While researching things to do for our Niagara Falls trip, I knew an icewine tasting in Ontario had to be on the list! I had never heard of icewine but after digging around, I found out that Ontario, Canada is the largest icewine producing region in the world. Excited about trying a new style of wine, we signed up for a half day icewine tasting with four Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries on the itinerary. On our tour, we visited Pillitteri Estates Winery, Konzelmann Estate Winery, Caroline Cellars, and PondView Winery, all of which specialize in icewine making. Half way through our icewine tour, we had time to explore the quaint downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake for lunch, which was the most adorable town. But before I tell you about the icewine estates, first you should know..
What Makes Icewine Different from Traditional Wine?
Unlike traditional wine harvesting, icewine is created when grapes still on the vine are frozen by Ontario's winter temperatures. When the grapes are frozen, the water freezes into a solid and the sugars remain fluid. When processing the grapes for icewine, the frozen water is discarded and the remaining sugary fluid is then fermented into a tiny bottle of sweet icewine. To ensure the icewine grapes stay as frozen as possible when harvesting, the icewine grapes are hand picked on the coldest day of the year, typically in the dead of night - eek! Last year was a particularly cold year with a harvest temperature of -15ºF, which just thinking about gives me frostbite. The high price for such a small bottle is due to the fact that icewine is hand harvested, there are limited vineyards that make icewine, and it takes 10-15x more grapes to produce a small bottle of icewine than a traditional bottle of wine.
Pillitteri Estates Winery
Starting in 1965, this family run farm went from fruit stands to wine making, producing their first Pillitteri Estates icewine bottle in 1988. On the property they have 100 year old fruiting cherry trees and still sell a variety of produce out of their original fruit stand. At this winery, we learned about the icewine making process, how the grapes are harvested, and how to sip a glass of icewine.
The first icewine we tried was a Chardonnay, followed by a Pino Grigio and a Cabernet Franc. All the wines were extremely sweet, with different bold fruit flavors, like guava, plum, and fig. Icewine is extremely sweet and I feel like the sweetness helps me better taste and identify the specific fruit flavors than in any other type of wine.
Konzelmann Estate Winery
First of all, this winery is gorgous! The Konzelmann Estate Winery is the only winery that overlooks the lake and the building looks like a picturesque castle. Being a former peach farm, this winery is known for their Peachwine, which I found to be absolutely delicious! For this wine tasting, we had a food pairing where they had the perfect bites to accompany each glass of icewine. I loved the buildings detail and enjoyed looking out at the lake from their second floor private tasting room.
On the menu from top to bottom: salami and prosciutto, an icewine chocolate truffle, two types of cheddar cheese and blue cheese, and salty crackers. We were instructed to save the blue cheese for last which ended up being paired the the sweetest of all, the Vidal icewine. The flavor balance of strong blue cheese with sweet and fruit-forward wine was so incredible and very unsuspecting. Now thinking about the icewine and blue cheese, those two flavors work together in the same way dried fruit would go with a cheese plate - totally makes sense!
After the first two wineries, we headed downtown for lunch. Niagara-on-the-Lake's town center looks like something out of a movie and we had just enough time to eat and explore. After lunch we grabbed ice cream and strolled past shops, blooming planters, and a historic apothecary. Everything in the downtown area felt like a small-town movie set! I would love to come back just to spend a few days hanging out in town and enjoy a picnic at a nearby park.
The atmosphere at Caroline Cellars is much more laid-back than the other wineries. Walking in the door, you feel very comfortable and welcomed, almost like you are trying wine in someone's living room. I loved the wine décor! We tried a variety of icewines but my favorite was The Farmer's Blueberry Wine, which was full of blueberry flavors with notes of complimenting spice.
At the PondView Winery we got into the nitty gritty of icewine and flavor pairings while sipping their wine outside right next to the vines. For our final tasting, they had us try the craziest icewine flavor pairing - hot sauce! We were even encouraged to add the hot sauce right into the glass and sip all together. Guys, the flavor combination totally works! PondView also had fun chocolate 'shots' that was basically an edible thimble-sized chocolate cup filled with icewine and you are to eat the shot all in one bite. It was so good! They really have fun with food here and it was such a sweet way to end our icewine tasting tour.
I had so much fun trying icewine! Who would have thought that there were icewine tastings in Niagara? I loved the story of winter harvesting and all the flavor combinations and pairing possibilities. If you are visiting Niagara Falls, a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a icewine tour has to be on the itinerary!