There’s no shortage of good eats during the Niagara Icewine Festival. In a region that’s like the mothership of Canadian Icewine, organizers invite attendees to celebrate winter in wine country — and how. No one loves a culinary celebration like Canadians, where passion for cuisine and its vine-born counterparts result in jovial events like these festivities. They take place over three weekends from January 11–27, kicking off on Friday, January 11 with the Niagara Icewine Festival Northern Lights Gala at Fallsview Casino Resort. From there, outdoor street celebrations and events at local wineries attract tens of thousands of oenophiles who return every year.
Activities (read: nonstop Icewine imbibing) take place at Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Festival and Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest in Jordan Village along picturesque streetscapes and throughout these communities at several participating wineries. The best way to not miss anything is with a Niagara Icewine Festival Discovery Pass, entitling pass holders to choose eight wine and culinary pairings from dozens of VQA wineries along Wine Country Ontario’s Wine Route.
This quintessential dessert wine may reign supreme in last courses, but despite its super-sweet nature, creative Canadian chefs make Icewine a fixture in savory dishes from foie gras to ham, especially in the weeks surrounding the festival. Whether you reserve a table during the festival or save a visit for another time, here are a few places to check off during the Icewine fêtes. Not hitting up the Niagara Icewine Festival 2019? We can help you find the right restaurant in your city on OpenTable.com.
Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant
Chef Jason Parson’s signature Icewine marshmallows have become legendary throughout the year at Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant, but especially during the Icewine festival when paired with sips of Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc Icewine 2016 or Ice Cuvée Rosé. Parsons prepares them from Italian meringue folding in the Icewine to create pillows of charred goodies on wooden sticks. He and his team make 5,000 Icewine marshmallows for the occasion, plus his Icewine chocolate tart, a chocolate ganache laced with Cabernet Franc in what Parsons refers to as a chocolate pâté. And at the Icewine festival street market, Peller’s savory treat is an Icewine lobster poutine. For the Peller Icewine dinner on January 19, guests can partake of a four-course dinner in the barrel cellar inspired around Icewine, with smoked sablefish with kimchi, Icewine roasted beets, and bison Osso Buco. Diners in the know make Peller a frequent stop also for the 10Below Icewine Lounge at Peller (pictured above), a minus-10 degrees Celsius tasting area in homage to the winemakers who must endure cold temps to harvest the grapes. Make a reservation at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant.
21 Club Steakhouse at Fallsviews Casino Resort
As a huge supporter of the Icewine celebrations, Ray Taylor as chef of Fallsviews Casino Resort has almost an entire city at his fingertips. It’s a good thing since he and his staff love to support local viticulture. More than 700 people attend the Fallsviews Casino Resort Icewine galas. Participating chefs use it as their culinary showcase for the year, complete with thousands of sample bites complimented by Icewines provided by regional wineries. The resort has several dining options, but carnivores flock to Taylor’s 21 Club Steakhouse for Brooke’s Alberta Chateau Briand for two, Nebraska longbone steak, and rack of lamb from Innisfail, Alberta. But this fine-dining destination isn’t just about meat and potatoes. Diners can opt for two caviar tastings including Russian Black Pearl, sustainable wild-caught Baltimore blue crab cakes, and salt-roasted beets among other delights. Make a reservation at 21 Club Steakhouse at Fallsview Casino Resort.
Vineland Estates Winery
Forest views of the Niagara Escarpment, Lake Ontario waterscapes, and the Toronto skyline draw diners to pop into Vineland Estates Winery, but they return time and again to sample foods from the creative mind of the winery restaurant chef, Justin Downes. This year in honor of the Icewine festivities, he is pairing caramel corn, walnuts, Icewine jam, and foie gras as part of a dreamy package with the Vineland Estates Winery 2016 Vidal Icewine and Cliché Late Harvest Sparkling. Known for other lip-smacking creations like house-cured meats, terrines, and rillettes, the menu never fails to impress with entrees like 16-hour short ribs and rainbow trout with miso and ham hock broth – and desserts like chèvre crème brûlée with yogurt chiffon, beetroot coulis, charcoal shortbread, and black sesame tuile. Bring a date or anyone who appreciates architecture since dining indoors includes relaxing in a renovated 1845 farmhouse or outdoors under shade sails, weather permitting. Make a reservation at Vineland Estates Winery.
Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards
The brainchild of sisters Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli, these enterprising ladies found a way to share their love of the Italian table in their Two Sisters Vineyard restaurant, Kitchen76. Weekends in January, Two Sisters Vineyards events include the ‘Icewine Cocktail Experience’ where attendees will learn the basics of this distinctly Niagara wine – plus how to blend scrumptious cocktails using Icewine as the base. The adventure begins at the tasting bar with a pink mimosa from Lush Sparkling and Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine before moving to the private tasting room where wine tutors will lead guests through two more Icewine-based cocktails using the Two Sisters Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon Icewines. All that mixing and tasting leads to hungry appetites and Kitchen76 is just the ticket, especially with an order of housemade focaccia served with extra virgin olive oil from the Marotta family olive orchard dating back 500 years to the sisters’ hometown of Pertosa, Italy. Other notable menu items include braised lamb shoulder and tagliatelle at this gorgeous spot that never fails to turn on the romance and deliver at the table. Diners can partake of multiple Icewine cocktail experiences each weekend day beginning January 12 and will leave with featured cocktail recipe cards. Make a reservation at Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards.
Trius Winery & Restaurant
Icewine fans already love Trius Winery & Restaurant for the Icewine-cured and smoked salmon goat’s cheese croquettes featured on a previous menu, along with Dodd’s famed Ontario mushroom collection with Icewine onion jam, Hewitt’s Farm goat’s cheese, and Homestead Farm fried duck egg – not to mention other items like mulled red wine pear and confit duck leg with fondant potato, red wine cherries, duck liver parfait, and chocolate crumble. Not much can top the Trius hero plate brimming with beef pastrami, chicken liver parfait, spicy sopressata, capocollo, salmon rillettes, hen’s egg, smoked ham hock terrine, lamb summer sausage, aged Ontario cheddar, Hewitt’s goat’s cheese, honey comb, beet pickle, mustard, cornichon pickles, and house baguette. An exception to that, perhaps, is what chef Frank Dodd is planning to serve at the festival: a hearty, cheesy pairing of chili mac n’ cheese served with the 2016 Trius Vidal. Also on the calendar, an Icewine cocktail reception at the winery followed by a four-course dinner, serving Icewine with savory dishes paired by winemaker Craig McDonald. Make a reservation at Trius Winery & Restaurant.
The Yellow Pear Kitchen
Ontarians live for brunch these days, thanks in no small part to Nicole and Jason Sawatzky of Yellow Pear Kitchen and Yellow Pear Food Truck fame. They’ve found some of the most fun ways to incorporate Icewine into their cooking – like glazing ham in a reduction of Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine and garnishing waffles in Icewine butter. The Sawatzkys have even featured an Icewine grilled cheese on the menu starring their Icewine butter in years past. Their menu changes weekly, but diners are thrilled to find items like bahn mi sandwiches, inventive waffles (corn, zucchini, beef brisket, and spiced maple), and steak and eggs. Yellow Pear fans can choose from several of their beloved eggs Benny dishes, like smoked salmon, pork belly, and Ontario trout. Make a reservation at The Yellow Pear Kitchen.
Check out other restaurants in the Niagara Wine Country here.
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Photo credits: Peller Estates (hero image); Nataschia Wielink (Trius).