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Niagara Icewine Festival

by Wade Rowland - Part 1
Ontario ice wine sign made of carved ice
Niagara Icewine Festival
sign carved in ice
Photo © Christine Collie

Now this is a winter activity we can get into! It is as Canadian as cross-country skiing or hockey on a frozen pond, but a lot more congenial to our sybaritic tastes. It involves strolling on the main street of Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of the prettiest towns in Ontario, admiring the ice sculpture or perhaps doing some window shopping, and stopping from time to time to sample another of the province's fabulous icewines offered up by muffled and mittened servers behind stand-up bars fashioned from ice.

It is Ontario's Niagara Icewine Festival, and on the January weekend we'd chosen to attend the ten-day-long affair, snow squalls were intermittently obliterating the historic Niagara-on-the-Lake landscape along the shores of the Niagara River, and turning the street party into a National Geographic photo spread. And it was cold, perilously close to the -22C at which grape vines begin to give up the ghost. But the cold and snow only made the whole experience more quintessentially Canadian.

Foie Gras with Quince Brioche at Ice Wine Festival Gala Dinner
Foie Gras with Quince Brioche
Niagara Icewine Festival Icewine Dinner
Photo © Christine Collie

We were a little late getting up and about that day, having spent the previous evening at the Icewine Festival's "Tastes of Ontario" Icewine Dinner, a $175./person gala feast of six courses (including foie gras with quince brioche, Arctic char, elk strip loin and Quebec artisan cheeses) paired with some of the best of recent vintages of Niagara wines - seven in all, three of them Ontario wine medal winners. (Vintages included: Inniskillin Pearl Label Select Late Harvest Riesling 2002, Hernder Estate Wines 2003 Riesling Reserve, Harvest Estate Wines 2002 Dry Riesling VQA, Thomas & Vaughan 2001 Chardonnary Estate Reserve, East Dell Estates Escarpment Series 2003 Pinot Noir, Jackson-Triggs Vintners Proprietors' Grand Reserve 2002 Meritage VQA, and Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2003.)

The affair was held in the large, split-level "Tiara" dining room of the posh Queen's Landing Hotel, one of the finest small luxury hotels in Ontario, a 15-year-old gem of imported Georgian brick fitted out in polished wood, leather, marble, ornate plaster and rich fabrics.

The Queen's Landing dining room opens onto a large terrace that must be lovely in summer, overlooking a yacht basin and the Niagara River beyond. On this night it wasn't fit for man or beast, the wind lashing sheets of snow at the terrace windows, making the cosy warmth of the room all the more pleasurable. We were happy we were staying at the hotel (though there is free shuttle service to the three other Vintage Inns in town). There's nothing quite like snuggling into a king-size bed in the warm glow of a gas fireplace, the blizzard outside muffled by heavy damask curtains and double-glazed windows, a snowplough labouring somewhere in the distance. This is our kind of winter camping.

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Gourmet Travel in Ontario Canada: Niagara Ice Wine Festival, Southern Ontario Ice Wine Travel Destinations, Niagara on the Lake, Ontario Icewine Tour Packages

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