With a little old-fashioned glamour, plenty of good food and of course great wine, the Icewine Festival Gala is a can't miss event for anyone who loves Ontario wine. After the hectic late-summer and autumn harvest period, where winery staff work nearly non-stop trying to make this year's vintage the best they can, the gala is a celebration of sorts.
I was invited to experience what the Icewine Festival Gala is all about by the Wine Council of Ontario. Winery worker's Blundstones are replaced with cap toes and stilettos. Local and industry staff shed business casual and workwear for elegant cocktail dresses and sharp suits. The mood is jovial and everyone is out for a night of indulgence at the Fallsview Casino. And there was plenty to indulge in.
The casino's Italian restaurant Ponte Vecchio served a great piadina, a traditional flatbread from Romagna. Topped simply with creamy delicate stracchino cheese, the porky sweetness of Niagara Pingue Prosciutto and the peppery kick of fresh arugula. The standout dishes came from chef Ray Taylor and his team at 17 Noir steak and seafood restaurant. You could not have gone wrong with either the subtlety sweet and spicy combination five spiced duck on a confit cabbage or the cedar smoked venison leg with quince marmalade. But as good as they were, nothing topped the restaurant's scallops on a celeriac and apple puree topped with double smoked bacon. The savoury-sweet puree enhanced the naturally sweet scallop. It was perfectly done with the pan-seared caramelised top relenting to a creamy tender interior.
The scallops went particularly well with one of the standout wines from the evening—the 2010 Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc. Partially oaked and fermented with wild yeasts, this soon-to-be-released Sauvignon Blanc manages to capture the best aspects of the tropical-grassy style of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc with the quiet power of a Pouilly-Fumé. The nose is an inviting combination of white grapefruit and kiwi with a hint of white lilies and fresh cut grass on the finish. Take sip and those flavours are joined by guava, passionfruit and white figs. Even with a creamy medium-plus weight, the wine still has a taught stony-minerality and medium level of acidity to keep it feeling lively.
Another fantastic wine being poured was Hillebrand's Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay. For those that love cool climate Chardonnay the Oliveira vineyard consistently produces one of the most thrilling examples. It's fleshy and textured without being fat. This 2009 vintage is taught and focused with aromas and flavours of melon, citrus, green apple and gun smoke. Holding it all together is an electric acidity and a flinty mineral spine. It's evolving well since being released and is really beginning to come into its own.
But you can't leave the Icewine Festival Gala without tasting some of the main attraction. One of the most interesting examples was the 2008 Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay Icewine. You don't often see Chardonnay Icewine because it ripens closer to mid-season than Vidal or Riesling. But when you do see one, don't pass up the opportunity. This wine seduces with a pure honeyed-apple nose. That's joined by the flavour of Bartlett pear compote and a touch of toasty spice on the finish. The lush, rich feel of this Icewine is aided by some time spent aging in barrel. It has just enough acid to keep it from tasting tiring after one sip.
Another standout was Château des Charmes 2008 Vidal Icewine. It's a lusciously sweet example that still manages to taste balanced thanks to good acidity. It's full of honey, apricots, and has an intriguing floral orange blossom finish.
To go along with your glass of Icewine there was a beautiful array of sweets including: vibrant French macarons, delicate petit fours, handmade truffles and etherial, creamy Icewine-infused cheesecake lollipops.
To work off all that indulgence, guests took to the dance floor for the smooth sounds of crooner Sandy Vine and the Midnights. Judging by light feet, spins and dips people really enjoyed themselves. There was also plenty of mingling and laughing, with nobody sporting anything short of an ear-to-ear grin. When you combine that fantastic company with good food and great wine, life really doesn't get much better.
Peller 2010 Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc
Availability: Released soon. Contact the winery for availability.
Hillebrand 2009 Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay
Tawse 2008 Quarry Road Chardonnay Icewine
Price: $34.95 for 200 mL
Niagara Icewine Festival
January 13th – 29th
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.