The ritual of picking grapes in the freezing cold of winter and trying to crush the hard, marble-like orbs into a luxurious and magical drink wasn’t invented in Canada. But it’s Canadians who perfected the art of making Icewine and marketing it to the rest of the world.
Icewine, or Eiswein, originated in Germany. But only Ontario has a climate cold enough to guarantee production every year. While B.C. was the first Canadian province to jump on the Icewine bandwagon, it was in Ontario that the new product truly flourished with Donald Ziraldo, co-founder of Inniskillin, along with winemaker Karl Kaiser, setting aside a few rows of Vidal for late harvest grapes.
First attempts at a viable product were unsuccessful but resistance paid off and, in 1991, at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, the most important wine fair in the world, Inniskillin’s 1989 Vidal Icewine shocked the wine world by winning the fair’s highest award, Le Grand Prix d’Honneur.
It put Canada on the world wine map and launched an industry that remains the most lucrative wine export in this country. While Ziraldo and Kaiser no longer own Inniskillin, the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery remains an industry leader in the making of the sweet, lush wine.
Today, Icewine producers are working hard to promote these sweet wines as the perfect match for a variety of foods and occasions.
To inspire Icewine lovers to look beyond traditional usage to create memorable experiences for themselves and their guests, Inniskillin has put together a list of simple recipes, pairings and tips. The tips and recipes were created by Inniskillin estate chef, David Penny.
“With so many components to work with, you can either allow Icewine to complement the pairing, or be bold and contrast it. It works both ways,” Penny said.
Here are some simple ideas from Penny when matching Icewine to food.
• Icewine and cheese is an incredible pairing experience at the beginning or end of the meal. Combine the strength, flavour and rich texture of Icewine with cheeses such as blue veined, triple cream, goat cheese, washed rind cheeses, aged cheeses, salty parmesan.
• Icewine’s bold flavour is wonderful with a wide range of appetizers such as foie gras, fresh shucked oysters and savoury h’orderves.
• Experiment with your favourite vinaigrette by replacing some of the vinegar with Icewine (approximately half) — the natural sweetness tones down any sharp acidity in greens or other ingredients.
With the main course:
• Icewine offers unique flavours to glazes, sauces and marinades. Riesling and Vidal Icewine are an unforgettable pair with rich seafood, sushi and Thai food. Sparkling Icewine is the most versatile and can pair with almost anything due to freshness and dryness perception caused by the bubbles from beginning to end of a meal and it stands up to the heat in spicy foods.
• Your dessert should never be sweeter than the Icewine. For easy pairings remember white Icewine is beautiful with fruit based desserts while red Icewine is exquisite with dark chocolate.
Some great Icewines you can try:
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2007 ($70 for 375 Ml, Vintages) — An expressive nose of sweet petrol, lemon zest, citrus rind, blood orange and honey. A lovely wine on the palate with dried apricot, candied fruit, peach, and wild honey on a fleshy frame all leading to a long lasting finish. Beautiful now, but will age for a decade or more.
Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2007 ($50 for 375 Ml, Vintages, winery) — An exotic, thrilling sweet wine with pear, peach, mango and tropical fruits on the nose. It’s thick and juicy on the palate with lovely integrated fruit flavours and sweet wild flower honey notes.
Henry of Pelham Riesling, Vidal and Cabernet Franc Icewine 2007 ($100 for three 200 Ml bottles, Vintages) — A great sampler pack of three classic Icewines from Henry of Pelham. The Riesling is a treat with citrus, peach, dried apricot notes all nicely balanced with juicy acidity. The Vidal shows complex mango and tropical fruits in a textured and layered style that’s classic Vidal. The Cabernet Franc is all about raspberry, cherry, cranberry jam notes with a hint of herbs and spice in a super sweet style. Moderate acidity.
Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Gewurztraminer Icewine 2007 ($35 for 200 Ml, Vintages) — This is a spectacular wine with an incredible 246 grams per litre of residual sugar, a super sweet style that doesn’t feel like it on the palate because of a vibrant core of acidity. The nose shows spicy, tropical fruits and floral notes with added ginger and grapefruit. The ginger’s pronounced on the palate with quince, candied fruit and grapefruit flavours coming after in layer after layer all the way through a lush, textured finish.
The major events for the Niagara Icewine Festival are held over three weekends beginning Jan. 14 with the Red Hot and Ice Icewine evening at the Fallsview Casino with local food, live entertainment, and 30 of Niagara’s wineries pouring their famous wines.
Other events include:
- The Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Village Jan. 22-23 – The snow-covered streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake sparkle during the main event of the Icewine Festival. Located on historic Queen Street, the 25 Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake pour liquid gold all weekend long. Icewine is paired with the swinging sounds of Canadian Jazz and the town’s finest restaurants will be serving up Icewine-inspired culinary pairings to delight then palate. Admission is free.
- Twenty Valley Winter Winefest Jan. 15-16 — Sip, savour and celebrate with over 30 of Twenty Valley’s most celebrated wineries. Sweet Icewine, festive sparkling wines and sensational VQA red and white wines will be on offer, paired with delicious food from renowned local chefs. A new centre stage will feature live entertainment and wine and food demos in the heart of charming Jordan Village.
- Winterfest in the Market Square Jan. 15 — Sip and savour the magic of winter in St. Catharines. Celebrate Winterfest in historic downtown with delectable VQA wines, gourmet cuisine, artisanal cheeses and live music from Soul Jam.
As well, festival participants can visit wineries where, for a small tasting fee, you can get an Icewine sample paired with a chef-prepared appetizer. If you choose to visit wineries over the festival, there is a Discovery Pass available for purchase for $30, which will allow you to sample six wine and food pairings at different wineries.
For more information, go to: www.icewinefestival.com
Written by Rick VanSickle
Rick VanSickle is a freelance wine writer who works, lives and plays in Niagara.