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  • Thursday, January 23, 2014

2014 Niagara Icewine Festival - My Review

2014 Niagara Icewine Festival Review
What an amazing two days! Last weekend, we enjoyed many Icewines and tasty culinary creations at 9 different wineries throughout Niagara-on-the-Lake and Twenty Valley. The full photo gallery is available at the bottom of this post.

Our group of 11 began at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery, where we were greeted by Chris, whom I first met back in Fall of 2012 at Niagara College Teaching Winery. While waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, we tasted a few wines in Sue-Ann's kitchen. Sue-Ann tends to make wines in a crowd-pleasing style, and her 2012 Rosé (87 pts) fits that bill nicely. It's a blend of 92% Loved by Lu Riesling and 8% Unoaked Cab Franc and is fresh and crisp with grapefruit, peach, and lime aromas, with nice replays on the palate; it's medium-bodied with a long, tart finish.

Chocolate bark topped with goodies at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
Once everyone arrived, we walked into Sue-Ann's formal dining room where we chose our chocolate bark and hand-picked our toppings, and then paired it with our choice of the 2007 Riesling Icewine or the 2011 Sparkling & SASSY Riesling (89 pts, reviewed here). On my chocolate bark, I opted for the nuts, dried citrus and dried berries and paired it with the sparkling wine. The pairing was fantastic - the right amount of sweetness from both the wine and the chocolate bark was in sync and perfectly complemented each other. There was also a smoked salt bark which I completely forgot about, but at least one person in our group tried it and said it was delicious! Ironically, this first stop ended up being my favourite stop of the weekend and is definitely a MUST stop if you're heading out on the final weekend of the Icewine Festival.

Canadian Beavertails and Chardonnay Icewine at Pillitteri Estates Winery
The second stop was in Niagara-on-the-Lake at Pillitteri Estates Winery, where they had brought in Canadian Beavertails topped with lemon, cinnamon and brown sugar and paired it with their delicious 2007 Chardonnay Icewine (89 pts, reviewed here). Once the again the pairing was quite well done, and if you've never had a Beavertail, this was a great opportunity to try it! Icewine made out of Chardonnay is also not very common, so it is not surprising to see the largest Estate Icewine producer in the world make it - and it was a treat to taste on this day. We then headed inside to warm up a bit and found my wife talking to Beth, who convinced us that maybe we should head further inside do some more tastings. I'm glad we went inside the private tasting room to taste three more Icewines made out of grapes you normally you don't see - 2008 Gewürztraminer Icewine (89 pts), 2008 Merlot Icewine (88 pts), and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine (89 pts, reviewed here) - it was quite the experience!

Inniskillin Riesling Icewine
Our 3rd stop of the day was Inniskillin Wines for some house made lobster chili paired with their 2012 Riesling Icewine. It all sounded good on paper, but this was probably my least favourite stop of the entire weekend. I suppose the lobster was in the chili broth - because I didn't get any chunks of lobster - but I didn't get much broth either. It was very dry and mostly beans, fennel seeds and celery. I'm not sure anyone in our group enjoyed it either. The Icewine was good, but needs time for the acidity to settle down.

The final stop on Saturday was The Ice House Winery for a savoury pairing of their Northern Ice Vidal Icewine paired with chicken tikka masala. Since we also did a tour of the facilities with co-owner Karen King, wife of winemaker Jamie MacFarlane, we savoured the chicken tikka masala with an Icewine Slushie. Both items were very good on their own, and the Icewine Slushie is something I'm looking forward to making at home. We also played winemaker for a bit by mixing some Vidal Icewine with some clean, dry and refreshing Chardonnay. The results were interesting - as adding even just a little bit of Icewine to the Chardonnay completely changed the flavours of the Chardonnay.

Icewine Slushie and Chicken Tikka Masala at the The Ice House WineryOur group tour at The Ice House Winery

Caramelized Onion Cream Soup + Riesling Icewine + Gesundheit! at Cattail Creek
On , after a brief stop at Chocolate F/X for a complimentary tour of the facility and a light breakfast that consisted of chocolate covered berries, cheesecake flavoured chocolates, and mint chocolate, we headed over to Cattail Creek Estate Winery for a scrumptious cup of caramelized onion cream soup that was paired with their newly release 2012 Small Lot Series Riesling Icewine (89+ pts). The beverage for designated driver's was called Gesundheit! and made out of Vidal grape juice. Both were delicious and paired very well with the soup. I also felt this was a great example of how the Icewine Festival can be a family event as my 5 and a half month old daughter really enjoyed the soup and Vidal grape juice. And because we now have the recipe, we'll be making this soup at home!

Mature Vidal Icewine at Caramel Heavenlies at Strewn Winery
From here, we moved on to Strewn Winery to taste a 14-year-old Vidal Icewine from 1999 (89 pts, reviewed here) that was paired with Caramel Heavenlies. This cookie/square was topped with sliced almonds, oats, coconut, caramel, and honey and perfectly complemented the caramel and honey notes from the Icewine. I recall uttering the words "heavenly" in my head during this pairing. On sale for $20 (200mL) at the winery, this Icewine offers really good value.

Our third stop of the day was a short drive away to Konzelmann Estate Winery for what was described as "PEI lobster, fresh cream, and white wine enhanced with a delicate touch of Herbs de Provence, finished with a backerhaus crostini and crème fraîche". In fact, it was a lobster bisque - and a delicious one at that! Rich, creamy, and savoury, it paired beautifully with their 2010 Vidal Icewine (91 pts, reviewed here). While there, I also tasted a few other wines, including their 2011 Estate Gewürztraminer (88 pts, reviewed here) which is readily available at the LCBO.

Konzelmann Vidal Icewine and Lobster BisqueToo sweet cupcake and Hernder Vidal Icewine

The fourth stop was most memorable for all the wrong reasons. We entered Hernder Estate Wines to find that we were the only guests in the entire place - which sometimes isn't a bad thing! But then, as I reached into the breast pocket of my coat to pull out my notebook, I was (perhaps jokingly?) questioned with a "What are you pulling out? What's inside your jacket?". I think the employee behind the counter was seriously afraid for his life. LOL. Combine that with their 2010 Vidal Icewine that was paired with a cupcake topped with teeth-chattering sweet icing, and the whole experience was just plain awkward.

Waffle topped with berry reduction + Vidal Icewine + Cab Franc Icewine at Magnotta Winery
And finally, the fifth and final stop of our indulgent, Icewine-filled weekend was at Magnotta Winery. Here, we were promised fluffy pancakes, but instead got fluffy waffles. No complaints from my end. The waffles were topped with a berry reduction and served with their 2008 Vidal Icewine (91 pts, reviewed here) and 2007 Cab Franc Icewine in sparkling wine flutes. It was all delicious and worked well together, which capped our weekend very satisfyingly. However, I would say their choice of wine glasses for these two Icewines did not do the wines justice.

Maybe it's me, but one observation that struck me during this visit to Niagara is that there seems to be a growing trend towards dry Rieslings in Niagara. Many of these wines never see the light of day at the LCBO. It was an enjoyable eye-opener for me and will be an interesting story to watch over the next couple of years.

All in all, we had a great time at this year's Icewine Festival. I hope you enjoyed my review. It runs one more weekend (January 25-26) and I hope this will help you plan your Discovery Pass Experience to Niagara. If you're interested in joining me on a future visit to the region, let me know and I'll be sure to keep you posted.

View the slideshow of photos from our tour:


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