Posted 21 January 2004 - 10:16 AM
KEITH BEATY/TORONTO STAR
ICEWINE GRAPES IN AN ICEWINE GLASS
The icewine cometh
Our 'liquid gold' has spawned imitators around the world.
Here's a guide to the real thing
Icewine has become Canada's wine treasure, a golden nectar that is reaping top trophies and tantalizing taste buds around the world.
This year's frozen grapes have now been harvested deep in the winter night, but the sun is still rising on our icewine industry.
After Donald Ziraldo picked up the trophy for his Inniskillin icewine at 1991's Vinexpo in Bordeaux as one of the world's top wines, hopes ran high that Canada would also be recognized soon for its quality dry wines.
But it is still icewine that harvests the most awards in international wine competitions. Ontario wineries won 121 awards last year. Of those, 77 were for icewine. No wonder we are now widely recognized as one of the top producers of dessert wines in the world.
The Far East contains the thirstiest fans. Our nectar of the gods can sell there for more than triple what it fetches at home. Demand is so great in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and China that bogus icewines with fake labels abound. For years, our producers and government have tried to stem the tide of these knockoff sugar-and-water concoctions imitating our liquid gold.
The problem is so bad that a senior team of researchers at Brock University's Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute is engaged in a $1 million, four-year study designed to create a test for genuine icewines. The test will distinguish them from knockoffs and also ensure our icewines meet stringent European entry standards.
Flattery breeds imitation and "icebox icewines" are made in California, Australia and other lands where the winter is not cold enough to make natural icewine. These wines are left to hang on the vine as long as possible, thrown in huge freezers, frozen, then pressed.
In Canada, Vintners Quality Alliance regulations strictly decree that grapes must be frozen on the vine by Mother Nature during three days of —8C to —10C temperatures. The brown-hued grapes have hung on the vine for months after normal harvest under protective netting and have shrivelled like raisins, concentrating the sugars. When the frozen grapes are crushed, the concentration increases — because only the juice is taken — and the ice removed. An entire vine full of grape bunches will produce only about one small glass of icewine.
So yes — it is an expensive process. No sugar is added; it all comes from the grapes.
Today, Ontario is the world leader in icewine production, with more than 60 wineries selling to 25 countries. While 336,000 bottles are sold in Ontario each year, 1,440,000 bottles are sold abroad. The Wine Council of Ontario estimates that 65 per cent of Ontario's wine exports are icewine.
The vast majority of icewine is made from riesling and vidal grapes. However, more exotic white icewines have joined the ice brigade, made from grapes like gewurztraminer, muscat ottonel, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and chenin blanc.
Several provincial producers now sculpt red icewines, with cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and gamay joining the icy lineup. Some of these show terrific rosy berry fruit and intense balance. Because they are the new exotics, they are not cheap. Think Valentine's Day.
So what should you desire in a perfect icewine?
Look for balance between sugar and acidity. Frequently, icewine can be too syrupy and "soft."
What you want is sweet fruit with an edge, so it leaves your palate feeling cleansed and refreshed, not bogged down with cloying sweetness.
To serve icewine, chill the bottle in the fridge for one hour or more. One half-bottle can nurture a dinner party of eight people, so two-ounce pours are fine. Forget using the recommended thimble-size glasses. Use regular wine glasses so you can breathe in such heavenly exotic aromas as peach, clementines, apricot, honeysuckle, jasmine and orange blossom.
And what foods go with icewine? I adore it as a sauternes substitute with pan-seared foie gras. Icewine pairs splendidly with peach, pear or kiwi flans, and is outstanding with apple crisp or crumble, or sugar-sprinkled fresh apple pie.
Some chefs say icewine goes with chocolate, but you do need a fruit component. For instance, a light chocolate mousse infused with orange zest or essence can be heavenly. And fresh chocolate-dipped strawberries are fantastic with the new red cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc icewines.
Foodies can get really creative with icewine as a major ingredient. The globetrotting Kevin Brauch, whose TV show on Food Network Canada has now spawned a cookbook called Thirsty Traveler — Road Recipes: Cooking With Fine Wines, Beers And Spirits, features a special icewine chapter.
Among Brauch's intriguing recipes are chicken in icewine gravy (see recipe at right), icewine anjou tart and Niagara berries with icewine sabayon.
Finally, if you're not content to just try icewine at home, check out the Niagara Icewine Festival (which kicked off last week) shifts to Niagara-on-the-Lake this weekend with an icewine dinner and icewine bar. See http://www.niagaraicewine festival.com or 905-688-0212 for event details.
Posted 21 January 2004 - 05:12 PM
Certified Wine Judge, WJC
Domaine & Vins Gélinas
Posted 22 January 2004 - 11:18 AM
I've tried several from Ontario that I've picked up at the 1000 Island Duty Free Shop. They even have sampler packs that give you lil' bottles of riesling, gewurtz and other.
Canada is probably king, but I've enjoyed the ones I've had from the Finger Lakes as much. The riesling in this area is fantastic and makes excellent ice and late harvest wines.
The Brew King Selection Special Riesling Ice Wine "style" kit (Canada!) is very, very tasty and incredible given that it comes to about $2 per 375 ml bottle. I made it and people loved it. Several folks entered it in the 2003 Winemaker mag competition and received golds and silvers.
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