Icewine has long been Canada’s most exported and recognizable wine style. It is known the world over.
It is proven again and again as the major producers in Niagara enjoy a steady stream of foreign visitors flooding into their tasting rooms and filling their bags with precious bottles of Canada’s famous Vidal, Riesling and Cabernet Franc icewines and an increasing number of “exotic” sweet wines made from anything and everything that has the ability to freeze on the vine.
It’s a luxurious and decadent treat that has a romantic back-story set in the frozen vineyards of Canada’s harsh winters. Canadian vintners have worked hard to perpetuate the romance of icewine because it’s such a lucrative product to sell, fetching upwards of $100 for a half bottle.
It helps that most of Canada’s icewine is sold to foreign markets and has a high profit margin once it leaves our borders and escapes the high domestic taxes wineries are charged at home.
Most of what leaves our shores is traditional icewine, the Vidals, Rieslings and, to some extent, the emerging red varieties of icewine.
And as markets tighten and economies wane, icewine producers are forced to look at their own country to maintain production levels. Increasingly, that means a more diverse portfolio of sweet elixirs.
I’ve seen and tasted Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, totally botrytis-affected (TBA) icewines and a growing stable of late harvest sweet wines (which cost a fraction of the price) emerge on tasting tables. All of these are designed to capture the hearts and wallets of the homegrown consumer.
But nothing has excited me more than sparkling icewine.
It’s not new, of course, and its accidental invention is credited to Canadian wine writer Konrad Ejbich in 1988, but the process is getting more and more attention.
Inniskillin’s former winemaker Karl Kaiser was the first to make a commercial sparkling VQA icewine with the release of his Vidal Sparkling Icewine in 1998. Others, including Magnotta and Pillitteri, have dabbled in the extremely difficult process, which can only be achieved via the Charmat method.
But it is Inniskillin, Canada’s most famous icewine producer, which leads the charge with sparkling icewines today.
Current winemaker Bruce Nicholson (above) has just created the most fascinating version of sparkling icewine to date — the 2012 Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine.
It is pure joy in a bottle. All that glorious sweetness combined with electrifying effervescence on the palate seems to balance the sweetness of the icewine without losing any of the viscosity and texture.
“Our new sparkling Icewine is exciting — showing the versatility and potential of Cabernet Franc in making this unique and relatively unknown style of Icewine,” said Nicholson. “The bubbles and crisp acidity offer a lively mouth feel to the ruby red colour with flavours and aromas of strawberry, rhubarb and raspberries.”
The 2012 Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine is a limited edition collection with only 1,300 cases and is available at Inniskllin Winery Boutique, online here and through select Global Travel Retail partners.
I tasted the sparkler with Nicholson recently. He shivers at the thought of making icewine, let alone a sparkling icewine with all its inherent complications: “When I was making it,” he laughs, “I thought it should $520 a bottle, not $120.”
Since it can’t be made in the traditional Champagne method, Nicholson used the Charmat method of fermenting in tank and straight to bottle, as opposed to fermentation in the bottle.
“I was pleased with the results of the challenge,” said Nicholson.
Here’s my review.
Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Sparkling Icewine 2012, Niagara ($120 for 375 ml, 94 points) — Wow. Just wow. This is such a beautiful and unique wine that will be worth the trek to Niagara’s Inniskillin or online here to get it. This is an extremely rare style of icewine that is expensive because it’s so difficult to make. The nose is explosive with raspberry, cherry, strawberry and rhubarb that jump from the glass. It is highly concentrated on the palate with an electrifying jolt of sparkling bubbles and finesse on the palate to go with super-concentrated, super-sweet red fruits and balancing acidity. This is a decadent and splashy style of icewine to be enjoyed by a roaring fire with a little bit of dark chocolate or even paired with cocoa-dusted duck breast. It’s finished with 9% alcohol.
I also tasted a couple of other new Inniskillin wines with Nicholson.
Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine 2012 ($100 for 375 ml, winery, 93 points) — This is essentially the same wine as above but without the sparkle. It shows super-concentrated red fruits, kirsch, fruitcake and sweet notes of honey on the nose. It’s pure and honey-sweet on the palate with vivid notes of raspberry jam, strawberry-cherry compote and balancing acidity that all leads to a long, luxurious finish.
Inniskillin Discovery Series Susse Reserve Riesling 2012 ($23, winery, 91 points) — With Inniskillin’s Discovery Series wines, winemaker Bruce Nicholson can let his create juices flow. This is the first “Susse Reserve” style of Riesling he has made. At the end of fermentation, a portion of the partially fermented juice was added back to the wine for added texture and flavours. The nose shows ripe peaches, melon, mandarin orange and hints of honey, spice and minerality. The residual sweetness on the palate works well with the basket of ripe fruits, balancing acidity and subtle minerality through the finish. A great style of Riesling made with 11% alcohol.
Nicholson is also pondering a partially botrytised (75%) Viognier from 2012 vintage. The noble rot occurred naturally in the vineyard and Nicholson fermented the juice separately. He is considering bottling it under the Discovery Series tier of Inniskillin. How cool is that?
Niagara wines released at Vintages Saturday
• Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2011 ($29)
• Konzelmann Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2011 ($20 375 ml)
• Rosewood Mead Royale 2008 ($15 for 500 ml)
• Seasons Vidal Icewine 2011 ($30, 375 ml)
• Hinterbrook Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($17)
• Pearl Morissette Cuvee Dix-Neuvieme Chardonnay 2011 ($40)
• Rockway Small Lot Reserve White Assemblage 2012 ($17)
• G. Marquis The Silver Line Epic 2010 ($30)
• Henry of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir 2011 ($25)
• Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010 ($39)
• Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot-Cabernet 2011 ($18)
Benefit concert in support of War Child
War Child is partnering with Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery for a very special benefit on Friday, Nov. 29.
The festive evening will feature an intimate performance by multiple award-winning artist Tom Cochrane, joined by special guest Kathleen Edwards, and culinary delights created by Celebrity Chefs Anna and Michael Olson and Jackson-Triggs Estate Chef Tim Mackiddie.
Taking place in The Great Hall at the Jackson-Triggs Winery (2145 Regional Road 55, Niagara-on-the-Lake) the event will feature an “Explore Your Senses” wine and culinary experience with dinner stations throughout the winery. It will also include a short speech by Dr. Samantha Nutt, Founder of War Child Canada, as well as a live and silent auction.
All proceeds from the event will go to support War Child, an internationally-recognized charity that provides humanitarian assistance to war-affected children in some of the most devastated regions of the world.
Tom Cochrane, the Canadian music legend who has penned such classic songs as “Life Is A Highway” and “Big League”, is a highly deserving inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Walk of Fame, an Officer of The Order of Canada and the winner of eight Juno awards, including the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award. Joining Tom on stage will be singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, a multi-Juno award nominee whose heartfelt music makes her a fixture on the Americana landscape.
Celebrity Chef Anna Olson is host of Food Network Canada’s Bake with Anna Olson, following on the heels of the successful series, Sugar and Fresh with Anna Olson all of which have aired in 40 countries worldwide. She has authored seven bestselling cookbooks including her most recent, Back to Baking. Two of these books were written with her husband Michael, a well-noted chef and culinary instructor.
Tickets can be purchased on line here. A total of 152 tickets will be available for this extraordinary evening and three special ticket prices can be purchased:
• 120 Silver tickets at $250.00 per person. This ticket will include the Explore Your Senses dinner & drinks (menu created by Tim Mackiddie), and general seating for the concert.
• 20 Gold tickets at $500 per person. This ticket will include the Explore Your Senses dinner & drinks (menu created by Tim Mackiddie), a pre-show cocktail Meet & Greet with Tom Cochrane and reserved VIP concert seating, plus a bottle of Jackson-Triggs wine autographed by Tom Cochrane.
• 12 Platinum tickets at $1,000 per person. This ticket includes a pre-show cocktail Meet & Greet and private sit down dinner with Tom Cochrane (menu created and dinner hosted by Anna and Michael Olson) upstairs in VIP room and reserved best seats in the house concert seating, plus a bottle of Jackson-Triggs sparkling wine autographed by Tom Cochrane.