Icewine fes­ti­vals sweet, win­ter re­ward

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Clink, clink! They’re hav­ing a re­ally cool cel­e­bra­tion in Ni­a­gara wine coun­try.

It’s time again to cel­e­brate the frozen nec­tar of the vines — icewine — with a three-week­end fes­ti­val.

This dessert wine, dis­cov­ered by ac­ci­dent, is renowned for its in­tense flavours, rich bou­quet and smooth­ness.

It’s cher­ished around the world, along with maple syrup, as an iconic Cana­dian prod­uct.

With the lat­est har­vest of frozen grapes on the vine be­ing one of the ear­li­est in his­tory, an­tic­i­pa­tion is grow­ing for the fes­ti­val week­ends from Jan. 11 to 27.

The story goes that icewine wasn’t orig­i­nally a Cana­dian prod­uct, but “eiswein” cre­ated in Ger­many in the 1700s re­sulted af­ter an early frost froze the grapes on the vine.

Peas­ant farm­ers felt they had no choice but to press the grapes any­way, not want­ing to lose the har­vest and dis­cov­ered a su­per sweet and pleas­ing wine.

Our icewine is pro­duced from grapes left af­ter the fall har­vest once the tem­per­a­ture dips to -8C or lower.

Then the frozen grapes are hand­picked and pressed im­me­di­ately to re­lease a thick, rich yel­low-gold liq­uid, highly con­cen­trated in nat­u­ral sug­ars and acid­ity.

Of all the wine-pro­duc­ing re­gions in the world, only On­tario has a win­ter cli­mate suf­fi­ciently cold to en­sure an icewine crop in most years, with some 60 winer­ies now in­volved.

Icewine is pricey, as fruit left on the vine is vul­ner­a­ble to rot, rav­aging winds, hail, hun­gry birds and an­i­mals as well as be­ing labour-in­ten­sive and pro­duc­ing small yields.

This year, tem­per­a­ture dipped to icewine-pick­ing lev­els on Nov. 22, in­stead of around New Year’s Eve as is typ­i­cal.

Sip and savour

Things heat up as the fes­ti­val kicks off on Jan. 11 with the op­u­lent icewine gala at Fallsview Casino Re­sort in Ni­a­gara Falls.

“The Grand Hall will be trans­formed into a Cana­dian land­scape us­ing mas­ter­fully crafted ice sculp­tures, colour­ful light­ing dis­plays and ex­tra­or­di­nary in­stal­la­tions,” said Do­rian An­der­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ni­a­gara Grape and Wine Fes­ti­val.

Guests can sip and savour award-win­ning VQA ( Vint­ners Qual­ity Al­liance) wines from 35 Ni­a­gara winer­ies that will be “per­fectly paired” with dishes cu­rated to high­light Cana­dian cui­sine. “Live en­ter­tain­ment en­cour­ages guests to dance the night away at this ex­trav­a­gant evening and a Cana­dian-themed silent auc­tion show­cases lo­cal winer­ies and busi­nesses,” An­der­son said.

Along with the for­mal-at­tire gala, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and cost­ing $190 a per­son, there are jam-packed, self-tour­ing week­ends to en­joy icewine, sparkling, red and white wines. This in­cludes out­door street fes­ti­vals in Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake and Jor­dan and ex­plor­ing wine and culi­nary pair­ings along the Wine Route and in Ni­a­gara Falls that’s “truly a re­mark­able cel­e­bra­tion,” said Sylvia Au­gaitis of the Wine Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of On­tario.

Don’t pass on this

A big part of the fes­ti­val days is the dis­cov­ery pass for use each week­end ($45; $35 for des­ig­nated driv­ers).

Pass hold­ers can choose eight wine-and-culi­nary pair­ings from more than 40 winer­ies along the On­tario Wine Route.

These in­clude “in­dul­gent wine and culi­nary pair­ings” to roast­ing chest­nuts and icewine marsh­mal­lows at the 24th an­nual fest.

Other op­tions are hot chicken wings paired with vi­dal icewine and spiced pear up­side down cake with a ries­ling icewine.

Out­door street cel­e­bra­tions start on Jan. 11 to 13 in­clud­ing Twenty Val­ley’s Win­ter WineFest in Jor­dan Vil­lage, fol­lowed by the Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake’s Icewine Fes­ti­val, Jan. 18 to 20 and 25 to 27, and the Ni­a­gara Falls Icewine Fes­ti­val on Jan. 25 and 26.

A toast is of­fered to the lat­est vin­tage of icewine in Ni­a­gara.

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