ICEWINE: Sipping Canadian Liquid Gold
There are a few quintessentially Canadian things and the luscious luxury of Icewine is certainly one of them. It was discovered by a lucky accident in 1700s Germany when a cold front swept through the vineyards and froze the grapes before they were picked. The winemakers picked and pressed anyway and were rewarded by the most luscious sweet wine.
Canada’s affair with the frozen grape started in the 1970s as the German immigrants continued their Eiswein making tradition in our nearly perfect climate conditions in both Niagara Peninsula and the Okanagan Valley. Our warm Canadian summers with plenty of sunshine fully ripen the berries and cold enough winters freeze them consistently every year.
Pressed while still frozen, riper, naturally dehydrated grapes with high sugar content produce rich, concentrated flavors while still maintaining the high level of acidity. They are bursting with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches & figs, dried apricots, citrus and tropical notes of ripe mangoes and grilled pineapples.
Ontario produces elegant and complex icewines that are vinified mainly from Vidal Blanc, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc varietals. They are each recognizable by the characteristics of their aromas and flavors; honey in Vidal, racy acidity and mineral notes of Riesling and bursts of ripe strawberries in Cabernet Franc.
Although still thought of as a dessert wine, Icewine is increasingly paired with many savory dishes due to its weight and viscosity. Compared to other styles of sweet wines; it comes with greater complexity, higher acidity, and perfectly balanced sweetness.
That makes them extremely food-friendly for main courses with rich and complex foods such as foie gras and lobster, as well as sweet and luscious desserts.
Icewine also loves cheese due to its perfectly balanced acidity and sweetness. It complements the rich, salty and savory flavors of cheese beautifully.
The best icewine-cheese matches are by far strong-flavored hard cheeses and aged blue cheeses, such as Roquefort and Gorgonzola.
Here a few of my favorite Ontario offerings:
Château des Charmes Cabernet Icewine 2014, Niagara, Ontario
Beautifully luscious red Icewine from one of Niagara’s most prominent producers. A perfect blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Bursting with aromas and flavors of ripe red berries with perfectly balanced sweetness and acidity. Luxurious mouthfeel and long-lingering honey-hued finish. A must-try Ontario Icewine. Perfect companion to fruit-based desserts or as a splurge, with foie gras. Score: 95/100. Tasted January 2018. VINTAGES#: 346692, $ 79.95
This delicious and intensely aromatic Vidal Icewine comes from Inniskillin’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Winery. Vinified from premium thick-skinned Vidal grapes suitable for late season picking. Bursting with tropical aromas and flavors of ripe mangoes, white peaches, candied lemons and creamy honey while maintaining crisp acidity. Great dessert on its own, or paired with blue cheeses and fruit tarts and pies. VINTAGES#: 551085, $ 49.95
Vinified with specially selected, hand-harvested and pressed 100% Riesling grapes from Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore at temperatures below -10ºC. Deep golden in color with aromas and flavors of stewed orchard fruits, raisins and lemon drops with perfectly balanced acidity. Closes in a long, silky, tangerine-tinged finish. Perfectly matches with aged Stilton and foîe gras. VINTAGES#: 447441, $ 49.95
Henry of Pelham Cabernet Icewine 2013
Vinified from 100% Cabernet Franc grapes harvested at Henry of Pelham’s Short Hills Bench vineyards, comes this intense and lushes Icewine. Abundant aromas and flavors of sweet ripe strawberries and raspberries with a touch of spice. Well balanced acidity and a long, smooth. It stands on its own perfectly as an after-supper-sipper or paired with dark chocolate desserts. VINTAGES#: 67240, $ 39.95