Bring the Icewine Festival Home With a Tasting Bar and Innovative Cocktails

Man's hand holding a glass of ice wine up against a grape farm in the winter.

This year's icewine festival is postponed, but you can still celebrate with a tasting bar and a few unique cocktails from home. Photo: GettyImages/BaronVisi

Around this time every year, the winemakers of Ontario’s Niagara region celebrate something very special: icewine. Canada’s world-famous sweet stuff is unique among wines, ranking with the region’s magnificent Niagara Falls as its other wonder. The grapes used for it are allowed to naturally freeze on the vine and can only be picked when temperatures reach – 8 C or below to maintain maximum freshness and high sugar content.

The icewines are also one of the region’s best exports. “But we want to raise awareness of all our world-class wines that are made right here in Ontario,” says Magdalena Kaiser of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario. You might say Kaiser has wine in her veins. She grew up in the regio and learned the trade from Karl Kaiser, her winemaking father — and one of the godfathers of Niagara wine, along with Donald Ziraldo. The pair were awarded their winery licence in Canada in 1975 — the first awarded to any winery since prohibition. They founded Inniskillin on the Niagara Peninsula, and the Niagara wine region was born.

A bit of history: the first icewine, or eiswein, has been traced to Germany when in 1794 an early frost froze grapes on the vine. With the hope that they could salvage some of the crop, the monks who tended the vineyard picked and pressed the frozen grapes. The reward was a sublime nectar that could rival some of the famous sweet wines of the world. Dependent on Mother Nature, this wine was only produced in the coldest winters with great variability.  


Frozen grapes on the vine. Photo: Courtesy of Inniskillin


Among Magdalena’s icewine picks ? Aside from Inniskillin, “There are so many great wines,” she says, diplomatically. But after some thought, she adds that Reif Estates and Stratus are both making good icewines. Reif’s berry-hued Cabernet Icewine Grand Reserve regularly sells out (we’re also fans of the winery’s The Magician Shiraz Pinot red wine), while Stratus offers four varieties, from riesling to red icewine. 

“Ontario wines are world class,” she adds. And since we’re all trying to support local, why not show all Canadian wines some love as well? A tip: look for the VQA seal, which stands for Vintners Quality Alliance, an appellation of origin system that both Ontario and British Columbia use to note that the grapes used in the wine are 100 per cent province-grown.


Did You Know? 


Of all wine-producing regions in the world, Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula is the only one that consistently has the warm summers and cold, sharp winters required to produce icewine every year. 


It’s a Festival!


This year’s annual Icewine festival, which usually takes place from late January through February, is postponed, but we can still celebrate the fruits of the vine from home. Our friends at Wine Country Ontario suggest creating your own icewine festival at home: an icewine tasting, a cheese pairing and even making curated cocktails with icewine.   


Icewine Tasting 


Create a “tasting bar.” Choose three grape varietals: the most easily accessible are from the Vidal, Riesling (both whites) and Cabernet Franc (red), but there are also some Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. 


Inniskillin Vidal Icewine
Photo: Courtesy of Inniskillin


A popular pick is the 2018 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine. This is an award-winning icewine with flavours of peach, candied citrus peel and honey. It won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo and put Canada on the global wine map. Available at the LCBO, Wine Rack or Great Estates Niagara for $49.95/375 mL.   

Add in a red icewine, such as Reif’s Cabernet Icewine Grand Reserve or Inniskillin’s Cabernet Franc Icewine, with red berry characteristics. Made from the vinifera grape, Inniskillin’s Cabernet Franc has aromas and flavours of strawberry. Available at the Wine Rack or Great Estates Niagara for $54.95/200 mL. 


Icewine and Cheese 


Pairing icewine with cheese is a match made in heaven. Balance out the sweet icewine with a savoury cheese like Roquefort or Gorgonzola. The crucial element to icewine is its balanced acidity, which is naturally complemented by many cheeses with salty and savoury flavours. 


Festival Cocktails 


Yes, you read that right — cocktails! You can create a breadth of delicious cocktails with icewine.  

Icewine Cosmopolitan


Icewine cosmo
Photo: Courtesy of Wine Country Ontario



  • 1 oz Vidal or Riesling icewine, such as Stratus Riesling Icewine
  • 1 oz premium vodka
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 ½ oz cranberry juice
  • ½ oz lime juice
  • Citrus peel for garnish


Pour icewine, vodka, Grand Marnier, cranberry and lime juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a citrus peel. 

Inn-rita – The Inniskillin Take on the Margarita 


Inniskillin margarita
Photo: Courtesy of Inniskillin



  • 2 oz Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine 
  • 1 oz tequila blanco 
  • ½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice 
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice 


Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir until cold, strain over one large ice cube into a rocks glass and garnish. 


Red Icicle


Red Icicle
Photo: Courtesy of Wine Country Ontario



  • 1 ½ oz Vidal icewine, such as Reif Estate Winery’s Vidal Icewine 
  • 2 oz pomegranate juice
  • 2 oz ginger ale
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish


In a rocks glass with ice, add Vidal icewine, pomegranate juice and ginger ale. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.


Here are two takes on the classic Old Fashioned; one using red icewine and the other, white.

Cold Fashioned


Cold Fashioned cocktail
Photo: Courtesy of Wines of Ontario



  • 1 oz VQA red icewine 
  • 1 oz Canadian whisky 
  • Cherries and/or orange slices for garnish 


In a rocks glass with ice, stir icewine and whisky together. Garnish with cherries and/or orange slices.



  • 1½ oz Inniskillin Vidal Icewine
  • 1½ oz Scotch whisky
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Orange twist for garnish


Combine all ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir to chill. Garnish with an orange twist.

Visit Wine Country Ontario for more information.


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