There are so many incredible things about winter in Canada. There are endless opportunities for outdoor sports and adventures, maple taffy (for those of you who need to brush up on Canadian delicacies, that’s maple syrup drizzled on fresh snow), and – perhaps best of all – the season makes for prime conditions to produce ice wine. Canada is the world’s largest producer of ice wine, bottling more ice wine annually than all other producing countries combined. 

Arguably one of the most unique types of wine, ice wine requires up to 5 times more grapes than a traditional table wine, and because of the very particular nature of the production process, the grapes are hand picked, and immediately pressed. To add to the fun, harvesting grapes for ice wine often takes place overnight, when conditions are most optimal. Because of the fickle nature of winter weather, it is imperative that vineyards monitor the forecast and be ready to harvest when the temperature is ‑8° or colder. A word to the wise: only grapes that are naturally frozen can be used to make true ice wine – when grapes are commercially frozen, their final product is called dessert wine. All of these unique elements lead to a smaller, more expensive product than a standard bottle of wine, but one that is well worth the indulgence.

Ice wine is traditionally a dessert wine, served in 2 oz portions and while it is certainly sweet and delicious enough to steal the show on its own after a nice meal, it’s a wonderful accompaniment to many of beloved treats. Many different types of grapes can be used to produce ice wine, so different blends will pair best with different desserts, and you may need to taste a few to find your personal perfect match. As a starting point, an ice wine made with Gewürztraminer, Riesling, or Vidal grapes will pair best with a fruit-based dessert with pineapple, citrus, melon, or peach flavours, while ice wine made with Cabernet Franc, Gamay or Merlot grapes will be a best enjoyed with a richer chocolate, creamy, or berry-based treat.

Now, just because ice wine is technically a dessert wine doesn’t mean that it needs to be paired with a traditionally sweet dessert. The sugary taste is also a gorgeous complement to cheesy, salty, and spicy dishes, so finishing your meal with a cheese plate featuring hard, sharp cheddars or blue cheeses, accompanied by fruit and spiced nuts and a serving of ice wine will certainly delight your tastebuds. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous (and perhaps a bit untraditional), you can skip the ice wine for dessert idea altogether and enjoy your ice wine with a spicy main course, such as Indian, or Thai. The sweetness and viscosity of the ice wine balances the spicy flavours, and can help to soothe your mouth, in case you’ve bitten off more (spice) than you can chew.

Ontario is one of the largest producers of Canadian wine and the Niagara Peninsula is in fact the world’s largest producer of ice wine. While there are no shortages of wine festivals in the area throughout the year, January’s annual Ice Wine Festival, which celebrated its 25th year in 2020, provides wine enthusiasts with an easy opportunity to sample award winning wines from multiple vineyards. Also not to be discounted is the vineyard scene in Nova Scotia, which is rapidly gaining ground and recognition for its varietals. Nova Scotia celebrates winter in wine country every year with its annual Icewine Festival, which takes place in the Annapolis Valley – a region in the province known for its wine production. Sadly, both 2021 festivals were unable to move forward, but with each events’ history and the area’s individual wine selections, they are sure to be back and better than ever in 2022. Cheers!

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