“Dessert wines, often rare and expensive, are unique wines and the most difficult to make; but when successful, they earn some of the highest ratings given by our editors. Enlisted to do a specific job in a specific situation, these luscious nectars are the special teams of the wine world. They accompany the dessert course, or even take its place and star on their own. Yet despite delivering high quality more often than not, dessert wines are generally misunderstood, underestimated or simply ignored.” - Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator
Canada produces some of the most highly rated sweet wines in the world, with Icewines from Inniskillin, Jackson Triggs and Henry of Pelham wineries winning top ratings internationally. These wineries and more help Ontario supply as much of 75% of Canada’s output of ice wine.
What is an “Icewine”?
Icewines are a specialty of winemaking regions that rapidly become cold after harvest. Icewines are fabulous ultra-sweet dessert wines. The most famous regions for ice wine are Germany, Austria and Canada. British Columbia and Ontario make some of the world’s best.
To make a “true” Icewine, grapes are left on the vine long after harvest and are picked by hand once temperatures reach a certain level, usually about -8 Celsius (17 degrees Fahrenheit). The resulting freezing and thawing of the grapes dehydrates the fruit, and concentrates the sugars, acids, and extracts in the berries, thereby intensifying the flavours and adding complexity to the wine made from it. Typically, wine workers will trudge through snow in the middle of the night to pick the grapes. These marble-hard grapes then are crushed. Yields are very low, often as little as 5-10 percent of normal. Since they’re frozen, just a few drops of sweet juice is released and fermented. Because it’s so hard to make and so little is made from the harvested fruit, Icewine tends to be very expensive and is offered in half-bottles. However, stopping at the Duty Free Canada shop before you cross the border can save you a pretty penny, with savings of up to 50%.
The best ice wines are those that retain natural acidity in the face of late harvests and high sugars. This is why Riesling is one of the finest varieties for ice wine. A few wineries also are experimenting with red ice wines using Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Some wineries make “Icewine” by picking late-harvest grapes and freezing them. The resulting wines are not as good, though they are generally much less expensive. Genuine ice wine must follow VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) regulations that prohibit any artificial freezing of grapes.
Icewine is winter’s gift to the wine lover. So pick some up for yourself for the lover you know!