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  • Thursday, January 29, 2015

Niagara Icewine Festival Review 2015

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Fielding Riesling Icewine
On the weekend of -18, I visited Niagara as part of the 20th Annual Icewine Festival and a new initiative called Niagara Chilled. This new initiative combined all the events - Gala, Icewine Village in Niagara-on-the-Lake, special events at wineries and restaurants, Discovery Pass, and an indoor/outdoor food, wine and live entertainment extravaganza in Niagara Falls - to celebrate our liquid gold called Icewine. Niagara Chilled ran for 3 weekends, from January 9th to 25th.

After the chaotic drive into Niagara , I was hoping for a much better drive out this time - wishes that came true as it was smooth sailing to our first stop with virtually no traffic along the way.

View of Lake Ontario from the Wine Lodge at Fielding Estate Winery.
We began at 11 a.m. with a tour of the facilities at Fielding Estate Winery, followed by a butternut squash soup paired with our choice of their 2012 Riesling Icewine (90 pts, 200 mL @ $32.95) or 2012 Gewürztraminer (87 pts, $15.75.)

Fielding is nestled high atop Niagara's Beamsville Bench. The Wine Lodge houses their tasting room, fermentation tanks and barrel cellar, among other things. It was built in 2005 and provides a nice view of Lake Ontario (and Toronto on a clear day.) Our host, Vanessa, spoke about Fielding's two vineyards - Fielding Vineyard and Tufford Road Vineyard - as we moved into the room housing the steel tanks. Due to the custom design of the Wine Lodge, they were able to fit tanks that were double the normal height, and squeeze them onto a very small footprint. They use a bladder press to extract juice out of the grapes as it is one of the more gentler methods to reduce the amount of crushed seeds. In the barrel cellar, we found the use of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels, of varying toast levels to impart flavours and complexity to some of their wines. It was an interesting tour led by Vanessa, made all the more engaging as she showed exceptional knowledge and passion for wine, and happily answered our questions.

View of the Wine Lodge

Crush Pad and Bladder Press at Fielding Estate WinerySteel Fermentation Tanks at Fielding Estate Winery

At the conclusion of the tour, we headed back upstairs to the tasting room for a thick, roasted butternut squash soup that had hints of ginger and maple, and topped with crème fraîche and pumpkin seeds. I opted to pair it with their Icewine and it turned out wonderfully. There was a hint of sweetness from the soup, while the balanced acids in the wine cut into the soup's thick texture. Overall, this was a balanced pairing and quite enjoyable.

Barrel Cellar at Fielding Estate WineryBarrel Cellar at Fielding Estate Winery

Vieni Vidal Icewine and Cake
The second stop of the day was a short drive over to Vieni Estates for a cake by Fabulous Cakes & Confections and prepared with toasted walnut butter cream, layered between vanilla and Vieni's Vidal Icewine, and topped with an apricot honey marmalade. This was paired with their 2011 Vieni Vidal Icewine (91 pts, 375 mL @ $39.95.) The cake was fairly light, and delicate with lightly sweet flavours that helped balance the very sweet Icewine. Meanwhile, the nickel-sized apricot honey marmalade on top of the cake enhanced the apricot and honey flavours from the Icewine. In all, it was a delicious pairing that worked very well together.

Chicken Mole Enchiladas and Jackson-Triggs Cabernet Franc Icewine
From here, we headed into Niagara-on-the-Lake to visit Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery. We arrived just after a bus had already arrived, so there was a very long lineup that stretched right to the front door - and further started to curl back inwards after we got into line. We debated leaving and coming back later, but decided to wait it out. The line started to move quickly about 10 minutes later (probably because a fresh new tray of food had just been made), and no sooner did we have chicken mole enchiladas and their 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine (90 pts, 375 mL @ $59.99) in our hands. By now, most of the folks from the bus had moved into the tasting room, so we had no trouble finding a place to sit and enjoy our food & wine pairing. The enchilada was marinated in a mole sauce that was savoury and flavourful, with a little bit of a spice kick to it - very tasty. I shall have to follow up with the folks at Jackson-Triggs to get the recipe. It paired well with the very sweet Cab Franc Icewine, as the sweetness was subdued and balanced by the savoury and spice flavours from the enchilada.

Crème Brûlée and Hinterbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine pairing
Our final stop of the day was at Hinterbrook Estate Winery for an Icewine-infused Crème Brûlée that was paired with their 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine (89 pts, 200 mL @ $29.95.) This place was also quite busy and seemed to have trouble keeping up as they were pouring their yummy Icewine into plastic medicine cups. Fortunately, freshly cleaned (but much too warm) glasses quickly arrived upon request. Overall, the pairing was quite nice - the soft, maple oat crusted egg-free crème brulee with a berry compote at the bottom matched the flavours and sweetness of the Icewine, making for a very enjoyable pairing.

On , we began the day with a visit to the Outlet Collection at Niagara for some shopping. This was my first time there, and I found quite a few good deals to be had - if you could find your size. However, the most memorable store was the Pepper Palace - a fine store selling all kinds of hot sauces, BBQ sauces, seasonings, rubs and more. I came away with quite a few items and expect they will be featured in future wine review posts.

Grilled panini at Kacaba

Kacaba Gewürztraminer Icewine
After a quick stop for lunch, we headed to Kacaba Vineyards Winery in Twenty Valley for a grilled panini paired with Icewine. The grilled panini was stuffed with a rich and creamy brie, arugula, ripe red apple and pear, and topped with a drizzle of honey and Icewine. The panini was nicely portioned and quite nice and (mostly) savoury. The drizzle of sweetness was greatly enhanced and matched the flavours of their 2012 Gewürztraminer Icewine (91 pts, 375 mL @ $39.95.) Overall, this was a nice, rich and satisfying pairing.

Shortbread cookies and Tawse Riesling Icewine
From here, it was short distance to Tawse Winery for a duo of shortbread cookies paired with their 2013 Riesling Icewine (89 pts, 200 mL @ $34.95.) This was a very interesting tasting that I hope many had a chance to try. Although both shortbread cookies were small, they packed a lot of flavour and changed the wine's tune greatly. First up was a savoury rosemary/blue cheese shortbread that brought out some interesting ginger and grapefruit notes from the Icewine. Meanwhile, the sweet shortbread consisting of vanilla, candied lemon and crème fraîche, pulled pure lemon flavours from Icewine. Both worked well and provided a unique tasting experience!

Thai Peanut Chicken Taco paired with Mike Weir Vidal Icewine
It was another short distance to Mike Weir Winery for some enticing nachos and Icewine. I had been wanting to visit this winery for quite a few years, and finally, in June 2014 they opened their Retail & Hospitality Center in Beamsville, next door to Fielding Estate Winery. The food & wine pairing here was a generously sized Thai Peanut Chicken Nacho topped with cilantro, and paired with their 2012 Vidal Icewine (88 pts, 200 mL @ $29.95.) The nacho had good flavours with a subtle chili kick for spiciness that balanced out the very sweet Vidal Icewine. Once again, a lot of balance between the complementary flavours from this food and wine, with no one flavour dominating the palate.

Ice cream with Legends Love Potion Sparkling Rose
The last stop of the day was an unplanned visit to the conveniently-located-off-the-QEW Legends Estates Winery. After a long day, what can be better than ice cream... and Icewine? Looking back, it seems as though they switched the Chocolate Caramel Bombette for a vanilla ice cream with a raspberry filling centre on a bed of pie crust, and covered in a thin layer of hardened white chocolate. They offered two pairing options - the Love Potion Sparkling Rose (85 pts, $18.80) or their 2006 Vidal Icewine (88 pts, 375 mL @ $40.) I tasted both wines and definitely preferred the Sparkling Rose with the ice cream as the raspberry filling complemented some of the strawberry/red berry flavours from the wine. The mature Icewine seemed better suited for the original food item with it's caramel and nutty flavours.

The group's overwhelming favourite (including my favourite) on the Saturday was the Fielding Riesling Icewine, while my favourite wine on the Sunday was the Kacaba Gewürztraminer Icewine. Full wine reviews of these, and the many other wines that I tasted and enjoyed on this visit will be posted over the next couple of weeks.

I hope you can join me in Niagara this June - when the weather will be warmer - for the next event in this series. Check my events page for details.


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