Written by Sandra Ozkur
Icewine, Canada’s most internationally recognized wine, is becoming a party favourite among the Millennial Generation. It has been traditionally regarded as a dessert wine— sophisticated and complex. However, the younger generations have brought a trendy new twist to this classic beauty. The youth of today like to ‘mix things up,’ recreating modern drinks out of the old-time favourites. Local wineries have responded by creating new and exciting ways to enjoy this outstanding wine.
The Ice House, owned by Jamie McKenzie and Karen King, has been attracting a lot of attention of late. It is a small, family-owned winery that produces only Icewine. “When you specialize in one product, you tend to become experts at what you do,” says Jamie. And in 2007, the proof came at the prestigious Monde Selection Competition in Belgium. Jamie’s Icewine was awarded the Grand Gold Monde Selection Medal for his 2005 Northern Ice Vidal and Vidal Blanc. Another Grand Gold was awarded in 2008 for his 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine. The Ice House is the only winery in history to have ever won back-to-back Grand Gold awards.
“We were on a roll, with good crops, three Grand Gold Medals, and great contracts to sell our product abroad. Everything was going well until the bottom dropped out of the international market during the economic crash of 2008. All orders ceased and we were stuck with a huge inventory of Icewine and no local customers. Originally intending to focus on export business, we needed to find new ways to sell our product. We opened our tasting room doors in 2009 and realized that building a solid customer base required meeting our customers face to face,” said Jamie. With no money for marketing, Karen decided to ask for help on the show, The Big Decision. “This was the turning point for us,” she said. “We were lucky enough to be accepted onto the show, and with the public exposure, we were soon overwhelmed with visitors.”
Karen, who has a background in sensory profiling, diligently listened to her customers’ comments about their Icewine. She eagerly passed on this feedback to winemaker Jamie who tweaked his product to suite tastes. “What I kept hearing was that they loved the flavour of the Icewine, but it was too intense to drink regularly. They wanted a beverage they could enjoy for all occasions; something fun and more approachable,” Karen explained. “We wanted to demonstrate how to break the rules of serving Icewine and create a cocktail sampler that would ‘wow’ people. During the heat of summer, we starting serving slushies made with our Vidal Icewine— it was perfect. The crushed ice toned down the sweetness but left the flavours intact, with enough acidity to give a refreshing finish that provided a ‘party in your mouth.’” Simple to make and simple to enjoy, N’Icewine Slushie is just simply the perfect beverage for the cocktail-loving millennial generation. Much success has followed, and Karen and Jamie continue to educate their customers by experimenting with unconventional food pairings: Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine with spicy tacos, crisp Riesling with pistachios, and the bold Vidal takes on wasabi peas with a flair. Karen explains, “The sweetness and acidity of the Icewine is the perfect pairing for spicy foods, especially Asian or Eastern cuisine. The sweetness of the Icewine really cuts the heat, and the fruit adds a delicious complexity to these hot and spicy dishes.”
Very few countries have the proper conditions to produce Icewine, and none do it as well as Canada. The process is long and arduous, but the rewards are worth it!
To start the process, the grapes are left to hang on the vine long past autumn, waiting for freezing temperatures. During this time, the grapes continue to ripen and dehydrate. This process allows the grape to develop a distinctive taste profile. If the grape grower is really lucky, the weather will turn cold enough to allow harvest in early December. At least three days of consistently freezing temperatures of -8 degrees are needed to harvest the grapes. If not, the grapes remain on the vine into January or February.
When the perfect weather finally arrives, the grapes are picked at night to prevent melting and then taken in for crushing. Because the berries have to remain frozen, the work is done outside. Icewine requires special hydraulic presses that are strong enough to crush the frozen berries. Barely two drops of thick, concentrated juice finally ooze out of the grape; this is then fermented and turned into Icewine. Now you know why Icewine is so expensive!
The diverse flavours of Icewine come from the characteristics of each individual varietal of grapes. Icewine made from white grapes, such as Vidal, will smell like peaches, honey and lychee fruit. Riesling and Chardonnay will have hints of lemon drops and melon. Red Cabernet Franc Icewine offers up scents of strawberry and rhubarb. Characteristic notes of black cherry and raspberry make Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine irresistible.
Here are three other wineries that make outstanding Icewine. It is worth visiting each one to see what makes their Icewine special:
Reif Winery has a long history of Icewine production, with their first vintage being made in 1984. They are still making Icewine from the original 10-acre block. Reif has won many international awards for its Icewine. Be sure to sample their rare 2005 Vidal Icewine. This delicious nectar scored 90 in the prestigious Wine Spectator publication. The flavours in this Icewine are a mix of apple, apricot and butterscotch with a touch of cinnamon and cardamom for a delicious and lasting finish.
Ravine Winery is a boutique winery with specialty products. They limit their Icewine production to one varietal, Riesling, because of its minerality, citrusy aromatics, and crisp acidity. Riesling produces an Icewine that is lighter and less sweet than other varietals, but still retains the intense aromas and flavours of the grape.
Jackson-Triggs Winery is an architecturally impressive building which houses the production area, a wine store, tasting bar, and an impressive barrel cellar. From the tasting bar, there is a great view of their amphitheatre tucked among the vineyards. Winemaker Marco Piccoli’s favourite Icewine is the 2007 Cabernet Franc because of its unique concentration of berry fruit aromas and its elegance.
Konzelmann Estate Winery was the first Canadian winery ever to have a product listed on the Wine Spectator’s prestigious annual ‘Top 100 List.’ They won this honour for their 2006 Vidal Icewine. In 2010, the Vidal Icewine was awarded the 2012 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines. It is set to be released in 2013. Their Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals are equally delicious. People come from all over the world just to taste Icewine in Konzelmann’s specially designed Icewine room.
Here are some other ways to enjoy Icewine:
Icewine Martini- Use one part, good quality vodka with two parts Icewine, and shake over ice. Serve in a martini glass with a twist of orange for a very festive drink.
Blushing Champagne- Pour 1.5 ounces of Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine in the bottom of a champagne glass. Add four ounces of Brut or Champagne and watch the wine blush.
Every January, an Icewine Festival is held in Niagara. Activities include an Icewine Gala, and street festivals held in Jordan and Niagara-on-the-lake, and private functions at individual wineries. It’s a truly Canadian event, which brings thousands of people every year to Niagara to enjoy our illustrious Icewine! This year the festival runs from January 11th through January 27th.