It's Time for Icewine
Despite enjoying a mostly mild winter, there have been a few days when frost has blanketed our windows, frigid temperatures have forced us to bundle up like that kid in A Christmas Story, and howling winds have caused serious debate on whether going outside to get the mail can be put off for another day – or month.
To us that means one thing: it’s Icewine season.
About 60 wineries across Ontario – in Prince Edward County, Niagara, Lake Erie North Shore & Pelee Island -- produce Icewine.
To celebrate the annual harvest, wineries across Niagara throw a month-long party that will see 27 wineries throwing open their doors to teach the public all there is to know about the wine that landed Canada on the serious wine map more than 40 years ago.
It’s no wonder there’s such hoopla surrounding the harvest. Making Icewine is not for the faint of heart: everything from bad weather, to pests and animals, to disease & rot can ruin a winery’s crop (and income). Not to mention it’s an expensive and laborious undertaking.
Once it’s cold enough (as in, –12°C cold enough), winemakers are out, often in the dead of night to pick the frozen crop largely by hand. By this time, the grapes are so withered, one entire vine will only produce enough juice for one glass of Icewine. For regular table wine, a vine can produce about a bottle. Needless to say, to make Icewine, it helps to be a bit of a risk taker to endeavour in such a business.
Thankfully, many do – and their efforts have made Canada a world leader in Icewine production. It’s become so wildly popular that connoisseur's are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle, though it is possible to find a good selection for as low as $40 a bottle in Ontario.
Good Icewines are rich & luscious in flavour with pineapple, peach lychee, apricot, ginger and spice with racy acidity to keep them from being too cloying. They’re delicious on their own, but lovely when paired with blue cheese, foie gras, roasted nuts and custard style desserts.
If you’re still wondering what the big deal is, here’s a few cold, hard facts:
- The production of ice wine began in Germany centuries ago (where it’s known as Eiswein) but Ontario has arguably become a world leader in its production.
- “Icewine” – capitalized and spelled as one word – is trademarked in Canada.
- Ontario’s climate of hot summers and brisk winters is perfect for growing Icewine grapes – not even Germany can make Icewine every year.
- It’s highly regulated in this country; grape growers and winemakers must be registered with VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance).
- Icewine is predominately made from Riesling, Vidal or Cabernet Franc – though other grapes are gaining popularity
- Grapes must be naturally frozen, and cannot be picked until the temperature hits at least -8°C, though temperature between -10 & -12°C are preferable.
- Typically grapes are left on the vines until at least December and usually allowed to thaw and refreeze several times to allow for more concentration of flavour and complexity in the wine.
- Fermented Icewine must have a minimum of 35 Brix (sugar level in the grapes).
- By comparison, table wines are typically between18-25 Brix depending on the grape.
- Icewine grapes are crushed while still frozen: the water within the grapes remains in ice crystals while a few tiny drops of sweet nectar is squeezed from each raisined grape.
- Grapes for Icewine will only produce about 15% of that of grapes for table wine.
This blog was first published on thewinesisters.com in 2012 and has been updated for clarity.