Ice Wine

Northern Grapes Gain Fame for Icing

I am always looking for a gift that is a little unusual. Here’s a wine not too many people know about yet. It will be a conversation piece as well as a dessert, or a unique addition paired with a late night cheese tray for New Year’s Eve. In New York, add a little bit of this nectar to a Martini and you’ve got a trendy $100 drink!

I’m talking about Icewine.

Icewine is a very late harvest wine. The grapes are picked frozen and pressed frozen in the middle of the night so they won’t thaw. Yields are only one tenth of what a normal harvest would bring and a lengthy fermentation is needed. The wines are around 11-percent alcohol, but retain a substantial amount of natural sugar balanced by the acidity of the grape. Icewine is unusual in that it is sweet but not cloying and refreshing clean on the palate. It can be cellared for 10 years and its complexity develops even further with time. Be prepared to spend around $40 to $60 for a 350 ml bottle; it’s expensive, but worth every drop.

Icewine was first discovered in Franconia, Germany in 1746 when a cold snap froze the grapes on the vine. Eisweins are still produced in Austria and Germany, but unfortunately, most of their winters are not cold enough to produce it more than once or twice a decade.

It is the Niagara Wine District in Ontario and the Okanagan Region in British Columbia, Canada, that have become the most awarded regions and largest producers of Icewine worldwide. The Icewine movement in Canada was started by a partnership between a home winemaker and a plant nursery owner in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario. Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo received the first winery license granted since prohibition and they started Inniskillin Winery in 1975. By 1989, Inniskillin was making oak-aged Icewine from Niagara Peninsula-grown Vidal grapes. Ziraldo entered the 1989 vintage into the most prestigious wine competition in the world, the Vinexpo International in Bordeaux, France and won the highest prize, putting Canadian wine on the world map, and making Icewine a national treasure back home.

I’ve been savoring Canadian Icewine since 1989, but not only was it a national treasure, it seems it was a national secret too. It is only within the last few years that it has gained international presence, with the highest import demand coming from California, Japan and China. So the good news is you can find Canadian Icewine in California quite readily.

Icewine can be paired with many desserts, but not with rich chocolate. It can also serve as a dessert on its own. I like it served well chilled, as the honey, mango and tropical spices glow in the nose and expand on the palate. A 2 oz. serving is standard.

Icewine pairs very well with California cheese. I’d suggest checking out the cheese selections at Dorothy McNett’s, and look for Pepper Jack, Sarenah, Creme Brie, Gouda, a light blue cheese or Dry Jack.

Icewine has always been a special part of my holiday table and I hope it will find a place on your wine rack this year.

Icewine Martini

1 Part Bombay Saffire Gin

1 Part Icewine

1 Splash Calvados

Stir ingredients together with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with frozen grapes.


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