Icewine propelled Canada onto the world’s wine stage nearly three decades ago and has become inextricably tied to the country’s winemaking heritage as it continues to garner global acclaim. Ever since Inniskillin won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Bordeaux’s Vinexpo wine fair in 1991, it’s become somewhat of a proud Canadian essential.
Made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine, Ontario is a leading producer for obvious reasons, but also for its increasing global recognition when it comes to wine production.
On average, 800,000 litres of Icewine is produced annually and represents roughly 50 percent of Canada’s overall wine export business. Icewine production is regulated in Ontario under the VQA Act, meaning strict standards are monitored by VQA inspectors, from vineyard to the bottle. Rules cover grape varieties, harvest procedures, winemaking and testing before the wine is released. No wine may use the term “Icewine” on its label unless it is certified by VQA Ontario.
To produce Icewine, summers must be hot and winters must be cold and sharp. Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate sufficiently cold enough to ensure an Icewine crop every year. Even Germany cannot produce an Icewine every vintage.
The majority of Icewine continues to be made from riesling and vidal grapes, with riesling producing a wine with more acidity than vidal. Other varieties used include gewürztraminer, cabernet franc, merlot, pinot gris, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
Perhaps you were fortunate to have been gifted a bottle of Ontario-made Icewine this past holiday season. If not, you’ll want to get one quickly as supplies tend to dwindle this time of year due to the high demand and very limited supply.
Typically, with the Niagara Icewine Festival covering three weekends in January, this would be the best time to experience, indulge and savour this treasured treat. However, this year a visit to historic Niagara-on-the-Lake in January will not be possible. But wineries and festival organizers still plan to pay homage to this rare and exquisite gift from Mother Nature.
All month long, participating Niagara wineries will be offering exceptional Icewine themed wine packages for direct delivery and virtual experiences that can be enjoyed at home. It’s best to check with your favourite producer and find out what they specifically have planned, but some of the more official events – for a small fee – are listed here.
Below is a selection of 12 sampled Icewines, made by six different Niagara-based wineries:
Stratus Riesling Icewine
There’s a very good reason why Icewine made using riesling grapes have become my favourite interpretation of the style. The lip-smacking acidities make this a mouth-watering and uber-delicious wine, with juicy flavours of peach, honeysuckle and tangerine. It’s irresistibly good and will pair beautifully with pies and butter tarts. ($44.75 for a 200ml bottle)
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine
Grapes for this remarkable riesling Icewine were harvested from select vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Picked at a chilling -10ºC the grapes were immediately pressed resulting in a rich concentrated liquid that’s just oozing with vibrant notes of honey, apricot and mango. Balanced and held together expertly by crisp and lively acidity, you can pair this with firm aged cheddar or Grandma’s homemade apple pie. Oh, the flavours! Another truly exceptional example from this grape. ($79.95 for 375ml)
Reif Estate Vidal Icewine and Vidal Grand Reserve Icewine
These two Icewines made with the winter hearty vidal varietal include grapes harvested from the winery’s oldest 12-acre block of vidal vines planted in 1981. Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, this method highlights the complexity of both the wines’ stone fruit flavours and added layers of tropical fruit, honey, apricot and peach. Fresh, crisp acidity on the finish perfectly balances the sweetness. ($25 for a 200ml bottle & $75 for the Grand Reserve 375ml bottle).
Inniskillin Vidal Icewine and Gold Vidal Icewine
These best-sellers are arguably the reason Inniskillin and Canadian wine country is on the map. And it’s no wonder. Aromatics of tropical fruit, including mango and orange, just dominate the senses. Take a sip and you’re in a world of fruit flavours including peach, nectarine and lemon. Think texture not just sweetness. Perfect on its own yet sophisticated with a variety of cheeses (blue-veined, aged cheddar, rich creamy cheeses with dried fruits). ($49.95 & $89.95 respectively for 375ml)
Chateau Des Charmes Vidal Icewine
When you first put your nose into the glass your head is filled with thoughts of honey, apricot and fully bloomed flower gardens. The wine coats your mouth with a full-bodied, rich and intense flavour profile, displaying mouth-watering depth, concentration and balance. It’s a classic tasting Icewine. ($28.95 for a 200ml bottle)
Pondview Vidal Icewine
Pondview’s previous double gold Decanter Awards win for best Canadian and North American Icewine is just one highlight in an illustrious young history which has included over 50 awards! Their vidal expression is rich and decadent. Intense aromas of apricot and citrus marmalade are just a prelude to what’s waiting for you when you take a sip. Flavours of honey, mango, baked pear and apricot jam, followed by a lush, lingering finish are all the reasons why this wine is so deserving of its accolades. ($49.95 for 375ml)
Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine
Another favourite of mine, this is luxury at its finest and is worth every penny. Irresistible rich red fruit aromas on the nose give in to palate-inducing raspberry and rhubarb, strawberry and fresh cream. This is pure decadence! I paired this with dark chocolate mousse covered with a raspberry puree. To die for! ($89.95 for 375ml)
Stratus Icewine Red
This assemblage red Icewine is particularly distinctive for its inclusion of petit verdot (46%). Known for its colour and acidity, this grape variety offers a refreshing verve to its naturally sweet personality. Rounding out the blend is 38% cabernet sauvignon and 16% cabernet franc. Intensity is the theme for this wine with aromatics of compressed watermelon and field berries that follow with a luscious palate of strawberry puree. Further flavours of rhubarb and cherries add freshness to an ever-lingering finish. As most Icewines, this pairs perfectly with strong and blue cheeses, but is even more delicious, with dark chocolate. ($44.75 for a 200ml bottle)
Kacaba Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine
Rich and luscious, this wine boasts exuberant notes of strawberry and milk chocolate, with hints of black pepper spice. The toasted red hue matches the palate perfectly with strawberry, nutmeg and cinnamon. Subtle notes of apricot and peach round out the profile. ($40 for 375ml)
Inniskillin Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine
The abundant aromatics of cherry and raspberry complement the flavours of rhubarb and strawberry in this newer addition to Inniskillin’s Icewine portfolio. There’s distinguished complexity here, and it’s a wine that will age well into the next decade and beyond. Add an extra layer of flavour to your palate by pairing this with dark chocolate. ($124.95 for 375ml)