Seven Things to Know about Icewine

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A closer look at the Champagne of Canada

This month, you can find us holed up by the fireplace at Soho House Toronto sipping the dessert wine crafted from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine. Paired with dessert (or drunk instead of), House favorite Stratus Red Icewine is comprised of four different red varieties, all harvested by hand: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre and Syrah. The result is a beautiful ruby-hued sip, intensely rich in cherry and strawberry jam flavours, with peppery raspberry notes.

So step aside, maple syrup, here, we take a closer look at one of Ontario’s most valuable liquid assets.

Icewine was accidentally discovered in Germany in the late 1700’s by farmers trying to salvage a frost-ridden grape harvest. Centuries later, and not at all by accident, a local Niagara winery with German roots called Inniskillin entered its 1989 Vidal Icewine at Vinexpo in Bordeaux where it won the Grand Prix d’Honneur and captured the world’s interest. They rest, as they say, is history.

Known for its intense flavours and rich, viscous texture, icewine is produced from grapes that are left on the vine after the fall harvest. When temperatures drop to below -8ºC, the frozen grapes are handpicked and immediately pressed to create thick, rich wine that is highly concentrated in natural sugars and acidity. The juice evolves into a product that’s richly flavoured and sweet, hence icewine’s steeper price point compared to grapes harvested during the typical season.

Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate sufficiently cold enough to ensure an almost annual icewine crop.Canada is the largest icewine producer in the world, with 96 wineries producing the product in the highly regulated, globally accepted, traditional method.

China is the country’s top export destination. Because of Canada’s unique growing conditions (let’s not talk in code: our bitter cold winters), Canadian icewines are darlings on the international stage.

There is a government policy that requires icewine to be made exclusively from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine. Any other method and it cannot be called icewine, in the same way ‘Champagne’ is a a controlled name.

Icewine should be chilled at 10-12 degrees Celsius, and poured in small servings, to be suitably savoured.

Once a bottle is opened, icewine will keep well in the fridge for three to five days, thanks to its naturally-occurring sugar content.

—Written by Karen Cleveland