 2014 Vidal Icewine. We chose right. Greeted at the front door by two attentive staff members, we quickly made our way to buy the passes because the aroma of braised pork belly was too deep to ignore. Great flour tortillas, a 5 Spice Flavour on the pork that matched the wine perfectly, a crisp apple, and onion slaw that provided a hint of bitterness and acidity that balanced the sweetness and tropical fruit aroma from the wine and fattiness from the pork perfectly. This was definitely one of our favorites. We were also lucky enough to belly up to the tasting bar and sample the 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine. It turned out to be the best icewine of the day. Another highlight of the day was the steal of the festival this year, their 2008 Late Harvest Riesling at a crazy $13.95!
Our next stop was Colaneri, a short drive away from Chateau des Charmes. Known for their appostamento reds, we weren’t surprised that this pairing left a bit to be desired. The second of the two pairings offered was a nice example of a sweet cannoli with their Riesling Icewine, and was a welcome relief after their offering of recioto style Chardonnay Icewine and Canned Pineapple. The real reason we went to Colaneri was to sample the reds, and I feel bad for having to be honest about the discovery pass sample. I’d like to say that they completely made up for it with the tasting we experienced with John, their wonderfully knowledgeable and courteous staff member. Our favorites were the 2012 Syrah at 70% appostamento and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon at 100% appostamento. Thanks so much John, our guests loved their tasting too!
Feeling good, we made our way down the road to Ravine Winery, and we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in a perfect atmosphere for tasting wine. A table that accommodated our group, a pleasantly decorated room, a hardcopy list of their current wines available, and a top notch tasting associate who really knew his way around their product. Morgan actually went to Niagara College with my sister Katie for the viticulture program, so we had some instant report. From white, to red, to icewine, this winery does things right. After our tasting experience, we were showed down an unassuming staircase which led into an expansive cellar that housed a harvest table, a mesmerizing room for hanging cured meats, and another tasting bar where they presented Chef Ross Midgley’s Spicy Chicken Meatball with Mole and Rosco’s Corn Bread paired with their 2013 Vidal Icewine. Reminiscent of his days at Zee’s, Chef Midgley’s pairing was totally whimsy and completely successful. Bitter Chocolate, mild and smoky Chili’s, Juicy Chicken and a purposefully sweet Corn Bread made for an explosion of flavours when paired with their Icewine. The whole experience of this visit was fantastic.
Our next stop was Trius/Hillebrand and we were greeted by the nostalgic aroma of campfires. They had some comfy seats arranged around a couple of open wood fires to cozy up to if you wanted to brave the cold. The discovery tasting was in a small building across from their boutique which was very busy and filled with interesting items to purchase, including one of a kind crystal decanters and glassware. The room chosen for the tasting was very comfortable, offering large communal tables that allowed you to sit with other guests, encouraging conversations about the wine and food pairing. Chef Dodd prepared a Pressed Back Bacon sandwich on Panini with an Icewine Onion Marmalade (a staple in Chef Dodd’s repertoire) paired with their Vidal Icewine. Overall, the pairing was lackluster. The bun was dry, the bacon dry, and the onion marmalade seemed an afterthought. The Icewine served only as a lubricant in order to swallow the food, and was pitifully short on the pour. Overall, our least favorite experience.
Hoping for more, we travelled to Peller Estates with Icewine Marshmallows on our minds. This is a beautiful winery and we were not disappointed to find it still beautiful even in the midst of winter. Again, the aroma of campfires made us happy as we make our way through the winery to the discovery tasting area on the back patio. This pairing is so popular that I’m sure they’d have a riot on their hands if they chose something else. The stick, the fire, the marshmallow and the wine were all very much appreciated by our group. How can you NOT have fun toasting marshmallows!! When we were reviewing our day, we realized that we somehow missed their ice bar, so we went back. The bar is not part of the festival discovery pass, requires a reservation and costs $20 per person ($5 for wine club members) to enter and sample the wines. This might be worth it to see how they cobble together 30 000lbs of ice into a bar!
Our last stop of the day was at Inniskillin to try Chicken and Waffles paired with their Riesling Icewine. The winery itself has a beautiful tasting bar and we were received by some very helpful and courteous staff. The perfume of fried chicken and waffles made our tummies rumble!! The chicken was juicy and crispy with an appetizing coating, the flavour of the waffle was great but it was a bit soggy from being in a steam tray, and the idea of icewine butter worked perfectly, however; the addition of a Frank’s Red Hot and Icewine sauce failed. Granted, the sauce was offered on the side, but for reasons unknown to me, the staff at the bar had not tried the bite and were completely surprised when I told them the sauce actually ruined the pairing. It was way too acidic and hot for the delicate flavours of the Icewine and was unnecessary. Hopefully the staff took my advice, tried the pairing for themselves and were more informed. Overall, this experience was great and even though the sauce was unnecessary, the other components were very well done.
A little tipsy, a little hungry, and definitely looking forward to a sugar hangover, we made our way back to Spring Manor to enjoy some more cocktails and good friends. As we sat around the table chatting about the day, we all had smiles on our faces and new, amazing memories in our heads. The Icewine festival is totally unique and it’s a huge part of what makes the Niagara wine growing region so amazing. These wineries and their staff work so hard to produce this ambrosia, it’s literally a labour of love. How else could it taste so good? A sincere thank you to everyone who made an effort to get out of the house to support the wineries and their herculean efforts to present us with the gift of Icewine, and to the wineries, wine makers, and staff that so obviously love their jobs. See you next year!