The origins of icewine can be traced back to the 1700s in Germany when unexpected cold weather froze the grapes before winemakers were able to pick them. Not to be defeated by nature, they picked and pressed anyway with the final result a luscious, sweet wine.
In the 1970s, German immigrants brought their Eiswein-making tradition to Canada’s nearly perfect climate conditions — summers with plenty of sunshine to fully ripen the berries and cold enough winters to freeze them consistently every year.
Today, icewine is vinified from grapes left on the vine to freeze naturally until reaching the temperature of -8 degrees Celsius or lower. That can happen any time between December and February. Pressed while still frozen, riper, naturally dehydrated grapes with high-sugar content produce rich, concentrated flavours while still maintaining high level of acidity. These grapes display abundant aromas and flavours of ripe peaches and figs, dried apricots, citrus and tropical notes of mangos, pineapples and lychees.
Ontario’s world-renowned icewines are vinified primarily with Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc varietals. Each is recognizable for its aromas and flavours — honey in Vidal, racy acidity and mineral notes in Riesling and bursts of ripe strawberries in Cabernet Franc.
Sales have seen a steady growth over the last five years, with Vintages Essentials program icewines dominating market share at 75 per cent of total LCBO icewine sales. The top-selling Ontario icewine at LCBO stores is Magnotta Vidal, followed by Lakeview Cellars Vidal. Also, watch for Henry of Pelham Cabernet Franc and Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal icewines.
In B.C., icewine is considered a premium, niche market and since 2014, the province’s liquor stores have registered an almost 20-per-cent increase in sales. Best-selling brands include Pillitteri Estate, Lunessence, Volcanic Hills, Jackson Triggs and Wayne Gretzky Estate.
Initially considered a dessert wine, icewine is increasingly being paired with savoury dishes. Compared to other sweet wines, icewines come with greater complexity and higher acidity — perfectly balanced with sweetness. That makes it a match for main courses with rich and complex ingredients such as foie gras, lobster and caramelized meats.
Veronique Rivest, the top female sommelier in the world and the owner of Soif restaurant in Gatineau, Que., says her favourite savoury icewine companion is a game terrine with dried apricots. And when it comes to sweets, she likes to match icewine with a pear and cheese tart.
At Niagara’s Peller Estate Winery, executive chef Jason Parsons pairs icewine with tuna tartar and lobster linguini. Another favourite is his Peller Signature Blue Ice — an icewine-infused Blue Benedictine cheese crafted by Abbaye-St-Benoit in Quebec paired with Riesling Icewine.
Written By: Tania Thomas
Volume 48, Number 10