An Icy Affair
Icewine Festival has to be one of my favourite celebrations in wine country and growing up as a winemaker’s daughter, I have attended my fair share of wine events. Maybe it’s because it brings back fond memories of hand picking Icewine grapes in the middle of the night at -8 degrees C…oh wait no…that is definitely not it. But it could be because it is an annual celebration of one of Niagara’s most unique products, a wine made in only three countries around the world and undoubtedly made best here in Canada.
The unusual growing conditions combining a warm summer with cold winters is what allows Canadian winemakers to reap the benefits of this special winter harvest. The icy grapes are picked and then pressed while frozen so that only the naturally concentrated sweet juice is fermented into a dessert wine with intense flavours and aromas. Each year in wine country we celebrate our good fortune with a month of incredible events and wines.
The kick-off to this annual festival is always the Icewine Gala held at the Fallsview Casino and one of the most luxurious and chic events of the year. Conjured images of the icy gala came true this past weekend and this year’s theme of ‘The Ice Queens Ball’ did not disappoint. My favourite part of the evening each year is walking through the spectacular entrance to the grand hall as the anticipation is finally over to see this year’s icy affair.
Now for those of you who know me, you will know that I think all evenings should start with a glass of bubbly, so first stop was at Flat Rock Cellar’s table for a glass of their 2008 Riddled Sparkling. The wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a bright acidity to whet the appetite. The pancetta-wrapped tiger shrimp presented by Ponte Vecchio also catches my eye and I know it will be perfect to pair with my bubbly. The salty crisp Italian bacon married flawlessly with the sweet shrimp and I loved how the lemon and lime notes in the wine lifted all the flavours.
Not yet ready for my Icewine, I decide to move on to a white and delve into a glass of Greenlane 2011 Old Vines Riesling, a decision prompted by the memory of their Riesling winning ‘Best White’ at Cuvee wine awards in 2012. It did not disappoint. I try pairing it with sushi and pork belly by Lotus Restaurant and it was a winning combination. The crisp citrus notes in the wine highlight the fresh sushi and contrast perfectly with the rich and most definitely sinful pork belly.
Next stop 21 Club. Chefs here are preparing braised Bison short rib with Shitake mushroom and sun choke crisps. I know this needs a big bold but softer red so we wander over to see Sarah and Mike Pillitteri at the Riverview table and decide on the 2011 Salvatore’s Reserve Malbec, a new variety for the winery. The two are a match, both with full-bodied flavours yet round soft notes, the wine enhancing the caramelization from braising the Bison. A little later we return to see them and join in a toast to a great evening with a Vice (A premixed Vodka Icewine Martini) Raspberry Shooter compliments of Vineland Estate Winery.
Finally I am ready to turn my attention to Icewine, the star of the evening, and the Pillitteri 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Exclamation Icewine invites me over. I love the lean lemony notes of this unique Icewine varietal and it is a great way to transition into the dessert phase of the evening and Chef Pradeep Dharmawardane has awed us again with his incredible sweets table.
The choices are almost endless, mini lemon meringue tarts that both John’s in my party exclaim are the best they have ever tasted, melt in your mouth chocolate truffles, chocolate covered strawberries and bright lollipops and cake pops just to name a few. But in the end it is the sweet and complex Icewines that recapture my attention and I treat myself to a classic Vidal from Inniskillin and Creekside’s Shiraz Icewine.
The month long affair with Icewine has begun as we celebrate the luxurious and alluring wine that captured the imagination of Ontario winemakers over 25 years ago and in the end I say goodnight with Peller’s Ice Cuvee, a sparkling wine with a dosage of Icewine, of course.
If you haven’t attended the gala before, mark it in your calendars for next year, it is a must do event, and in the meantime there is still time to celebrate Icewine as the festivities continue until the end of the month.