Seven Things to Know about Icewine

Ice_wine_niagara_falls_canada

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

Seven Ontario Wines to Fall For

Toronto-wines_3_large

A good bottle of wine makes staying in pleasurable as the weather turns chilly. We’ve rounded up the seven best bottles from our favorite local vineyards

The shift in seasonal wines isn’t unlike the change in our wardrobes. Just as we start to crave cozy knits and sumptuous leather when the weather cools, so our palettes turn to full-bodied wines to suit the chilly temperatures.

Save the grassy, fresh white wines for a summer patio and embrace the season for rich, bold bottles with intense flavours and higher alcohol content (hello, warming effect). And where better to find them than our own backyard? Here are seven fall picks, all sourced from Niagara’s wine region, a hop, skip and jump from Toronto.

1. Stratus Petit Verdot 2011
$38.00
The Winery: Stratus is a real stunner, settled on 62 acres near the southeastern border of the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation. Its glass and stone slickness feels a bit more Napa Valley than Niagara and the view from its back patio is simply perfect.
The Wine: Just released, this 2011 vintage is a great bottle to drink now, or save for a few years. Petit Verdot is typically used in small percentages for classic Bordeaux blends and is rarely bottled as a single varietal. This darkly-hued wine is full of juicy dark berry fruits and a touch of warm spice with a silky finish.
stratuswines.com

2. Château des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
$14.95
The Winery: Founded in the late 1970’s, Château des Charmes has been family owned and operated for more than 30 years, culminating in five generations of winemaking expertise from the Bosc family.
The Wine: This delicious bargain drinks like a much dearer classic old world cab sauv. It is heavy on black cherry, dark chocolate and a bit of warm toasted vanilla. This classic cozy wine also has just the right amount of tannins.
fromtheboscfamily.com/

3. Pondview Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
$34.95
The Winery: One of Niagara on the Lake’s most charming wineries, Pondview brings a bit of la dolce vita to the area. The Puglisi family grew grapes and produced wines in Sicily, bringing their passion and expertise to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1965.
The Wine: This is an outstanding red that is full-bodied but beautifully smooth. Aged for 16 months in French and American oak barrels, it boasts mocha, dark chocolate and vanilla flavors, with rich cedar and coffee nuances. Truly delicious.
pondviewwinery.com/

4. Cattail Creek Estate Winery Creek Series Cabernet Merlot 2012
$14.95
The Winery: On a farming plot that was used to grow peaches, Cattail Creek Estate Winery has some of the oldest Riesling vines in the province.
The Wine: An excellent value, this medium-bodied dry wine is strong on cassis, berries and plum. A blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (28%), the finish is fantastic: it’s almost dessert-like. Refined tannins and lingering taste of toasted vanilla and cherry.
cattailcreek.ca

5. Jackson-Triggs Delaine Syrah 2010
$32.95
The Winery: Canada’s most awarded winery, Jackson Triggs is a pillar of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Wine: This Syrah is rich and spicy, with black pepper, cardamom and clove paired with dark fruit. It’s juicy and balanced, mellowed by notes of coffee. Enjoy it now, or put it away for a winter in years to come.
jacksontriggswinery.com

6. Mike Weir Pinot Noir 2013
$16.95
The Winery: Canada’s most famous golfer entered the wine business in 2005 and has since gone on to produce some of the top selling VQA wines in the LCBO. Winemaker Jeff Hundertmark is one of the area’s most affable talents.
The Wine: Famously fickle grapes to grow, pinot noir is a labor of love. And this is a bottle to love. As well-priced as it is easy drinking, the beautifully balanced pinot noir tastes of jam (heavy on the cherry) with just a hint of smoke.
mikeweirwine.com

7. Stoney Ridge Cabernet Franc 2013
$13.95
The Winery: For more than 25 years, Niagara’s “garden winery” has charmed customers with its exceptional wines and friendly atmosphere. The onsite artisan cheese shop doesn’t hurt, either.
The Wine: A steal at this price, stock up on a case of this Cab Franc. A gorgeous deep ruby color, this wine is peppery and heady. Full bodied, with a pinch of green pepper, and enough tannins to pack a punch.
stoneyridgewinery.com

—Written by Karen Cleveland

 

(Originally published for Soho House, November 2014)