One of the truly unique things about Icewine is that compared with the great dessert wines of the world, it isn't limited to a single or a few grape varieties.
So the spectrum of unique flavours and aromas that is available in the world of table wine is open for you to explore with Icewine. Not only that, but the whole natural process of making Icewine also creates some unique and concentrated flavours that you won't find anywhere else.
If you're heading out to the Icewine Festival over the next two weekends to explore the versatility and flavours of Icewine, you'll be seeing a lot of bottles labeled Vidal, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. The reason for this is these grapes fit five unique criteria that make them ideal for Icewine production. For Icewine, winegrowers want a grape variety that (1) ripens fairly late in the season and (2) has a tough thick skin so it makes it through winter without rotting. They also want a (3) fairly prolific vine because after the grapes freeze only a drop or two of juice is extracted. Lastly and most importantly for tasters, they want an (4) aromatic grape (5) with good acidity so that the finished Icewine excites your senses in the glass and tastes balanced on your tongue.
In recent years many winegrowers have started to experiment with other grape varieties. That's great news for tasters looking for something unique or special. Keep a sharp eye out for rare Icewines made with Gewurztraminer, Syrah/Shiraz, Chardonnay, multi-variety red and white blends, and even some sparkling ones. As a helpful way to navigate the tasting bars and impress your companions, I've provided a little cheat sheet for the most common Icewine grapes and what to expect when you taste them. Keep warm and happy tasting!
The vast majority of Icewine is made from this clydesdale of a grape. Thick-skinned, winter hardy, prolific and aromatic it's everything a grower and winemaker would want in an Icewine grape. Expect a golden colour and a lush mouth feel with flavours and aromas of apricots, peaches and honey. Certain examples can also have hints of tropical fruit like papaya, mango and lychee. Aged examples darken considerably and develop intriguing nutty and toffee flavours. If you or your tasting partner find many Icewines a little too sweet, look for a rare sparkling Vidal Icewine. The bubbles act as a palate cleanser lessening the perception of residual sweetness.
This is the next most likely grape you'll find in your glass and it produces some of the most exciting Icewines available. Similar to Vidal, Riesling is ideal for Icewine because it's a late ripener and aromatic. It's thinner-skinned and less winter hardy, but it also naturally possesses more acid, making it an ideal choice for those that find Vidal Icewine a touch on the sweet side. The flavours and aromas are a little more towards the citrus spectrum so expect tangerine marmalade, lemon drops, candied lime and grapefruit. Flavours and aromas of stone fruit like apricots, peach preserves as well as tropical mango, guava and pineapple are also common. Colour and body are usually a little lighter than Vidal, but that zippy acidity more than makes up for it.
If it's a red in your glass it's probably Cabernet Franc as it's another late-ripening, winter hardy, thicker-skinned grape ideal for Icewine. When you take a swirl, smell and sip, you can expect notes of raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and rhubarb jam and pie. Hints of dark cocoa, smoky tobacco and orange are also not out of the question. The colour will be a gorgeous cherry pink shade.
Niagara Icewine Festival
January 13th – 29th
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.