How to Pair Icewine
Often misunderstood and maligned, don’t sleep on Icewine.
By Erin Henderson
We’re deep in the frigid depths of winter, which, in wine circles, can only mean one thing: Icewine season is here.
Wildly difficult to produce – a nail-biting, lengthy wait leaving grapes on the vine, followed by harsh picking conditions, and the painstaking, persnickety process of fermenting the sweet nectar into wine – this ancient, winter tradition is not for the meek. But for those who dare, the rewards are great: a deeply delicious and satisfying drink that takes food and wine pairings to another level.
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Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, sweet wines acquired a bit of an ill reputation. While once the desired drink of kings, as time marched on, dessert wine became shackled with the erroneous belief that sweet wine was unsophisticated. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dry wines are harvested in the fall, when the grapes have achieved the right balance of sugar to acidity (and red wines get an optimal level of tannic structure.) Icewine grapes, on the other hand, must wait out several more months on the vine, concentrating the sugar for deeply nuanced flavours and textures, and yes, sweetness. However, Icewine needs a good deal of acidity to counteract the high sugar, keeping it lively and fresh – otherwise the wine would simply be cloying and clunky.
Icewine, with its high sugar and acid, makes a surprisingly fantastic food partner. And not just for desserts. Savoury foods also get a little jolt from a touch of sweet.
Don’t believe me? Try these pairings for a little fun research.
I once enjoyed a stunningly flavourful, Chinese duck consommé with a Riesling Icewine. The broth was salty and flavoured with earthy notes of star anise, and the sweet Riesling was a brilliant counterbalance to the warming soup.
If duck consommé is not a kitchen project you will be attempting anytime soon, consider these pairings:
- Pork rillette
- Duck confit
- Pigs in a blanket
- White chocolate crème brûlée
- Apple pie
The Vidal grape is very similar to Riesling in flavour, with some characteristics that make it a heartier plant for Ontario’s rough winters, making it a popular choice for Icewine. When I was working at a fancy Toronto restaurant, one of our most popular appetizers was a foie gras served with roast peanuts and a berry compote. It was beautiful with Vidal Icewine.
- Spicy Pad Thai
- Chicken satay
- Baked brie
- Roast pork loin with gelee
- Coconut cream pie
- Passionfruit Tart
- German cheesecake
I was once a guest at a reception that featured red Icewine with blue cheese crostini topped with toasted walnuts. It was an outstanding combination. In my mind, blue cheese is one of the better cheeses to pair with red wines as its strong, pungent nature can stand up to the weight of reds.
- Rare filet mignon on toast, topped with blue cheese crumble
- Cheese-stuffed mushroom caps
- Bacon-wrapped scallops
- Grilled cheese
- Taleggio risotto
- Flourless chocolate cake
- Black Forest Cake
Your Next Read: How to Create a Perfect Wine and Cheese Party