What: Niagara icewine. Made from Ontario grapes that are frozen and picked only when the temperature drops below -8C. The resulting wine is extremely sweet and usually offset by bracing acidity that makes it so palatable and a luxury item for wine lovers.
Why: It’s the perfect holiday wine, the perfect Christmas gift, and a special treat to enjoy with friends and family
Who: Most Niagara wineries make at least one style of icewine.
Styles: Classic icewine is made with the Vidal grape. But many wineries have added Riesling, Cabernet Franc, â€¨ Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer to their portfolios.
Taste: Honey, apricot, peach, tropical fruits and a wide range of other flavours depending on the grape used.
Cost: Very expensive. Usually over $40 for a half bottle up to $100.
By Rick VanSickle
It’s a golden, honey-sweet nectar that is coveted around the world but made right here in Niagara. It is icewine, painstakingly crafted from grapes nurtured in Niagara vineyards when temperatures plummet to their frigid worst. â€¨ It is a labour-intensive pursuit that requires hand picking grapes after being frozen in the vineyard and then, while still frozen, pressed.
They must be picked before 10 a. m. while making sure the temperature doesn’t exceed -8Â°C. â€¨ The frozen grapes are pressed, squeezing out the excess water, leaving a highly extracted liquid that is high in acidity and sugar. â€¨ The finished wine is like no other — super sweet but balanced by high acids with rich aromas of peach, apricot and sweet citrus. It’s thick and viscous and usually low in alcohol.
A variety of grapes are used in the making of icewines including Riesling, Vidal, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Gamay. And new styles are coming to market such as sparkling icewines and Champagne-styled wines with a shot or two of icewine. â€¨ Icewine can be the perfect present for someone special or just to enjoy among friends on a chilly night around the fire.
Here are four great icewines I’ve enjoyed recently. Note: The icewines below are sold in 375 ml bottles unless otherwise noted.
Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine 2007 ($50, Vintages, winery, 4.5 stars) — Extreme citrus, honey, peach and a whiff of swirling mineral notes on the nose. The palate shows lemon tart, peach compote, apricot and nice acidity to balance out the elevated sweetness.
Reif Estate Vidal Icewine 2007 ($47, Vintages, winery, 4.5 stars) — Classic icewine made by an impeccable producer of this style of wine. â€¨ Peach, apricot, honeycomb aromas. It shows perfect balance in the mouth with peach-apricot compote followed by honey and toffee that stays for minutes on the finish.
Ziraldo Riesling Icewine 2007 ($58, Vintages, 4.5 stars) â€” Donald Ziraldo’s name is synonymous with Canadian icewine. He and partner Karl Kaiser founded Inniskillin, arguably the best producer of icewines in the world. This is Ziraldo’s first vintage with his name on it. A nose of pronounced peach, tropical fruits and honey that is more intense if left to open up. The palate is a mix of peach marmalade, apricot and wild honey. An icewine that will deliver even more enjoyment with a bit of cellaring.
Inniskillin Chardonnay Canadian Oak-aged Icewine 2007 ($45 for 200 ml, winery only, 5 stars) â€” An unusual combination â€” Chardonnay and Canadian oak â€” that works beautifully. Winemaker Bruce Nicholson added this twist as the first icewine he produced since taking the helm at Inniskillin. â€¨ Fresh peach, apple, melon and super-rich layers of honey on the nose. It’s the spice note that sets it apart in the mouth with soft feel and flavours of apple pie, toffee and rich, concentrated exotic tropical fruits. A lasting finish. Wow!
A fitting tribute for a true pioneer: â€¨ Marynissen Lot 31 and Lot 66 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($36, winery only, Lot 31 4.5 stars, Lot 66, 4 stars) â€” Sandra Marynissen wanted to produce two “tribute” wines for her father, wine pioneer John Marynissen, who died on Jan. 2. Cabernet Sauvignon, which Marynissen pioneered in Niagara, was the perfect choice for this debut wine that will be made in the memory of him for at least the next five years. â€¨ The Lot 66 has an upfront fruity nose of rich blackberry with oak and spice on the nose. There are lovely mocha flavours in the mouth with juicy black fruits. The Lot 31 is earthier, meatier and spicier with wild dark fruits, coffee bean, mocha and a firm structure that makes it an ideal candidate for cellaring. â€¨