Turns out the farmer insisted on harvesting and then pressing the frozen grapes for fermentation and – VOILA – Icewine!
THE WHAT AND HOW OF ICEWINE
Over the last 6 months I’ve spoken to many a person to whom winemaking is a passion first and a job second. These are the people who, come every New Year, work into the early morning darkness in at least -8° degree temperatures, picking frozen grapes from the vines, for multiple nights in a row to bring you and I a sip of heavenly sweetness. Why just a sip? Well, as was explained to me, frozen grapes yield only about 15% of the juice that the same amount of unfrozen grapes will yield for wine when harvested earlier in the year. To say that it takes more grapes to make a Cab Franc Icewine than a Cab Franc would be an understatement!
For those of us who live in Niagara – Icewine may seem like an everyday thing. But the reality is that Icewine is unique to our cold (but not too cold) climate in Ontario. There are many wineries in British Columbia that make Icewine but Ontario is leading BC in Icewine production. And, it is this uniquely sweet wine that has helped to put the Niagara Wine Region on a global map.
Icewine is a unique sweet wine made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. Pressed while still frozen, the grapes yield a sweet concentrated juice that is highly flavourful. ~ VQA Ontario
Something that I was interested to learn is that there are many Icewine impersonators out there. To keep yourself “in-the-know” here’s a tip:
Real Icewine is spelled as one word; if you see “ice wine” (two words), you aren’t looking at the real deal.
DISCOVERING NIAGARA ICEWINERIES
Every year Niagara has an Icewine Festival, the Niagara Icewine Festival to be exact – run by Niagara Grape and Wine who also run the Grape and Wine Festival and the Vintage Festival in June.
The Icewine Festival lasts for most of the month of January and the bill of events across the region is impressive. The 20 Valley Tourism Association hosts Winter WineFest and the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake invites people from near and far to participate in their own outdoor festivities.
This year, for the first time, I participated in something a little different – I got my hands on two Niagara Icewine Discovery Passes. There were over 20 participating wineries and each discovery pass provided enough tokens to visit eight (8) of them. The thought of choosing only eight of them seemed a horror, I wish I could have visited them all. But, at the end of the day, this is where, over the course of two weekends, we chose to go.
The ✪ notes my favourite pairings.
Hernder was our first stop on day one – earlier that morning I had stopped for breakfast at White Meadows Farms and was still recovering from my Maple coma when I arrived here. From the road Hernder is quite beautiful no wonder it is such a popular Niagara wedding destination. Their covered bridge, 19th century restored barn and pond really pop against the backdrop of the vineyard. This is a vineyard I would like to learn more about and see more of – especially when it comes to the restored barn as I imagine there’s quite a story there.
- Pouring: Winemaker Lydia Tomek’s award-winning 2008 Cabernet Franc Icewine
- Serving: Shriner’s Creek cinnamon and brown sugar kettle-corn drizzled in white chocolate in a waffle bowl
I first heard about Creekside Winery when I went to Something Something Production’s Rocky Horror Picture Show in Niagara-on-the-Lake last year. Right away I admired them because of their sponsorship of this grass-roots theatre company. It took a little while, but I finally made it out to their location with my icewine discovery pass. When we arrived their wine shop was packed – something that I love being part of when arriving at a winery. Although a little chilly outside, we were directed to the patio where thankfully there was a patio heater to enjoy our food under.
- Pouring: 2010 Laura’s White & 2007 Vidal Icewine
- Serving: Szechuan spiced roast pork tenderloin on steamed jasmine rice with a coriander chili drizzle
The first time I drove up the lane-way towards Vineland Estates I thought to myself, “I wish I could get married again so that I could have my wedding here!”. The vines, the stone, the trees and overall feel is warm and inviting. Inside was a little different than I remember but that’s probably because the ceiling high Christmas tree had been taken down. What I did notice this time around was that Vineland Estates partners with tycoon Kevin O’Leary to make a Chardonnay that they had for sale. Maybe next time I’ll indulge. Icewine discovery pass holders didn’t get the pleasure of tasting at the bar but were shown into a corner of the tank room – quaint if not a little squishy. I wish they’d let us enjoy our passes at the bar instead of shuttling us into the back – put the 30+ people who came in the bus in the back and let me – who purposely chose your winery – enjoy the sleek wood at your gorgeous tasting bar!
- Pouring: 2007 Select Late Harvest Vidal
- Serving: Spiced apple ceviche rolled in roasted hazelnuts
- Pouring: 2010 Vidal Icewine
- Serving: Pingue prosciutto wrapped Lankaaster cheese with caramelized onions ✪
During my frequent drives up and down the QEW it was hard not to notice this winery pop up along the South Service Road. From my perspective the location is a little unfortunate as there is something about flanking the QEW that lacks a certain country-side charm. However, in stepping inside my mind was changed. Intimate and decorated exactly to my taste I wish I had visited earlier. The staff were fantastically hospitable and it was here that I ran into some fellow Tweeps – Scott Alexander and Donna of gourmetontario.com. It’s a small world at Greenlane Winery. Oh, and I left with a bottle of this 2008 Riesling Icewine – it’s unique and smooth but not thick and syrupy like most vidal icewines.
- Pouring: 2008 Riesling Icewine ✪
- Serving: Quebec style tourtiére with maple syrup and apple ketchup
Anyone who has ever driven by Colaneri would agree that it is quite magnificent to the eye! With a likeness to a villa in Italy, the Colaneri family has created a gem both inside and outside of the bottle. The wine shop, in particular, is one of the grandest I’ve seen in a long time. Overlooking the tank room, floor to ceiling shelving and a grande tasting bar give more than enough for your eye to take in. Colaneri went above and beyond for this discovery pass event pairing three of their wines with complimentary foods. I was especially intrigued by the 2010 Gewurztraminer – to get the sweetness in this wine the grapes are dried (not frozen) – hence Recioto style (which I keep pronouncing Risotto … oops).
- Pairing: 2009 Late Harvest Vidal
- Serving: Mini Quiche
- Pairing: 2010 Gewurztraminer Recioto Style
- Serving: Butternut Squash Soup
- Pairing: 2009 Vidal Icewine
- Serving: Italian Sausage
Pillitteri has a special place in my heart – there is something about this family-run winery, in addition to their wines, that touches me and makes me want to return again and again – read about the first time I visited and why the number 23 is something I think of everytime I visit. When we arrived Pillitteri was bustling with activity and I was excited to be invited to join in on the fun. First we headed upstairs to indulge in a glass of the brand-new 2011 Pillitteri Kerner Icewine. Kerner is a grape traditionally grown in Germany and there are very few acres – four (4) I think – planted in NOTL and Pillitteri worked with the grower to get some of them. Paired with a home-made Tide and Vine chowder this Kerner was one of the highlights to my day. After enjoying the Kerner we headed to the patio where we tasted three (3) more of the world-famous Pillitteri icewines, of which I liked the Gewurztraminer the best. It is worth mentioning that I never visit Pillitteri without stopping at the tasting bar to try what-ever specialties they happen to have open, but if I listed them all here it would just be too tempting not to hop up from the computer and drive there for more.
- Pouring: 2011 Kerner Icewine ✪
- Serving: Tide and Vine Atlantic Seafood Chowder ✪
- Pouring: 2008 Gewurztraminer Icewine
- Pouring: 2009 Riesling Icewine
- Pouring: 2008 Exclamation Winemaker’s Selection Icewine
I have been following Peller Executive Chef Jason Parsons on Twitter and Facebook for a while now – and after hearing and seeing so many of his culinary creations couldn’t stand not to have tried them for myself. So, when I saw that Peller was featuring icewine marshmallows roasted over and open fire as their icewine treat, how could I resist? The estate from the road is quite like a mansion – growing in enormity as you drive towards it up the long laneway from John St. I can only imagine how beautiful it will look in the summer when the vines are green and in full bloom. Once inside we were greeted by a warm fire in the lobby. We took a jog around the wine boutique before heading to where the icewine festival was happening in the backyard. I found this quote on the wall in the boutique quite inspiring:
It’s the simple things in life that bring us the greatest joy ~ Andrew Peller
The icewine marshmallows were huge – like the Rice Krispie squares that you get from small-town bakeries in the summer. Roasting them over the fire in the company of others having as much fun as I was great fun! Our strategy was to toast the outside, pull it off and eat it – which revealed a gooey inside – and then toast again. This fun was repeated until only the wooden skewer remained. I wish we had bought some before leaving; although, we did indulge in some beef poutine that was delish!
- Pouring: 2011 Icewine Vidal Blanc
- Serving: Icewine Marshmallows – Toasted over an Open Fire ✪
It was only recently that this family-owned and run winery popped up onto my radar. I’ve had the opportunity to visit in the past just didn’t make it a priority. Well, I’m happy to say that I finally visited and was quite impressed – and, am looking forward to going to their 2012 Vintage Preview Tasting on Feb 16th. Although not as grande looking at some of the other wineries you may visit in NOTL, they make up for it inside the bottle. Their 2010 Cabernet Franc icewine was another favourite of the day – as was the great welcome and customer service we got from all the staff – especially Jaclyn Nickel – who along with her mother – Charlotte, father – Phil and brother – Andrew, run Hinterbrook.
- Pouring: 2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine ✪
- Serving: White chocolate custard with Ontario strawberry coulis and Icewine reduction ✪
The more I learn about Southbrook, the more I want to learn. This organic (one of the few in Niagara), LEED certified winery continues to impress me with their wines, their facility, their staff and their food pairings. This time around, though, it was equally their wine as it was their pairing that enticed me to stop in. Along with their 2005 Vidal Icewine they were serving Maple Bacon Cupcakes with Icewine Frosting from the Frosted Cupcake. Who wouldn’t want to know what that combination tastes like? In the end, it was intriguing and a great note to wrap up our icewine adventure.
- Pouring: 2005 Vidal Icewine
- Serving: Maple Bacon Cupcake with Icewine Frosting
At the end of the Niagara Icewine Festival I had added two (2) new icewines to my collection – the Greenlane 2008 Riesling and the Pillitteri 2011 Kerner. The other that sticks out on my mind that I wish I had purchased (and will in the very near future) is the 2010 Cabernet Franc from Hinterbrook.
If there’s one word of advice that I can give to you – from all my discovery pass adventures – it would be:
When you find a wine that brings a goofy smile to your face and a twinkle to your eye – buy it!
Shopping for wine, icewine included, is like finding the perfect little black dress. You may try on a few that you think are OK – but at the end of the day they stay on the hanger. It’s the one that you try that makes you feel extra warm and fuzzy (literally) that is ultimately meant to become part of your collection.