Niagara Ice Wine Festival: A warm toast to Niagara wineries. Discover why crazy Canucks enjoy drinking outside in frigid weather!
It takes a Canadian to come up with an idea like this: sipping ice wine outside in sub-zero temperatures – just for fun! As crazy as it sounds, the Ice Wine Festival is a popular annual event, and I'm glad to say that even a wimp and winter-hater like me can survive the chilly temps and indulge in one of Niagara's great cultural experiences.
What is the Festival About?
The Festival is a celebration of the local ice wine harvest. It's a chance to get together with other fans of Niagara wineries to sample local ice wines from previous years and take in some other wonderful offerings of the area as well: gourmet food, music and ice sculpture.
It features dozens of different events and runs for ten days over two weekends in late January in a number of venues around the region: several wineries, a casino, and some downtown streets.
What is Ice Wine?
Ice wine is wine made from frozen grapes. The grapes are harvested in the middle of winter then allowed to mature for several months. The wine is very sweet and makes a great dessert. It's thicker than regular wine and to me it tastes like peach syrup with a little bit of an alcoholic kick.
You can find ice wine made from white or red grapes. Niagara ice wine wins international awards for taste and quality on a regular basis.
Events On the Street
Okay here are some of the frosty events: not for the easily frightened. One weekend it's Jordan and the next it's Niagara-on-the-Lake. A few blocks of downtown streets are closed off and winery representatives move in with tents and tables full of bottles of their precious products.
Many of the wineries bring food as well: heart-warming soups and decadent desserts. The procedure is pretty simple. You buy a glass and then a handful of tokens and stroll from tent to tent sampling a few ounces of whatever catches your eye.
As you walk, you listen to live music… pity the frost-bitten performers! …
... or take your friends' pictures as they pose on chairs made of ice. Even the tables are made of ice!
If you're worried about freezing, don't be alarmed. You can just duck into some of the shops or restaurants in town.
One of my favourite places in Niagara-on-the-Lake is The Epicurean Café at 84 Queen Street, great for gourmet sandwiches, quiches and salads.
If you have a sweet tooth --- and you probably do, if you like ice wine! – be sure to try a slice of Whisky Cake at the Irish Tea Shop at the back of Irish Design at 75 Queen Street.
Events At Ontario Wineries
If you prefer to go right to the source, you can buy a passport for the ten days and drive from winery to winery sampling their offerings. (NOTE: You don't need to buy a passport. You can just purchase wine-sampling tickets as you go, but a passport may save you money if you're planning to indulge in several samples.)
The wineries put on some gourmet food-tasting events during the festival as well and special activities like outdoor ice-skating parties.
If you're into fancier (black-tie) parties, though, check out the gala events with food, wine and music at the Fallsview Casino. With a price tag of nearly $200, I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like fun if you have money to burn.
For more information about the Niagara Ice Wine Festival and the two other Niagara wine festivals (fall and summer), see http://www.niagarawinefestival.com/
More Niagara pages:
For more pages on Niagara on my web site, start here: Niagara Region