If the Snow Queen ever visited a bar, this would be it.
That’s what I think to myself as I survey my surroundings, where every surface from the bar top to the seat, is made of smooth, clear ice, almost mistakable for glass.
In my hand, I hold a flute of amber-hued, velvety vidal blanc icewine in hand. I take a sip and taste first notes of caramelized citrus, honey and peaches; the finish evokes brown sugar and quince.
The room is lit in soft blue light to amplify the icy atmosphere. Crystal, snowflake and icicle-shaped ornaments dangle from the walls and ceiling; fuzzy blue throw blankets are tossed on the ice-block seats to offer a spot to sit (or simply pose for a photo).
This is a wine tasting unlike any other, created to celebrate a unique vintage in a fittingly one-of-a-kind setting. We’re at Peller Estates Winery and Restaurant’s 10Below Icewine Lounge, in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic district.
Established in the European style, from the architecture to the wine styles, Peller Estates is a sprawling complex of vineyards, restaurants, tasting rooms and cellars. But it’s also home to a unique tasting igloo that’s kept to -10 degrees Celsius (the very same temperature that icewine grapes are harvested at) and made entirely of ice.
To get into the igloo, I join the “Greatest Winery Tour” which guides a group of wine lovers through the cellars. We start by sipping on sparkling wine and Chardonnay among the honey-hued oak barrels, but everyone – myself included – is most excited for the icewine tasting.
Icewine grapes are harvested at night once temperatures consistently reach -10 degrees Celsius. The grapes that remain on the vine – vidal blanc, riesling and cab franc grapes, specifically – are overripe, like plump raisins. The juice inside forms frozen ice crystals and the sugars are concentrated.
Unlike traditional grape harvesting, this process must be done by hand. Once collected, the grapes are pressed, with each grape producing just one drop of juice, compared to 40 drops from regular grapes. This hands-on process is integral to icewine’s luxury reputation, synonymous with exclusivity.
Peller’s icewine is an award winner many times over – and the winemaker has created a tasting experience to match. Future igloo visitors, take note: You’ll want to dress warm so you can linger as long as you want – or, at least until the next group of eager wine-tasters comes through.
A spectacular three-tier silver platter overflowing with treats arrives at the table. I start with the freshly-baked scone, still warm and studded with jasmine-tea infused golden raisins and paired with strawberry jam, crème fraîche and light-as-air whipped butter. Other sweets include macarons, buttercream-topped chocolate cake, ginger cookies and an oat-crumble berry tart. Talk about a royal lineup.
I decide to toast my sweets-filled day with a Kir Royale: local sparkling wine topped with cassis liqueur. After all, Niagara is synonymous with wine.
But it might be time to add desserts to the region’s list of draws. If you find yourself in Niagara-on-the-Lake, take my word for it: Don’t even think about skipping dessert.