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Warming up at the Niagara Icewine Festival

One of our New Year’s resolutions is to visit more events in 2016.

We started with the Niagara Icewine Festival in Canada, which continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. this weekend and next.

In its 21st year, the festival exceeded our expectations. Procrastination worked in our favor, too, as the exchange rate on the dollar is historically low.

Go straight for the festival’s Discovery Pass (individual experiences are $10 each). Passes can be purchased online or at the first winery you visit. Cost is $40 per person Canadian and includes eight winery experiences of your choice. With the exchange, our passes were a bargain at $31.25 each. A Driver’s Pass is $30 Canadian for culinary samples.

Do your homework and plan a route. Some wineries are open but not participants. Wine and food pairings are listed for each winery online. We matched our choices to a route that had us driving up the Niagara Parkway, around and down before heading home.

The wineries and winter landscape are stunning. Bundle up, as some stops have outdoor experiences.

Envisioning thimbles of wine and teeny portions, we were pleasantly surprised at the generous samples. And we learned a few things about icewine along the way.

We arrived at 11 a.m. and visited eight wineries that were located mostly at the top of the Niagara Peninsula. Here’s our route from start to end:

• Stop No. 1: Inniskillin Winery “Northern Cool Meets Southern Warmth” – A glass of light gold Riesling icewine was paired with a mini Chicken & Waffles. A super-moist piece of fried chicken thigh was perched on a waffle, topped with a delicious Riesling icewine butter to make “syrup.” The chef nailed it here.

• Stop No. 2: Reif Estate Winery “Living the Sweet Reifstyle” – Following the bacon smell, we were ushered into a dimly lit back room and poured a glass of deep gold Vidal icewine. We proceeded to get our Split Roast Porketta mini-sandwich with Apple Icewine Sauce. (Porketta is slow-roasted pig done with herbs.) In addition to an unbelievably delicious combination, we saw a whole pig cooking in a custom-made roaster fired with propane.

• Stop No. 3: Peller Estates “Sweet Sensation” – We sampled a lovely ruby-pink Cabernet Franc icewine paired with a giant, homemade marshmallow we roasted over a fire. Lots of laughs, but it was too sweet. Peller’s outdoor Icewine Market Grill has other food that can be purchased. Unfortunately tours, including the Greatest Winery Tour that includes a stop at the famed “10Below Ice Wine Lounge” were booked solid. Reserve ahead online if you want to see it. Cost is $15 per person Canadian.

• Stop No. 4: Jackson-Triggs “Slice and Ice” – It’s worth a stop to see the “modern barn” design of the building and for the fruity Cabernet Franc ice- wine. It was a perfect match for a slice of goat cheese and olive pizza topped with homemade salty lamb bacon and spicy arugula.

• Stop No. 5: Strewn Winery “Winter Waffle Wonderland” – Here sweet food worked with the wine. The chef wisely followed the rule of keeping the dessert less sweet than the wine. A cute mini-waffle was topped with Niagara maple ice jelly and “apple snow” (cooked apples). The icewine tasted like apples too. As a bonus, Strewn has an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting store. The owner is from South Africa, as are the olive oils. Vinegars are from Italy. Buy five, get a sixth for free, so stock up!

• Stop No. 6: Konzelmann Estate Winery “Lake & Sea” – The darling cup of spicy Atlantic chowder hit the spot, and was perfectly paired with a Vidal icewine.

• Stop No. 7: Trius Winery “Icewine by Fire” – For lack of a better description we got a McMuffin-sized peameal bacon panini with onion marmalade to eat outside by the fire. With the Vidal icewine it was scrumptious.

• Stop No. 8: Château des Charmes “Sweet & Salty” – Another pork stop (but who’s complaining?). A mini-pork belly taco came topped with apple onion slaw. We washed down with delicious gold Vidal icewine.

We wish we had time for the funky Ravine Vineyard and its Spicy Chicken Meatball in Mole with Cornbread with a Vidal icewine.

Two wineries serve Gewürztraminer icewine. Rancourt Winery pairs its with Harvest Barn Wicked Thai Soup while Diamond Estates Winery serves a Roasted Red Pepper Mascarpone Tartlet with Pancetta and Cipolline Onion Crisps.

And if that’s not enough, the wineries of Twenty Valley (about 30 minutes away from Niagara-on-the-Lake) are also participating. That would take an entire day, too.

For information about the Niagara Icewine Festival and to purchase Discover Passes, visit Niagarawinefestival.com.

More to do

• Next time, we would book a Saturday Wine & Cheese Seminar in conjunction with the Niagara Icewine Festival. Run by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the two remaining seminars on Jan. 30 are “The Rapture of the Rind” and “Racelette and Fondue Por Vous.” Details are online.

• Be sure to check out regular tours at the wineries you plan to hit. For example, Pillitteri’s complimentary public tours are at noon, 2 and 3 p.m.

• Many of the wineries have outstanding restaurants that serve lunch, dinner and brunch. With the exchange, prices cannot be beat. Have brunch before or dinner after you tour.

• The wineries sell all kinds of wine of course. Icewine can be very expensive, so the exchange works in your favor. We snagged two bottles for $45 Canadian ($31.25 U.S.).

• The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has an Icewine Village along Queen Street. Admission is free. Purchase tokens for wine and culinary samples. An Insider’s Pass is $32 and includes a souvenir glass, three icewine samples and four culinary samples. Also happening is the Icebreakers Comedy Festival. Visit Niagaraonthelake.com for details.

• For details about the Niagara Falls Icewine Festival (Jan. 29-31) held at Scotiabank Convention Center, visit Icewinefestivals.com.

• It’s not part of the tour – but for beer-drinkers – we can recommend Silversmith Brewing (Silversmithbrewing.com) with food done by Tide & Vine Oyster House (Tideandvine.com). It’s on Niagara Stone Road, right in the thick of the wineries.

• Two fun food stops also on Niagara Stone Road are Picard’s Peanuts (Picardspeanuts.com) and the Pie Plate Bakery Café (Thepieplate.com). The outstanding pies and baked goods can be boxed up for your trip home.