Prize for most Canuck thing of the Niagara Icewine Gala has to go to Riverview Cellars Estate Winery, which had an ice sculpture canoe that doubled as an icewine server.Linda Barnard photos

 

Here’s a quintessentially Canadian thing to do: pull on a toque and go taste some excellent Ontario wine.
What better way to laugh at winter than by standing around an outdoor firepit bundled up against the -10C chill at the annual Twenty Valley Winter WineFest in Jordan Village?
It certainly helped to be sipping an excellent 2014 Cabernet Merlot from small winery Calamus Estate in Jordan, one of 20 of Twenty Valley’s wineries at the event.
The only challenge was figuring out how to balance the (thankfully plastic) wine glass in one hand and the peachwood-smoked,Creekside Winery vidal-spiked barbecued sausage from the winery’s In the Smoke restaurant in the other.
The Niagara region pops the cork on a food-and-wine event each January with the Niagara Icewine Festival. And while icewine is the engine behind Ontario’s continuing wine-producing success story, there are many other excellent sips worthy of your attention.
Now in its 23rd year, the festival takes place around the icewine-producing grape harvest, but also puts an emphasis on other premium VQA wines, including red, white and sparkling.
(Insider tip: we visited the Cave Springs tasting room in Jordan Village and were very impressed with the 2009 Blanc de Blancs CSV. Available only at the winery and $44.95, it’s an excellent glass of Brut bubbles.)
The festivals, which move to Niagara-on-the-Lake next weekend and Jan. 26-27, pair small plates from local chefs with a chance to get to know Ontario wines, especially the products made by smaller vineyards. Think of it as a winery tour where the wineries come to you.
Admission is free and food and wine is purchased with tokens.
The night before, we’d indulged at the festival’s kickoff, the Niagara Icewine Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, eating our way across Canada at regionally inspired food stations while sipping the best from more than 35 wineries, including more than 100 VQA icewines.
I loved the elegant 2016 Cabernet Syrah from Kacaba Vineyards, which was a new wine for me, as well as getting reacquainted with wines from Malivoire and Tawse wineries. Marynissen Estates, which has grown from the little tasting room I visited for the first time in the late 1980s, never disappoints.
Each food station served six small dishes, including Quebec foie gras and Lac-Brome duck poutine, Nunavut elk stew and luscious Dungeness crab cakes from the west coast. The jewellery-case display for the lengthy self-serve dessert aisle was a sugar-rush dream, including hand-made chocolates.
My favourite station was filled with tastes from the Canadian Prairies. The Manitoba smoked lake trout with wheat grass and rye whiskey cream, served on a delicate corn pancake was especially good.
Prize for most Canuck thing of the event has to go to Riverview Cellars Estate Winery, which had an ice sculpture canoe that doubled as an icewine chiller and server.
 
I was a guest of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, which did not preview or review this story.
 
When You Go
 
Getting there: Niagara Falls is about 90 minutes from Toronto by car, depending on traffic. There are limo and tour companies that provide service to and from the region.
Where to stay: I stayed at the Niagara Falls Hilton in Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Wine Festival Icewine Gala: Tickets are $190 plus GST. Go to niagarawinefestival.com for details for event information.
Do your research: 20valley.ca; winecountryontario.ca; niagarawinefestival.com