By Pamela MacNaughtan
Icewine originates in 18th-century Germany, but it has been perfected in the Niagara region, and people travel from all over the world to try icewines from this southern Ontario appellation. Today Niagara is the only place on earth where the full-flavoured dessert wine is produced annually.
Icewine was first introduced in the Niagara region in 1984 by Inniskillin Winery. Twenty-seven years later there are more than twenty wineries making icewine here.
Winter is a popular time to visit Niagara wineries, especially for icewine, whose harvest season begins once temperatures dip below –8°C (18°F) and grapes freeze on the vine. (This year’s Niagara harvest began on December 7.) Grapes must be pressed while frozen, resulting in a concentrated wine with high sugar content balanced by high acidity.
If you’ve only got a couple of days in Niagara, choose four to six wineries to visit. Allow at least two hours at each winery to tour (if you wish), sample wines and do some shopping.
Inniskillin is a good place to start. One of the larger wineries in the area, it has a good introductory tour and during the winter months the full icy experience includes an outdoor tasting bar made entirely of ice. Sipping a glass of wine at a table overlooking the snow-covered vines is breathtaking—in more ways than one.
Next stop: Peller Estates, to warm yourself by a fire and book a highly recommended exclusive tasting experience in the Reserve Room. You’ll taste older wines as well as new ones learn how the type of glass you use makes a big difference in taste.
On Sundays the elegant restaurant at Hillebrand Winery has a delicious brunch with gorgeous vineyard views. (Lunches and dinners are also excellent.) Chef Frank Dodd utilizes the wines on offer in his locally focused dishes like Wellington County pork chop with icewine squash cassoulet and Riesling saurkraut. If an ingredient is not sourced in Canada, you won’t find it on his menu. Be sure to make a reservation.
Vidal, Riesling and Cabernet Franc icewines are the norm in Niagara, but family-owned and -operated Palantine Hills Estate Winery offers something special: Gerwurztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon icewine.
Château des Charmes is another family-run winery, founded in 1978 by Paul Bosc, whose winemaking roots stem from his ancestors in 19th-century French Algeria. While trying their icewine, sample their Generation Seven white or red blend as well: a portion of the sales of these bottles goes to the Meal Exchange hunger-relief program.
Getting here: The wine-region hub of Niagara-on-the-Lake is about 140 km south of Toronto, about a two-hour drive. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a 15-minute drive east of Niagara Falls, Ontario.