Warming up to Winter at the Niagara Icewine Festival

If there’s one bonus to staying in the northern clime of Toronto Ontario, Canada in mid-January rather than heading south, it’s the opportunity to attend the Niagara Icewine Festival and  indulge in ice wine, gourmet cuisine and spectacular winter scenery.  Sure, it can get bone-chillingly cold (and Niagara Falls itself can actually freeze!) but that’s just a reminder of what it means to be a real Canadian and is all the more reason to warm up with some VQA Niagara ice wine.

Here’s our guide to what to do, where to stay, the best ice wines to try and more at the Niagara Icewine Festival:

View of the American Falls from Niagara Falls in winter

Brrr…but beautiful! View of the American Falls from Niagara Falls in winter

What is Ice Wine?

But first, what is Canadian  ice wine? It’s basically a dessert wine produced from frozen grapes. While ice wine might sound easy to produce, it actually requires a combination of magical timing and careful production. At least three full nights of below -10C weather is needed for ice wine grapes to release their unique concentration of sugars, acids, flavours, and aromas into the juice.

Niagara Ice wine grapes at Niagara Icewine Festival

One of the cool things about the Niagara Icewine Festival is the opportunity to see frozen grapes on the vine

In the middle of the coldest night, grape pickers from ice wine wineries don their warmest winter gear and head into the vineyards to hand-pick the grapes. The clusters are then gently pressed, with each grape yielding just one drop of the prized juice. The labour intensive process and low yield means the cost of ice wine is higher than regular wines.

Grapes that are harvested  outside of these strict requirements are known as “late harvest wines” which means that although both ice wine and late harvest wines are sweet dessert wines,  all ice wines are “late harvest wines” but not all late harvest wines are ice wines because thy didn’t actually freeze on the vines before being picked.

Types of Ice Wine in Niagara Ontario

While most people are familiar with Vidal ice wine, one of the things you’ll quickly learn at the Niagara Icewine Festival is that there are actually many other types of ice wines. Grapes that grow well in cold climates are popular grape varietals used for making ice wine. This means you can also find  Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and  Gewürztraminer.

Iniskillin ice wine at Niagara Icewine Festival

Iniskillin ice wine at Niagara Icewine Festival

Not all wineries produce each type of ice wine and some ice wines are produced in such small quantities, they’re not available at the LCBO ( or Duty Free Shops) and you can only sample them at the wineries or at Niagara Icewine Festival events. This is where the fun begins.

Best Niagara Ice Wine to Choose

Niagara Icewine Festival Ontario

Ice wine? Yes, please.

What does Niagara ice wine taste like? While all ice wines feature a highly concentrated, sweet flavour, they range in colour from bright ruby red with aromas of cherry, red licorice and raspberry of a Cabernet Sauvignon ice wine to the citrus notes of a Chardonnay ice wine.

In order to decide on the best ice wine for your palate you need to sample a range of ice wines. You might be surprised to discover that although Vidal ice wine is the most widely available ice wine, there are other ice wines you enjoy more. The key to enjoying ice wine is to serve it very cold.

Xerox Icewine Gala at Niagara Icewine Festival

Varieties of ice wine at the Xerox Icewine Festival Gala

Sample rare as well as popular ice wines at the Xeroz Ice Wine Gala

The swanky ice wine gala evening in early January is an opportunity to sample rare icewines, dance to live music, indulge in fabulous cuisine and gawk at Niagara Falls lit up in its technicolour glory.  The event features pouring stations from at least 30 different Niagara wineries. They are pouring icewines as well as red and wine VQA wines. Some of my favourite must-visit pouring stations include Pillitteri Estates Winery for their Reserve Vidal Icewine and Peller for their Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc.

When the Xerox Icewine Gala wraps up, you can even pop into the casino and try your hand at the slot machines. I’m notorious for losing money as fast as I can pull the slot machine handle but the flashing lights, opulent architecture and ching-ching of everyone else winning big bucks does make an exciting wrap-up to the night.

The Xerox Icewine Gala takes place at the Fallsview Casino Resort so if you stay at the Hilton Fallsview you can wear your sparkliest clothing and walk through the handy connecting link without having to wear your winter boots and parka.

Twenty Valley Winter Winefest

You’ll want to bundle up for this event held in the pretty town of Jordan Village, conveniently located just off the QEW, between January 12-14th.  If you haven’t been to the Twenty Valley area before, it’s worth staying an extra night so you can hike to the pretty Balls Falls waterfalls, explore the quaint shops and make several stops at the Upper Canada Cheese Company until you’ve eaten so many free samples of artisanal cheese that they ask you to leave. (Stock up on Niagara Gold – a buttery French-style semi-firm cheese).

 

Michele Peterson of A Taste for Travel at Twenty Valley Winter Winefest

Bundle up at the Twenty Valley Winter Winefest

Once you arrive in Jordan, you’ll be pleased to see handy shuttle buses to take you from the parking lots to the festival itself. We parked at the Jordan Firehall at 3763 19th Street Jordan and walked in an attempt to wear off a few calories from the previous evening’s gala.

 

Twenty Valley Winter Winefest

Firepits at Twenty Valley Winter Winefest

Once there, make a quick stop to purchase your drink and food tokens (and a photo-op with one of the ice sculptures) before heading into the warming tent. Tokens are a bargain as most items cost just two or three tokens. With 25 food and wine stations to choose from, it’s tough to narrow it down to just a few but last year, we indulged in preserved peaches, ate wood-fired pizza and sampled a variety of delicious VQA ice wines.

How to Use Your Niagara Discovery Pass

Discovery wine pairing at the Niagara Wine Festival

Use your Discovery pass to sample wine and food combos at the Niagara Wine Festival

To wrap up the balance of January, you can continue your Niagara Icewine Festival  celebrations with the purchase of a Discovery Pass, a magical passport that allows you to visit as many wineries as you can pack into a weekend on a variety of wine routes through the Niagara Wine Country Region. Each passport offers a deliciously inventive food and wine pairing ( there are non-alcoholic choices for drivers) at participating wineries.

Jackson Triggs Ice Wine

The Discovery Pass allows you to sample a variety of ice wine and food pairings

For example, in 2018 one stop at Megalomaniac Winery on the Discovery Passport gets you a sample of icewine and a honey infused drizzle over top of a two-bite goat cheese, apple and pecan tart. It pairs beautifully with their 2014 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine. The best way to do the Niagara Icewine Festival is to plan your stops and driving route in advance based on the wines and foods you want to try on the Discovery Pass Listings

What to Eat at the Niagara Icewine Festival

Artisanal products at Twenty Valley Winter Winefest

Artisanal products at Twenty Valley Winter Winefest

Your Discovery Pass Gives you access to some delicious food. Some of the exciting combos in the culinary line-up in the past have included include Chicken and Waffles, spread with Riesling Icewine Butter at Iniskillin Winery as well as the crowd-pleasing fave, the opportunity to roast an icewine marshmallow over an open fire at Pellar Estates.

I had a hard time tearing myself away from the cheesy chile con queso nachos topped with crumbled bacon and blue cheese at Fielding Winery or the Late Harvest Vidal tucked inside a Chocolate-dipped Strawberry Cup at Pondview Estate Winery. In 2018, my top choice would be Creekside Estates to try their Icewine-infused baby bratwurst topped with your choice of Icewine sauerkraut or spicy mustard.

Best Niagara Icewine Festival Hotels

Niagara Icewine Festival hotels

Enjoy fabulous views at one of the Niagara Icewine Festival hotels

The Niagara Icewine Festival is an adult-oriented ( 19+)  weekend trip best suited for couples or a girlfriends’ getaway  so your best option is to choose a hotel that’s aimed at an older crowd rather than one of the family-friendly hotels with waterslides near the Clifton Hill arcade zone. One important consideration when choosing which hotel to stay at  during the Niagara Icewine Festival is deciding on which weekend you’ll be attending. The outdoor festivals  take place on different weekends in different location so you either want  to time your visit to coincide with the festival location or be prepared to drive.

The  Niagara Falls Icewine Festival takes place at the Scotiabank Convention Centre on the final weekend in January which means you can choose from a range of hotels within the Niagara Falls area.

Niagara Falls Hilton Fallsview: Located in the Fallsview area, this modern tower is situated overlooking Niagara Falls and is ideal for exploring the parkway and natural attractions ( or going to the Fallsview Casino). It’s not close to the Clifton Hill arcade zone so if you’re looking to hit up fun zone attractions like dinosaur mini-golf  and ferris wheels, be prepared to drive. If not, you’ll be happy to be in the peaceful part of town.

Check prices at Hilton Hotel Niagara Falls Fallsview

Brockamour Manor B & B: Stay at this historic guest house and you’ll be tempted to start browsing real estate listings so you can own your own piece of classic Niagara-on-the-Lake architecture. Built in 1809, it’s well-located on King Street just a few steps away from everything at the Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town that’s a scenic 20-minute drive along the Niagara Parkway from Niagara Falls. The rates are reasonable and breakfast is extra-special. Read a full review at Icewine and Cycling at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Check prices at Brockamour Manor B & B  

Travel Guide to Niagara Icewine Festival

Assuming you don’t try to get to Niagara  from Toronto in the middle of rush hour (4-6 pm), it should take you no more than 90 minutes to arrive in the heart of Niagara Wine Country. Here are some links to help you plan your trip:

Ice sculpture of Ontario cheese

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments of this Ice sculpture of Ontario cheese

Niagara Icewine Festival Cost: Discovery Passes are sold at $45 plus HST each and contain eight experience vouchers valued at $10 each, redeemable at participating wineries. Niagara Wine Festival

Niagara Falls Icewine Festival: This icewine tasting event takes place during the final weekend in January within the Scotiabank Convention Centre. It’s a ticketed event that is not part of the Niagara Icewine Festival Discovery Pass program but has a separate  cost. The cost in 2018 was $65 and $75 at the door which includes 3 hours of wine tastings, a commemorative glass and entertainment. Although there is an outdoor “winter wonderland” zone much of the activities take place indoors within the convention centre, making it quite a bit different ( and warmer) than the outdoor festivals.

Official Website:  Wine Country Ontario

Ontario Travel: Get maps, planning and travel tips and inspiration from the Official Ontario Tourism website.

Discovery Pass Tickets: Buy tickets and plan your route at the Discovery Pass Listings Page.

Niagara Falls: If you’re visiting the Niagara Icewine Festival you don’t want to miss experiencing Niagara Falls, Canada. Here are 10 Amazing Things to do in Niagara Falls so you don’t miss a thing.

Enjoy this Post? You Might Also Like:  

For more ideas on things to do near Toronto in winter or summer, check out these posts on:

Celebrate Winter at  Le Scandinave Spa at Blue Mountain 

Icewine and Cycling at Niagara on the Lake, Ontario 

Sip Moonshine and Craft Beer on Couples Getaway 

Why Hockley Valley Resort Should be Your Next Weekend Getaway 

23 Things to Do in The Kawarthas 

Or, subscribe to the A Taste for Travel newsletter and receive *free* travel tips, discounts, giveaways and inspiration direct to your in-box.

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Celebrate winter with food and ice wine pairings, entertainment and ice sculptures at the Niagara Icewine Festival #wine #Canada

Michele Peterson
Michele Peterson
Dividing her time between Toronto, Mexico and Guatemala (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is an award-winning writer, blogger, editor and publisher who specializes in travel, cuisine and luxury lifestyles.
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Showing 23 comments
  • Wandering Carol
    Reply

    I really need to explore our local wineries more. And go to the Icewine Gala! Gorgeous shot of the Falls.

  • Christine
    Reply

    Icewine is one of my favorite and not so well know. Great post.

  • Roy Stevenson
    Reply

    Nice, informative article, Michele. Who knew there were ice wine festivals up north?

  • Erin
    Reply

    This is absolutely stunning! I visited Niagara in the summer and thought it was magnificent. But this is a whole other point of view.

  • Becky
    Reply

    Pathetic as this may be…I used to go to NF about once a month (my grandmother lived there) and never did anything ice wine related. Time to plan another trip!

  • Larissa
    Reply

    This sounds like absolute heaven – as both a cheese and wine lover! Definitely on my list one year. I can’t wait to visit Canada as well!

  • Sheri
    Reply

    I had no idea this existed! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Heather
    Reply

    Great pictures and thanks for the tip on the Discovery pass!

  • Samantha at Our Travelng Blog
    Reply

    Sounds like an amazing way to keep warm. I have to say I would love to visit and see Niagara all lit up. It must be incredible. Have a toast for me and enjoy! Thanks for sharing.

  • MariaAbroad
    Reply

    What a lovely festival. I grew up in a wine region in Germany and Ice wine is delectable. The full body and smooth, velvety nectar easily goes to your head, but such a treat nonetheless. I’ve been to Niagara Falls only as a little girl, but would love to return one day. Thanks for sharing!

  • Trevor Thorpe
    Reply

    My wife and I did a bicycle tour through the Northeast, beginning in Niagara last summer. We heard about the ice wine, but didn’t get to try any. Now you’ve got me thinking about it again! Gotta make that happen some day.

  • Culture Tripper
    Reply

    I saw on the news that this has been a great season for ice wine in Niagara. Thanks for the essential Festival tips, who knew Ontario in winter could be so glam!

  • Sreeram
    Reply

    This is something really new to me, Ice Wine Festival sounds really awesome. Just added this to my bucket list. 😉

  • Janice Chung
    Reply

    OK, I am ashamed to admit I never knew this existed! Maybe I didn’t need to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival last year, after all! LOVE the picture of the “ice” cheese! Thanks for sharing this information. It’s definitely something I will consider for 2017!

  • Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    Reply

    “Brrr… but beautiful,” is a great statement. Sometimes I miss the wintery cold of the north and the Niagra Icewine Festival looks like a terrific reason to bundle up and brave the chill. So much to do, see, eat and drink – this sounds like a fun way to celebrate the best of winter!

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply

    This looks like such a great event! Whenever we get to Canada, we always bring home a bottle of icewine. I would guess it would help buffer some of the cold weather:-) Love that picture of the Falls!

  • noel
    Reply

    I’ve never tried the wines, one more reason to visit hopefully for 2016, looks wonderful

  • Sue Reddel
    Reply

    Ice wine is certainly just one of the reasons to visit the Niagara area. That Discovery Pass sure sounds like something that would be right up our alley – food & wine pairings- sound perfect! Thanks for the info.

  • Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    Reply

    I do adore Icewine and would love to go to a festival celebrating it in Niagara!

  • The GypsyNesters
    Reply

    The falls look so cool (no pun intended) when they are frozen. And what better way to warm up than an ice wine festival.

  • Karen Warren
    Reply

    I’d never heard of ice wine before, but that festival looks pretty cool. And I’d go just for the cheese!

  • Jo ~ Lifestyle Fifty and ZigaZag
    Reply

    The Icewine festival in Niagara looks like a lot of fun. The cheese would be pretty awesome too.

  • Rebecca
    Reply

    I think for the cheese and chocolate strawberry cup itself is worth it, let alone the beautiful location!

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