Niagara icewine festival

By Michael Lowe

The first of three weekends celebrating the sweet nectar of Niagara’s vines got underway last weekend. With great wine there must be great food, and there was no shortage of delectable dishes designed to keep the palate inspired and wanting for more.

Friday night’s Xerox Icewine Gala brought the chefs of Fallsview Casino Resort restaurants together in one room to showcase their culinary talent. The theme this year was “Sugar & Spice … Everything Ice,” a common thread illustrated in many of the dishes. Attendees lined up to sample tasty bites including everything from oysters and sushi (below photo) to roast suckling pig and crispy BBQ duck.

Best Food in Niagara

A touch of sweetness and/or a bit of warm spices was apparent in most dishes — just what you need when sampling along with icewine. Kumquat and kaffir lime drizzled over a seared sea scallop (below photo) would be perfect with any one of the ten Riesling icewines on show.

Ontario best icewine

Minted, panko crusted rack of lamb with toasted fennel jus (below, left) and sauteed shrimp with ramen noodles and nori adds just the right dose of savoury, salty and sweetness to marry with many of the vinifera wines also offered during the gala.

Icewine pairing

A couple of the coolest tidbits had to be the candy floss spun around a luxurious foie gras “popsicle” (below left) and a little duck pastry that “levitated” on a cloud of dry ice – aided by an electromagnetic field — under the watchful eye of Executive chef Raymond Taylor.

Icewine food pairing

And so the evening went, with attendees elbowing for a chance to grab a bite of the next morsel up for grabs. Chefs kept busy plating with admirable speed and panache, still focused on perfection, as they politely posed for the camera.

The work put into this gala is staggering. The organizers, chefs and many volunteers create a magical event, one that is a jewel in Niagara’s crown. As for the event wrap-up — we all know how well blue cheese pairs with icewine. Just look at the demolition of that wedge below!

Jordan Winter WineFest: The food

The Saturday morning after the gala, we make our way to the beautiful hamlet of Jordan where the first of the icewine street parties continues. Here, just like at the gala, there is plenty of awesome food to warm the belly. Anyone from the region who knows Nathan Young from In the Smoke Cookery and Catering (below, left) will attest to his passion for creating the best smoked meat delicacies. He was cooking up smoked sausage and, one of my favourites, smoked brisket burgers (below, right). They don’t need any condiments, they really are that good. I mean, just look at that meaty, juicy, smoky thing of beauty!

One of the day’s main events was the One Pot Challenge where local chefs were pitted against each in a competition for the best creation. Chefs Shawn Murphy (Your Farm Gate), Vito Guerriero (Avella’s Wood Fired Pizza), Andrew Thorne (The Restaurant at Redstone), and Justin Downes (Vineland Estates Winery) pictured left to right below (left photo), battled it out with the eventual winner, Steve Davison (below, right) of Inn on the Twenty.

Chef Andrew McLeod’s (Bolete) mushroom dashi with sous vide egg and pork belly (below, left) left a lasting impression and lingered on the palate, warming the soul. Likewise, a perfectly spiced venison chili (below, right) from Redstone easily chased away the wintry chill of the afternoon.

Meaty beef sliders (Vineland Estates Winery) with pickled cabbage and Comfort Cream cheese (below, left) and savoury sweet potato, coconut curry soup (Zooma Caterers) rounded out our samples of the day.

All of this, washed down with plenty of wine and craft beer, made for a tasty and satisfying day in Jordan. This first weekend of icewine celebration set the tone for what is yet to come in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls when they play host over the next two weekends and the icewine festival moves to Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls.