This month we had the wonderful opportunity to explore Canada’s Niagara Icewine industry and meet the fabulous people who bring us this delicious treat.
We had originally planned on visiting up to ten wineries, but ended up at a more realistic four. These four wineries and boutiques, Niagara College Canada Wine Visitor & Education Center, Château des Charmes, Inniskillin, and Peller Estates, offered us a fantastic and thorough education on Icewine to share with you.
This is where we started our trip. They offered lots of information and were very welcoming and kind in helping us decide where to go and who to talk to after our visit with them.
It was very cold outside but the people were warm and effusive and quite excited to share their pride and joy in Icewine crafting.
Robin Fraser of Niagara College Canada Wine Visitor and Education Centre, a very friendly and knowledgeable fellow.
He shared with us a sample of delicious 2008 Cabernet Franc Icewine which, at $55.05 for 375ml he deemed the best value going. Icewines range from $30 to $150 per bottle on average.
Yes, Icewine is expensive. But read on, you will soon see why and learn that it is sooo worth it!
Michèle Bosc of Château des Charmes, lovely and gracious and quite informative.
Icewine is so luscious and sensual, a little goes a long way. Generally sold in 375ml bottles, it can sometimes be found in 200ml bottles or small try-me sizes. It is a special occasion treat, to be sure. But make sure that you are having those special occasions often. Lovely for dessert, it also serves as a perfect brunch wine or a welcome glass to greet your guests. Or combine chilled Icewine with cold vodka and toss in a frozen grape for a delicious martini!
Never tried Icewine? Hopefully you will be inspired to give it a try; I guarantee you will love it. A few choice bottles of Niagara Icewine belong in every good wine collection. After this journey I have developed quite a taste for the stuff myself!
What is Icewine?
Icewine is a rich and concentrated wine, derived from grapes that have been naturally frozen on the vine well into December and January. Three days and nights of cold, clear weather between -8 and -12 degrees Celsius (17.6F-10.4F) are needed for optimum picking conditions. (No, windchill doesn’t count!) The freeze/thaw cycles leading up to picking time result in dehydrated grape and concentrated juice which gives Icewine its characteristic intense complexity.
Grapes on the vine in December
Semi-frozen Vidal grapes that we sampled.
Vidal grapes are the ideal grape for making Icewine as they have a thick and hearty skin and cling to the vine even after freezing. Other grapes are also used, such as Riesling and Cab Franc, but they face the risk of breaking down before harvest time and make for a riskier crop.
To protect Icewine vines of all kinds, nets are put up in October and fastened beneath. The nets collect any fallen grapes and serve to discourage birds and deer who might fancy a grape or two.
When the winemaker decides that it is optimal picking time, the fields are lit up with floodlights and a small army of bundled-up pickers hand pick every bunch of grapes. The grapes are picked at night and harvesting is completed before the sun has a chance to warm them up.
Presses (pictured – basket press)
There are two types of presses used, both outside of course, a basket press and a pneumatic press. The process is slow. Pressure is at a high atmosphere, 100 psi, and after an hour or two the concentrated juices will start to drip from the grapes.
The yield is about 5%-10% compared to traditional wine yields from the same grape varietals.
History and Origins
Icewine, or Eiswein, was, like most great discoveries, discovered quite by accident. When sudden freezing weather prevented a traditional harvest of grapes in Germany in the late 1700’s, some winemakers, wanting to salvage what they could, pressed the frozen grapes and discovered the unique and complex properties of Icewine.
Canada’s Niagara Region is unique in that its weather is moderated by Lake Ontario. The prevailing winds blow over the lake, bounce off of the Niagara Escarpment, through the vines and go back out to the water again. The ancient lakebed of Niagara region is rich in minerals that, combined with the cooler climate, create delicious and complex wines.
Niagara is 43 degrees latitude, close in latitude to Bordeaux, Venice and Northern California.
While a couple of other countries do make Icewine, Canada has become a world leader in Icewine crafting and exporting and is the only country with reliable weather for annual Icewine grape harvests.
There are 10 sub-regions in the Niagara Peninsula, as the soil is so complex and varied that the taste of the wines will vary from location to location, even as close as down the street.
For more information on the sub-regions, click here.
Château des Charmes
2007 Vidal Icewine Estate Bottled V.Q.A.
2007 Riesling Icewine Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard, V.Q.A.
2006 Savagnin Icewine St. David’s Bench Vineyard, V.Q.A.
The VQA designation was developed to hold Ontario wines to strict quality standards. Ontario is newer on the wine-making scene and now holds itself to more strict standards than many older countries do.
“VQA denotes quality and label integrity for Ontario wines of origin.” For more information on VQA, click here.
We sampled Icewines at a couple of the wineries, but enjoyed a thorough Icewine tasting education at Inniskillin.
Pictured, in order, are
2007 Riesling VQA Icewine
2006 Vidal VQA Icewine
2006 Oaked Vidal VQA Icewine
2007 Sparkling VQA Icewine
2006 Cabernet Franc VQA Icewine
I was amazed at the variety of flavours that Icewine came in. Until our trip I hadn’t realized the diversity of this type of wine. Riesling has a higher acidity and offers a light, crisp flavour. Vidal is deeper and more honeyed, and Oaked Vidal is deeper still with caramel properties. Cabernet Franc is darker, fruity and complex, and Sparkling Icewine is pure joy in a glass.
Deborah L. Pratt of Inniskillin, demonstrating an Icewine tasting.
We learned the proper techniques of tasting Icewines, as well as how profoundly glass size and shape can affect the flavour experience. Georg Riedel (Riedel Glass) and Karl Kaiser (Inniskillin) developed a unique tulip shaped Icewine glass for optimal Icewine tasting. We compared the scent and flavour of the same wine in a port glass and were quite taken aback by the difference. The long stem forces you to tip your head back and coat your tongue with the luscious elixir for a more sensual experience, and the bowl shape allows the scent to bloom as you swirl it.
Don’t they just sparkle like jewels?
Food Pairings& Recipes
Icewine pairs beautifully with food. To deem it merely a dessert wine would be doing Icewine a great disservice. It pairs wonderfully with both sharp and creamy cheeses, rich meats, and fruits –both dried and fresh. Of course it is a fabulous wine for dessert, either by itself or paired with a creamy confection or dark chocolate.
Below are some simple and delicious pairings for your next cocktail party.
Turkish Dried Apricots stuffed with Blue Cream Cheese.
Mash - 4oz room temperature cream cheese with ¼ cup blue cheese (or to taste) - with a fork. Split and stuff your seeded apricots. Cream cheese can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge.
Medjool Dates stuffed with Orange Cream Cheese and Toasted Pecans.
Mash - 4oz room temperature cream cheese with the zest of 1 small orange, 1 tsp orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau, and 1 tsp sugar – with a fork. Toast your pecan halves and let cool. Split and stuff your seeded dates with cream cheese and insert one toasted pecan half. Cream cheese can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.
Triple Crème Brie with Turkish Dried Apricots marinated in Icewine.
Chop up some Turkish dried apricots and marinate them, at room temperature, in a couple of spoonfuls of Icewine for two hours. Take cheese out of fridge one hour before serving, place a slice on a canapé cracker and top with marinated apricots.
Cambozola and Honeydew Melon Canapés.
Cambozola is a Camembert/Blue Cheese hybrid that is creamy, pungent and delicious. It pairs wonderfully with sliced honeydew melon which I have playfully shaped with a cookie cutter.
Smoked Cheddar & Pear topped with Toasted Pecan.
Smoked Cheddar is a delight. This artisanal product is aged and smoked for a smoky, nutty and sharp bite that pairs nicely with a crisp slice of pear, the pecan half tops the canapé for a delightful trifecta of flavour.
Duck Liver Paté with cream, Madeira wine, and cognac, garnished with orange peel and cranberries – sliced, served on Crackers topped with Microgreens and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper.
No recipe needed for this one, just make sure to get a lovely and special paté.
Veal Scaloppini Roll Ups.
Lay out some small, thin veal scaloppini. Line the pieces with Prosciutto, cut or fold to fit. On short side closest to you, press in a spoonful (depending on size of veal) of blue cream cheese, above. Sprinkle with chopped toasted pecans. Roll and fasten with a toothpick or butcher’s twine. Salt and pepper the rolls and sear on all sides in an oiled cast iron pan. Let rest for a couple of minutes, slice and serve with sprinkled toasted pecans.
Mini Lamb Chops in a Potato-Celery Root Puree with Microgreens and Mint Jelly
Lamb - In a spice grinder, whiz together 40% black peppercorns, 40% coriander seeds and 20% coarse sea salt. Press into lamb lollies, sear both sides in an oiled cast iron pan.
Potato-Celery Root Puree – Cube one large celery root and one large russet potato, peeled. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, mash, add ¼ cup cream and 2 tbsp butter and whiz with an immersion blender as needed. Season to taste with celery salt and white pepper. Can be multiplied and also made in advance and reheated.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls. Ricardo Larrivée’s Crème Brûlée by the Spoonful
Such a wonderful idea. Simple and creamy and delicious and all in one mouthful! Click here for the recipe.
Links, Events, Festival
As a special treat for cold weather and Icewine lovers, there will be an Icewine Festival in January 2010.
“When Gold Meets Cold”
For three weeks in January the Niagara region is transformed into a wintry wonderland, celebrating one of Canada’s most cherished products, Ontario Icewine.
From Gala evening toasts to chestnut roasts, ornate ice bars and winery tours, the 15th annual Niagara Icewine Festival offers plenty for every taste. Join the celebration.
For more information, click here.
Icewine and the Prez
Inniskillin Wines is pleased to announce that the Inniskillin Vidal Icewine was selected and served at
(the) Nobel Peace Prize dinner at which United States President Barack Obama received the 2009
award. The Inniskillin 2003 Gold Oak aged Vidal Icewine was paired to a menu created especially for the
For more information, click here.
One of the things I like most about visiting Niagara at any time of year is how friendly and knowledgeable winery staff are, and how each one champions the entire industry. Indeed the whole peninsula comes across as one big family, celebrating in each other's successes. This has been a most positive and rewarding exploration and I hope you enjoyed learning with me.
Many people have been kind and generous to us in the making of this Icewine article. A big thanks to Foodbuzz, my husband who is also my driver and photographer, Mr. Robin Fraser of Niagara College Canada Wine Visitor and Education Centre, Michèle Bosc of Château des Charmes, and most especially Deborah L. Pratt of Inniskillin.