Sandy Chen

The Not Quite Entirely Ice Wine Festival

Posted on: January 17, 2010

Saturday January 16th was our grand excursion to Niagara region for the Ice Wine Festival. Ryan and I were joined by our friends Leo, Ian and Pochuen. We woke up pretty early as there was quite the packed itinerary ahead of us. By 9:30am, we were already at Ian and Pochen’s place to pick them up. Before heading on the highway though, we stopped by timmies for a breakfast. By 10:00am we were fed, and ready to go.

Our first stop is Tawse, ok, so maybe my snarky remark from my previous post of them being hoity toity was a bit harsh, but that was because back in November when Ryan and I went, we walked in, and walked out immediately without a tasting, because they were busy, and the people that were tasting the wines were just obnoxiously snobby, topped by looking at the pricey list of the wines they were selling, all this gave off the impression of it being a hoity toity place. So I stand corrected, not as snobby as I thought, and that’s because the staff members are actually very friendly, and extremely informative, so shame on the visitors for being such snooty brats. We arrived at Tawse at 11am, however, the ice wine discovery event was not fully set up yet, so to buy some time, one of the staff members warmed us up by offering us both white and red wines from their regular tasting list. A little side note, although for the next three weekends it is the Ice Wine Festival, those who wish to have a tastings of the winery’s white or red wines are more than welcome to do so. I won’t get into too much details of each of the wines I tried, because that’d take too long, however, those that made an impact to my taste buds will definitely be mentioned. At 11:30, they were ready for us. we were each given a sample of their Gewurztraminer ice wine paired with foie gras with cracker topped with some sort of a vegetable jam. The ice wine was pretty good, the foie gras was absolutely delicious.

Our next stop, we headed over to Calamus Estate Winery. Back in June was when we first visited the winery, Calamus Estate was a unplanned visit, but now it has become one of our top places today. The winery’s website statement is “Very rustic, very scenic, and very good wine!” and I agree! We started off with the winery’s white and red wine, because Ryan and I had raved about their wine so much to our friends, there was no way we were going to let them leave without trying some. Mind you, I have to say that the red wines are more of Calmus’ forte, as I’m not a fan of their white wines. The verdict: 2007 Cabernet Franc was the favourite. After tasting we proceeded upstairs for the main event. By far the best “bang for your buck”. Calamus definitely went all out on their wine tastings and food pairings. They produced three ice wines, and sure enough, they busted all three ice wines out, and had food pairings for each wine. First was their Vidal ice wine, paired with crackers and a semi-soft cheese. Next was the Riesling ice wine paired with pate on artisan bread. Lastly we had the Cabernet Franc ice wine paired with dark chocolate cups filled with chocolate mouse. The stand out was definitely the Riesling ice wine as it was very crisp and fresh, and had hints of green apple, super delish!

If you’re a fan of cool architeture then Flat Rock Cellars will definitely make you giddy. Flat Rock Cellars is for the hip, modern and fun folks. Everything from their eco-friendly facility to their trendy packaging seriously begs for the younger generation to take notice. Pay attention people, wine is not for the old haggardy folks anymore! Flat Rock Cellars is more known for their Pinot Noir. Personally I’m not a fan of Pinot Noir, so I wasn’t overly excited by their tastings. The boys tried a couple of samples, but we quickly moved on to the main event. We handed in our pass tickets, and within a couple of minutes, we were served a glass of their Sweet Revenge Vidal ice wine along with a serving of ice wine glazed pulled-pork slider. Yum yum yum is all I can say!

Hernder, now there’s a winery that’s a little bit hard to pronounce, and a little bit off the map. Grab a free tour map of the Niagara region wineries, and you won’t find Hernder on there. We only knew of Hernder based on the fact that their event description was delicious enough to catch our eyes. Hernder is located on “A quiet country road, the gentle swell of vineyards beneath the brow of the Niagara Escarpment; turn down the lane, through a unique wooden covered bridge up to an immense, perfectly restored 1867 Victorian barn”. This is the winery that no one knows about, and this is definitely the hidden gem that everyone should go and experience for yourself! Can’t say we were overly impressed by their Vidal ice wine paired with their ice wine marinated chicken with apricot, however, we were quickly distracted by their regular line up of white and red wines. Most people probably wouldn’t give two shits about Hernder’s wine if it were placed in the LCBO. The bottle labels are uber tacky, and the price of the wines are listed at a shocking bargain basement range. What they lack severely in packaging they definitely make up for in the taste. Now mind you, we generally like reds better, so hence you’ll hear me talking about reds more often, but I will make a notable mention of their Green Tea Gewurztraminer, very neat concept to infuse green tea into the gewurztraminer, it’s definitely a cool beverage to have on a hot summer day. Now back to the reds, wow, is all I can say. I can’t speak for my friends, but I definitely had a boner when I had the Cabernet Franc! Perhaps Hernder is not well known for their wine because they have a larger focus on their Vinegar products, so we have been told.

By far the shortest stop, based on our collective experience and wine preferences, we all agreed that Chateau des Charmes has a collection of less than impressive wines, but we stop anyways, because it’s a pretty chateau, and we’ve never had their ice wine, so we were willing to give it a chance. The Vidal ice wine was pretty decent, and the hand made ice cream was good too.

Ice wine and the name Inniskillin pretty much go hand in hand. You can pretty much say Inniskillin helped create an international market and demand for Canadian ice wines, so therefore, I suppose Inniskillin has every right to charge an exorbitant amount on their ice wine. Pochuen and I didn’t feel like “wasting” a ticket on the event that paired their Vidal ice wine with a piece of shortbread cookie, which we saw a few people had left on the tables barely touche, so we left the boys and headed over to the other building, which we received samples of Vidal ice wine on its own sans shortbread, without the need for an event ticket.

Since the boys used their tickets and the ladies didn’t, we popped by Reif Estate winery. Pocheun and I wanted to visit Reif mainly for their food pairing, and by this time, we were getting hungry as well. Their Vidal ice wine was paired with spit roasted pork served on a mini-brioche with apple icewine sauce…yah, I know, enough said!

As a bonus round, we stopped by Strewn because Pocheun and I were heavily drooling over the food pairing of their creamy chowder. This was 4:15 in the afternoon, 45 minutes left before the wineries close up shop for the day. So I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when we walked in and the staffs told us they were completely out of chowder…but we were still a little bummed out, because as we stood there, we could smell the lingering scent of the chowder mocking us. Feeling rather sympathetic towards us, the tasting staff busted out every single ice wine they had and started bombarding us with samples. By this time, we have had so many different samples previously that now everything just blended together. But no matter, he poured us wine, so therefore, we must drink!

That pretty much concluded our day of ice wine tasting. For dinner, we went to The Old Winery Restaurant. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was warm, the service was top notch. Even though we claimed we were all “wined” out, we couldn’t resist ordering a bottle to go with our dinner!

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