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Let the Icewine flow! Three weeks of celebrating the sweet stuff in Niagara

Ontario Icewine

By Rick VanSickle

While the 2016 Icewine harvest got off to an early start, with the first of the frozen grapes being picked before Christmas, that won’t dampen the enthusiasm for revelers converging on Niagara to celebrate that iconic and uniquely sweet Canadian elixir.

Temperatures dropped below -8 C (the temperature at which wineries can begin harvesting grapes for Icewine) for a brief few days in mid-December. A number of wineries finished their harvests for Icewine before Christmas while others were still at it as late as this past weekend.

Best Icewine

While harvest dates vary year to year, the festival (now in its 22nd year) to celebrate all things Icewine is carved in ice, taking place in the heart of Niagara over the next three weeks in January.

The Icewine Festivals kick off Friday at the Fallsview Casino Resort with the Xerox Icewine Gala featuring this year’s theme — Sugar & Spice … Everything Ice. Guests will enjoy an extravagant evening of dancing with live entertainment while tasting VQA Icewine and table wines and delicious food pairings.

Niagara Icewine Festival

Outdoor celebrations start the same weekend leading with Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest in Jordan Village from Friday to Sunday, followed by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Festival Jan. 21-22 and then, in Niagara Falls, the Niagara Icewine Festival from Jan. 27-29.

So, get your parkas on and come out and enjoy all that Niagara wine country has to offer in the glorious glow of winter.

Follow the links below for more detailed information:

Niagara Icewine Festival Brochure
Niagara Icewine Festival Press Release
Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Festival Press Release
Twenty Valley Winter WineFest Press Release
Niagara Icewine Festival, Niagara Falls Press Release

Also, go here to Wines In Niagara for a full list of winter wine events in Niagara compiled by Monica Kosior.

Wines In Niagara writers Monica Kosior and Michael Lowe will be attending the gala and the Jordan Winter WineFest and will report back here after the events.

In the meantime, here’s a selection of Icewines tasted lately that we can recommend.

Canada Icewine

For perspective, I opened a couple of older Niagara sweet wines I have been saving — a 1988 Inniskillin Icewine and 2004 Vineland Estate Late Harvest Vidal. For me, Ontario’s sweet wines are best expressed with a little age on them. They seem to gain complexity and tertiary flavours if you cellar them for a while. The trick is obviously to not let them dwell too long in the cellar.

As was the case here, both of these wines had exceeded their life expectancy, the late harvest more so than the Icewine. But both still offered great pleasure and a satisfying experience.

Here are the reviews of the oldies plus some recent releases (I did not score the two older wines only because they are not available for purchase any longer).

Inniskillin Icewine

Inniskillin Icewine 1988 — The grape for this Icewine is not specified on the label but assume it’s Vidal because the majority of Icewines were made with that grape in the early days. The wine showed alcohol of 12.7% on the label, rather high for Icewine. Wow, such a beauty with a nose of super-ripe tropical fruits, brown sugar, crushed citrus rind and toffee. It was rich on the palate and still brimming with life, though definitely on the downward slide. It showed a dark golden colour in the glass and revealed a range of compoted fruit, candied citrus and cinnamon toast notes with a surprising level of acidity still kicking around. As you can see by the cork in the photos above, pretty wine diamonds (tartrates that separate from the wine) had formed around the closure.

Vineland Estate Select Late Harvest Vidal 2004 — This late harvest Vidal was finished at 8.8% alcohol, and started quite lovely on the nose with exotic tropical fruit, tangerine, marmalade and wild honey notes. The fruit gives way to caramel and toffee notes on the palate with just a hint of sweet tropical fruits. The freshness has faded and overall the wine points to better days, but a fun aged sweet wine to taste nonetheless.

Pondview Riesling Icewine 2015 ($60 for 375 mL, 91 points) — This was Pondview’s first effort with Riesling Icewine. The nose shows lovely peach, honey, tropical fruits and candied citrus notes. It’s lush on the palate with flavours of mango, apricot, guava, poached pear and wild honey with subtle notes of almond and caramel on the finish. Nicely balanced by firm acidity.

Henry of Pelham Vidal Icewine 2015 ($25 for 200 mL, 92 points) — Quite thick and viscous with a nose of apricot, mango, sweet pear and honey. Lovely texture shows off the ripe apricot, tropical fruits, compoted peach and pear with a creamy finish. An exotic expression of Vidal.

Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine 2015 ($50, 92 points) – Expresses ripe pear, peach and honey with some apricot in the background. Delicately nuanced, with nice balanced acidity showing now but should develop more dried fruit over the next 10 years or so. (previously reviewed by Mike Lowe)

Tawse Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2014 ($35 for 200 mL, 90 points) — The nose shows sweet cherry, cranberry and raspberry and light bramble notes. It’s unctuous on the palate, like velvet, with flavours of cran-cherry, sweet raspberry pie and balancing acidity that leads to a long, long finish.