Seven Things to Know about Icewine


A closer look at the Champagne of Canada

This month, you can find us holed up by the fireplace at Soho House Toronto sipping the dessert wine crafted from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine. Paired with dessert (or drunk instead of), House favorite Stratus Red Icewine is comprised of four different red varieties, all harvested by hand: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre and Syrah. The result is a beautiful ruby-hued sip, intensely rich in cherry and strawberry jam flavours, with peppery raspberry notes.

So step aside, maple syrup, here, we take a closer look at one of Ontario’s most valuable liquid assets.

Icewine was accidentally discovered in Germany in the late 1700’s by farmers trying to salvage a frost-ridden grape harvest. Centuries later, and not at all by accident, a local Niagara winery with German roots called Inniskillin entered its 1989 Vidal Icewine at Vinexpo in Bordeaux where it won the Grand Prix d’Honneur and captured the world’s interest. They rest, as they say, is history.

Known for its intense flavours and rich, viscous texture, icewine is produced from grapes that are left on the vine after the fall harvest. When temperatures drop to below -8ºC, the frozen grapes are handpicked and immediately pressed to create thick, rich wine that is highly concentrated in natural sugars and acidity. The juice evolves into a product that’s richly flavoured and sweet, hence icewine’s steeper price point compared to grapes harvested during the typical season.

Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate sufficiently cold enough to ensure an almost annual icewine crop.Canada is the largest icewine producer in the world, with 96 wineries producing the product in the highly regulated, globally accepted, traditional method.

China is the country’s top export destination. Because of Canada’s unique growing conditions (let’s not talk in code: our bitter cold winters), Canadian icewines are darlings on the international stage.

There is a government policy that requires icewine to be made exclusively from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine. Any other method and it cannot be called icewine, in the same way ‘Champagne’ is a a controlled name.

Icewine should be chilled at 10-12 degrees Celsius, and poured in small servings, to be suitably savoured.

Once a bottle is opened, icewine will keep well in the fridge for three to five days, thanks to its naturally-occurring sugar content.

—Written by Karen Cleveland

Seven Ontario Wines to Fall For


A good bottle of wine makes staying in pleasurable as the weather turns chilly. We’ve rounded up the seven best bottles from our favorite local vineyards

The shift in seasonal wines isn’t unlike the change in our wardrobes. Just as we start to crave cozy knits and sumptuous leather when the weather cools, so our palettes turn to full-bodied wines to suit the chilly temperatures.

Save the grassy, fresh white wines for a summer patio and embrace the season for rich, bold bottles with intense flavours and higher alcohol content (hello, warming effect). And where better to find them than our own backyard? Here are seven fall picks, all sourced from Niagara’s wine region, a hop, skip and jump from Toronto.

1. Stratus Petit Verdot 2011
The Winery: Stratus is a real stunner, settled on 62 acres near the southeastern border of the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation. Its glass and stone slickness feels a bit more Napa Valley than Niagara and the view from its back patio is simply perfect.
The Wine: Just released, this 2011 vintage is a great bottle to drink now, or save for a few years. Petit Verdot is typically used in small percentages for classic Bordeaux blends and is rarely bottled as a single varietal. This darkly-hued wine is full of juicy dark berry fruits and a touch of warm spice with a silky finish.

2. Château des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
The Winery: Founded in the late 1970’s, Château des Charmes has been family owned and operated for more than 30 years, culminating in five generations of winemaking expertise from the Bosc family.
The Wine: This delicious bargain drinks like a much dearer classic old world cab sauv. It is heavy on black cherry, dark chocolate and a bit of warm toasted vanilla. This classic cozy wine also has just the right amount of tannins.

3. Pondview Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
The Winery: One of Niagara on the Lake’s most charming wineries, Pondview brings a bit of la dolce vita to the area. The Puglisi family grew grapes and produced wines in Sicily, bringing their passion and expertise to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1965.
The Wine: This is an outstanding red that is full-bodied but beautifully smooth. Aged for 16 months in French and American oak barrels, it boasts mocha, dark chocolate and vanilla flavors, with rich cedar and coffee nuances. Truly delicious.

4. Cattail Creek Estate Winery Creek Series Cabernet Merlot 2012
The Winery: On a farming plot that was used to grow peaches, Cattail Creek Estate Winery has some of the oldest Riesling vines in the province.
The Wine: An excellent value, this medium-bodied dry wine is strong on cassis, berries and plum. A blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (28%), the finish is fantastic: it’s almost dessert-like. Refined tannins and lingering taste of toasted vanilla and cherry.

5. Jackson-Triggs Delaine Syrah 2010
The Winery: Canada’s most awarded winery, Jackson Triggs is a pillar of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Wine: This Syrah is rich and spicy, with black pepper, cardamom and clove paired with dark fruit. It’s juicy and balanced, mellowed by notes of coffee. Enjoy it now, or put it away for a winter in years to come.

6. Mike Weir Pinot Noir 2013
The Winery: Canada’s most famous golfer entered the wine business in 2005 and has since gone on to produce some of the top selling VQA wines in the LCBO. Winemaker Jeff Hundertmark is one of the area’s most affable talents.
The Wine: Famously fickle grapes to grow, pinot noir is a labor of love. And this is a bottle to love. As well-priced as it is easy drinking, the beautifully balanced pinot noir tastes of jam (heavy on the cherry) with just a hint of smoke.

7. Stoney Ridge Cabernet Franc 2013
The Winery: For more than 25 years, Niagara’s “garden winery” has charmed customers with its exceptional wines and friendly atmosphere. The onsite artisan cheese shop doesn’t hurt, either.
The Wine: A steal at this price, stock up on a case of this Cab Franc. A gorgeous deep ruby color, this wine is peppery and heady. Full bodied, with a pinch of green pepper, and enough tannins to pack a punch.

—Written by Karen Cleveland


(Originally published for Soho House, November 2014)

Niagara Icewine Festival Survival

Bundled up to brave the frigid Lake Effect temperatures, standing a stone’s throw from the frozen river bed — all for the sole purpose of drinking icewine. I’ve never felt more patriotic.

I wrote about the must do’s to hit during the Niagara Icewine Festival, so here’s a few things to pack.

Icewine Fest Survival

Check out Canada Goose, Burt’s Bees, Malin + Goetz, Balzac’s and The Hudson’s Bay.





Niagara on the Lake — 10 Things You Need to Know

Niagara-on-the-Lake: 10 Things You Need to Know About This Getaway From Toronto


Getaway From Toronto: Niagara-on-the-LakeGetaway From Toronto: Niagara-on-the-Lake (Photo: Theodore C)

If you’re going to invest 90 minutes of driving for a getaway from Toronto, fewer places net a higher return than a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The charming town is home to breathtaking views, excellent restaurants, amazing vineyards and some of Canada’s most treasured heritage sites. Whether you fall in love with Niagara-on-the-Lake for a long affair, or just a fleeting tryst, be sure to consider these 10 tips when making your getaway plan.

Brave your alarm clock or brave sitting in traffic. The 90-minute drive from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake can easily double in heavy traffic. Leave Toronto by 8 a.m. for the most efficient drive.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is walkable—sort of. The nearby wineries warrant car or bike trips, but the downtown hub is best explored on foot. Street parking is in abundance, so ditch your car and fuel up for your stroll with a coffee from Balzac. The Toronto-based café makes a fine Americano, and its Niagara-on-the-Lake outpost has more charm and less bustle than its city counterparts.

For cocktail hour, get a seat on the patio at Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf and Country Club, North America’s oldest standing golf club. The setting is unpretentious with gorgeous views of the lake and Fort Niagara, built in the 1700’s. This is the perfect place to watch the sun set while sampling a glass of local wine from the small but well-curated list of local bottles.

While there is no shortage of good restaurants in the Niagara-on-the-Lake’s core (check out the new Treadwell location), some of the best meals are served at the wineries. At Good Earth Winery—one of the area’s original farm-to-table restaurants—the setting, food and wine are all wonderful. The lobster and shrimp burger is as good, if not better, than you’d imagine.

For more than 50 years, the Shaw Theatre Festival has been its own getaway from Toronto. It’s long anchored Niagara’s art’s scene, producing plays from George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The Edwardian-style Royal George Theatre is impossibly beautiful and located on downtown Queen Street.

After #5, grab a night cap at the Olde Angel Inn , the oldest operating inn in Ontario. The pub was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815 after the War of 1812. Exposed beams and thick plank floors make for a cozy environment. Be sure to ask the warm staffers about the resident ghost and the flag they fly above the Inn.

Jackson-Triggs Winery hosts fantastic outdoor concerts at its open-air amphitheatre. Performances range from classical to folk, and often have the option of pairing a concert with dinner and wine in the stunning on-site cellar.

The bed and breakfast is Niagara-on-the-Lake’s signature accommodation type. There are dozens, and each has its own charms. We love The Darlington House, located a short stroll from the town centre and across the street from the historic Butler’s Barracks. The house is quaint, the breakfast excellent and Julie and Mark are the consummate hosts.

Grape vines pour over the benches and rich terroir that surround Niagara-on-the-Lake thanks to the region’s 27 wineries. You shouldn’t leave without touring at least a few of them, or even stopping in for lunch. We love Marynissen Winery , home to the oldest commercial plot of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Canada, and Ravine Vineyard , which has a casual-but-elegant restaurant, organic farm and canning shop.

Before jumping on the highway, take a few leisurely back country roads and you’re bound to happen upon a farmer’s market or two. Stock up on produce, preserves or fresh baked goods for the drive back. The annual Niagara Wine Festival, held in mid-September is the perfect excuse to plan a visit—not that you need one.

Karen Cleveland is a Toronto-based writer. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter (@schoolfinishing).

(Originally published on, August 2013)

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