Changing of the Guard: Icewine

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No longer just an after-dinner drink, icewine is moving up the menu.

Icewine is touted as Canada’s greatest liquid-luxury product, and restaurateurs are cashing in on its sweet riches in new ways.

The market penetration is deep. “A casual bistro may not carry classified Bordeaux but it likely has icewine,” says Daniel Speck, VP of Sales and Marketing at Henry of Pelham winery in St. Catharines, Ont. “Our greatest job is in promoting the different uses for icewine. For me, dessert is not even the main use for it. I serve [our] Henry of Pelham Riesling icewine before a meal, says Speck “typically with salted nuts, dried meats and hard or blue cheeses or in cocktails … or with very rich or spicy foods such as pâtés, foie gras or curries, respectively.”

This past December, the Wine Council of Ontario held an icewine tasting luncheon at Sopra Upper Lounge in Toronto, which focused on pairing icewine with different dishes. Jason Parsons, executive chef at Peller Estates Winery, gave commentary, while Derek Von Raesfeld, chef de cuisine at Sopra, produced three savoury, spicy and sweet dishes to pair with three icewines at each flight.

Parsons, who cooks with icewine daily, soaked pork belly and poached duck in the saccharine elixir, giving the food an extra dimension of taste. His advice is to be bold with the spice. “You need to soften the sweetness if you are using it at the beginning of a meal. Spice up the dish with curry or chili; go on the heavier side of spicing. Sweetness with spice neutralize each other.”

Other taste pairings discussed at the luncheon included mixing icewine with bitter ingredients such as endive and vinegars such as balsamic. “We use pink peppercorns with white icewine and black peppercorns with red icewine,” Parsons says, adding chefs need to consider the different styles of the product.

“Icewine [is] an important part of the sweet wine program at the new Trump Tower’s Stock Restaur-ant,” says John Szabo, a Master Sommelier who’s a consultant at Stock. “Considering there will be a lot of foreign visitors, we want to emphasize Canadian wine and icewine is an important part of that,” he adds.

But, apart from offering icewine straight up, many bartenders are now mixing it with other drinks. The Old Mill in Ancaster, Ont., for example, sources Inniskillin’s Vidal grapes to freeze and add to martinis. And icewine martinis are a hit among tourists at the casual-dining spot Bistro Six-One in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

The success of the icewine martini has led bartenders and beverage managers to create many unique icewine cocktails. Craig MacLean, bar manager at Spencer’s at the Waterfront, in Burlington, Ont., created Vice for his evolving menu. Touted as the world’s first vodka icewine martini, it’s a combination of Vineland Estates Vidal Icewine and Canadian-made vodka. And, many restaurants will offer food pairings and use icewine as an ingredient to accent a glaze or icewine butter. Cheese pairings with icewine are more prominent now, too.

Icewine is an iconic Canadian product. The joy is it’s finally moving beyond its postprandial pigeon hole as chefs experiment with new ways to capitalize on the clarity of its sweet, clean fresh fruit.

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