In the global world of wine, Canada is renowned for its Icewine.
While conceived in Germany, it is in Canada where Icewine matured and grew into the sweet and luxurious treat for which it is heralded. Our harsh winters — even in the more temperate zones where wine grapes are grown — are ideally suited for allowing bunches of grapes to freeze on the vine, concentrating the flavours and sweetness before they are hand-picked and crushed into a delicious elixir.
“Despite the Canadian nature of Icewine and its popularity around the world — particularly in Asia — Icewine remains a mystery to many Canadian wine lovers,” says Marcel Morgenstern, Director of Sales at PondView Estate Winery. “We seem fearful of how to store it, when to drink it and foods it should accompany.”
First a bit about Icewine.
The complex process to craft an Ontario VQA Icewine begins before the grape harvest, when vines are selected to stay on the vine and are protected from hungry birds. The harvest for these grapes will typically happen in December or January, after a few consecutive days where the temperature remains below -8°C. Hardy souls brave the frigid temperatures to hand pick the frozen grapes which are pressed while still frozen to extract a small amount of concentrated, sweet juice — estimated at about 15% the typical yield for that bunch of grapes where they not harvested as little purple marbles of ice. Fermentation is a short process due to the high sugar levels.
The result is a decadent, sweet treat that is relatively low in alcohol. But once the Icewine is in the bottle, the mystery begins. Marcel offers his tips and advice for enjoying Ontario VQA Icewines:
Can I age my Icewine?
While it depends on the type of grape used to make the Icewine, Icewines are generally best enjoyed young. Riesling Icewine is your best bet for laying a bottle down, although Vidal Icewines have been known to age well over five to seven years.
Should I save my Icewine for dessert?
Absolutely not! While we typically associate sweets with dessert, Icewines do quite well before, during or after the main course. Before the meal, a glass of Icewine does quite well on its own, or paired with sharp and salty cheeses or savoury hors d’oevres. Replace some of the vinegar in your homemade vinaigrette dressing with Icewine, and experiment with it in various sauces and glazes. For the main course, it pairs well with rich seafood, sushi and Thai and is a nice balance to spicy foods. In general, look for foods that are salty, acidic or spicy to pair with your Icewine.
But I can have it with dessert, right?
Of course, but be mindful of the other sweets on the table. A dessert too sweet will overpower the Icewine. Icewine is exceptional with fresh fruits and dark chocolate is often a beautiful match for red Icewines.
How do I serve it?
Ah, a question for the ages. In the past, we have seen Icewines served in small, narrow glasses. But it has been trendy lately to opt for a more traditional wine glass with a larger bowl, which helps concentrate the aromas and amplify the rich flavours of Icewine.
Icewine … should I keep it in my freezer?
Not at all. You do want your Icewine chilled, perhaps around 10°C, but not so cold that it kills the flavour profile.