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Ontario's best icewine and your guide to drinking it

Ontario icewine

Ontario's best icewine and your guide to drinking it

Who says the wine harvest is only an autumn thing? Canada's pretty original, so of course Canadians do wine in Ontario differently, too. It's called Icewine and the Niagara region is the undisputed world leader, thanks to its warm days, cool nights, and cold winters.

Ice-whaaat? It’s an intense, amber-colored wine — luscious, tropical, aromatic, and acidic — made from certain grape varietals left to freeze on the vine. A complex variety served chilled usually before or après-meal, Icewine pairs famously with rich foods and bold flavors: blue cheese, pâté, and caramelized scallops, for example. It makes an intriguing addition to cocktails and sparkling wine drinks, too. Expect tasting notes along the lines of baked pear, apricots, and wet-slate minerality (sounds obscure, tastes delicious). That aside, one of the most fascinating things about Icewine is how it’s made.

Frozen harvest: Peller Estates, 10Below Icewine Lounge

Sure, it's lovely to sip a 2014 Vidal IcewineExternal Link Title. But even more thrilling is to experience what it's like to pick the grapes it came from: in the moonlight -- or in a chilly barn at midnight. It's like the harvest gone extreme. Icewine varietals are fussy. They must be plucked and squeezed immediately when still frozen -- 17 degrees Fahrenheit and colder -- concentrating the juice into "liquid gold." Too warm or cold, and the bounty is lost. Many harvest by hand meaning it's a high-stakes process, that takes about six to 24 hours in total -- from harvest and press. Peller's igloo-esque loungeExternal Link Title simulates what that feels like. And while you're there, be sure to sample the Oak Aged Vidal IcewineExternal Link Title. You can visit year-round, but consider festival time.

Celebrate: Niagara Ice Wine Festival

Former U.S. President Barack Obama poured a Canadian Icewine at his Oslo, Norway Nobel Peace Prize dinner-- a 2003 Inniskillin Oak Aged Vidal. Clearly, it is party worthy. Niagara gets it, staging a 17-day winter wonderland festExternal Link Title every January. Expect spectacular galas, tours, tastings, chef pairings, VIP winemaker dinners, and seminars. The Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine VillageExternal Link Title transforms the entire town into a sparkling scene. Sample inventive cocktails -- Icewine martini? -- at elaborate outdoor bars constructed entirely of ice. Pack that fluffy down jacket and gloves!

Learn: IceWine 101

Did you know Icewine yields only 15% of the juice of table wines? It takes eight pounds of grapes to make half a bottle. Did you know the sweet juice is tough to ferment because of the high-sugar, yeast-hostile environment? How about this one: German farmers discovered Icewine in 1794 by accident after an unexpected frost, or so the legend goes. Join a festival sessionExternal Link Title to learn more.

Tour: Grape Escape Wine Tours  

Ontario vintners produce icewine on the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and in Prince Edward CountyExternal Link Title. Pick your area and take it all in. Try a small-group car passenger tour with Grape Escape Wine ToursExternal Link Title, year-round. The company also leads half and full-day cycling tours in warm weather months.

Inniskillin Estate Winery, the grandaddy

Taste: Chardonnay Icewine

Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser put Canada on the map in the 1980s, taking global top honors with Inniskillin'sExternal Link Title Icewines nurtured on the Niagara Peninsula. Says Kaiser, "It is our soil and climate that allows us to seduce the world with this wine."External Link Title

Reif Estate Winery, the pioneer

Taste: Grand Cabernet Franc Icewine

One of the original 1980s pioneers, Klaus Reif imported his family's long tradition of winemaking from Germany. Reif'sExternal Link Title Icewines are internationally acclaimed and the Grand Cabernet FrancExternal Link Title is outstanding.

Pillitteri Estate Winery, the family affair

Taste: Gewürztraminer Icewine

The largest Icewine estate producer, family-run PillitteriExternal Link Title focuses on agriculture and is famed for its one-of-a-kind barrel cellar with the biggest concrete tables in the world. Hanging from the rafters, 23 custom stainless-steel chairs represent the family's Italian immigrant past and six generations of winemaking history. Connoisseurs recommend the Gew?rztraminer IcewineExternal Link Title.

Wayne Gretzky Estates, the tasting spot

Taste: No. 99 Cabernet Franc Icewine

Hockey's "Great One" started his winery as his foundation's charitable fundraiser, and it delivers consistent favorites. With production based in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, Gretzky's Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Country Vintners storeExternal Link Title is the place to taste. Try the No. 99 Cabernet Franc IcewineExternal Link Title.

Make sure to pair your Icewine with some local fun -- there's plenty else to see and do in and around Ontario's rural wine country.

Ready to get to know Ontario's Icewine? Get started planning your visit on the Ontario Travel website.