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A sparkling kickoff for the Icewine Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake

 By Michael Lowe

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Icewine festival got rolling last weekend and the weather turned perfect just in time to make it a very cool experience. The Sparkle and Ice Gala, held Friday night, was the perfect way to get the 25th anniversary of the party started.

This was my first taste of the annual event, and I must say it was a fantastic evening. Held in the old courthouse, with its spectacular architecture (photos above) and history, you couldn’t ask for a better venue. Ten food stations and plenty of excellent, premium still wines and icewines kept guests satisfied as the musical duo of Juliet Dunn and Peter Shea entertained.

We noshed on some delicious dishes during the two-hour tasting. Case in point, the tempura shrimp wrapped in smoked salmon with raspberry sauce from Masaki Sushi. For me, just a dab of wasabi to balance the tangy-sweet sauce was all it needed, along with a sip of Chateau-des-Charmes traditional method Brut sparkler (photos above).

Cannery Restaurant at The Pillar and Post dished up a savoury, rich shaved prime rib slider served in a Yorkshire pudding. There were some great reds to pair with the delightful bites (photo above), but the standout had to be Reif Estate’s 2016 First Growth Cabernet Sauvignon — simply stunning! This pairing lured me back for a second, delicious round.

A seared sea scallop, presented by Liv Restaurant at White Oaks, was paired with yellow pepper sauce infused with Vidal icewine — the crisp wonton with a Gewurztraminer laced slaw providing a contrasting texture. Niagara’s Finest Thai served Kha Moo, a delicious, hearty, five-spice broth with tender pork and quail eggs (L-R, photos above).

Trius Winery Restaurant’s offering was a plump, smoky, all-beef hotdog. The dog was topped with icewine-onion jam with your choice of whisky mustard or icewine ketchup (Left, photo above). Another heart-warming dish was Tiara Restaurant’s potato gnocchi served with a velvety cream sauce, double-smoked bacon and Devil’s Rock blue cheese (Right, photo above).

As if the amazing food and outstanding wines were not enough to make it a memorable night, the best was yet to come. Icewine is always a decadent treat, but there’s a certain romanticism about sipping it out in the frosty air. The icewine village, situated just a few steps from the courthouse, served as the perfect setting to sample the elixir. Bathed in the glow of the courthouse lights (photo above), servers poured our samples (photo below). But no ordinary glass would do. How else to make the experience better than to serve icewine in a vessel made of ice?

The Sparkle and Ice Gala provided plenty of sparkle, and an icy touch to remind us of the wonderful icewines that will be available for tasting during the festival. The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Icewine festival runs for one more weekend, January 25-26. Saturday hours are from 11 am-5 pm, Sunday hours are 12 noon-5 pm. Check out their website, here, for a complete list of events and enjoy it while you can.