What champagne is to France, so icewine is to Canada. There is no other place in the world with the conditions that encourage the production of such a luscious and decadent drink. Produced from grapes naturally frozen on the vine, the sweet nectar is vinified into traditional Icewine, sparkling or oak-aged versions with styles that range from complex to simply sophisticated. Made predominantly from vidal, riesling and cabernet franc grape varieties you will also find some less common versions made from gewürztraminer and chardonnay.
Of course, such luxury comes at a price. “The reason why Icewine is much more costly is because there’s such a small window in which you can harvest it,” says Anne Marie Piro, co-owner of Galucci Winery. “You get much less quantity from the frozen grapes than you do from the regular grape.”
Icewine was first picked in the mid 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1989 when Inniskillin Wines won the prestigious Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, France for their icewine. It was this single event that made the world take notice and Canadian Icewine has enjoyed a place on the world stage ever since.
“Today, ninety percent of Canadian Icewine comes from Ontario,” explains Gwen Layton, winery hostess at Willow Springs Winery. If you call yourself a lover of food and wine and are unfamiliar with Icewine, then you obviously have a bit of undone tasting to tend to.
On the palate it begins with a mouthful of nectarine, apricot and pineapple flavours layered with the added richness of lychee and honey. No other wine comes so close to the pure expression of dark honey without honey’s sugary fierceness. “You want to reach a nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity of the grapes,” says Layton.
With all of these remarkable attributes, the question has always been how to enjoy it, what foods? Unfortunately, Icewine often confuses traditional wine drinkers. Perhaps because of its price, its elite food partners or the fact that it is so different from other table wines. Pity, because Icewine is one of the world’s most diverse wines for foods and most complex wines for contemplation.
“People will say Icewine pairs well with dessert, but it’s also great with spicy foods – and some savoury too,” says Layton. “When we do tastings, we’ll ask people to try some blue cheese and then try the Icewine afterwards, because it gives you such a contrast and it also really establishes the sweetness of the Icewine.”
“A lot of people will pair it with an opposite, because it really helps bring out the flavouring,” says Piro. Lamb and Icewine are amazing partners, especially when the lamb is served with peach chutney. Try it with a simple custard and fruit tart, a warm cheese soufflé or a cream of cauliflower soup. In all of these examples, Icewine’s acidity cuts through the richness of the cream giving a lighter more integrated affect on the palate. And you can’t go wrong with dark chocolate. Galucci Winery also offers pairings with s’mores and crème brulee.
If you’re an adventurous wine drinker and want to explore the world of diverse Icewines, you’re not too late. Icewine grapes in Ontario are harvested from late December through to February. If it has been a while since you last enjoyed a sip of this exquisite drink, Layton encourages giving it a second chance. “It has changed tenfold in the last 10 years,” she says. “Now, with the knowledge in Icewine making in Ontario, I think we put out some of the best Icewines in the world.”
So dress warm and get out to taste and get inspired about Icewine – like an Ontario wine drinker should!
by Lynn Ogryzlo & Charlotte Ottaway
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to Look Local Magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.ca.
Galucci Winery, Whitchurch-Stouffville
Willow Springs Winery, Whitchurch-Stouffville
Niagara Icewine Festival