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After the frost: Icewines

Cold weather wines Moving into the fall season has many benefits. You can comfortably turn off the a/c, bring out your favourite boots to wear every day and look forward to a new crop of icewines from our Canadian vineyards.

Wonderful wines
Frozen grapes for icewine

Here are our favourite Canadian icewines to check out.

What is icewine?

Icewine is an intense, sweet wine made from pressed frozen grapes. While rich in flavour, the sweetness is balanced nicely by the natural acidity and allows for a smooth but lingering finish of fruit notes. It’s a wonderful wine to serve with many foods or as a dessert wine to accompany fruit-based offerings. Try the perfect pairing options of icewine with a cheese and fruit course, using strong and blue-veined cheeses; salty snacks and dishes, such as an antipasto plate, which help enhance the flavour of the wine; and spicy foods, which are balanced by the wine’s sweetness.

How is icewine produced?

It’s generally thought that icewines were first discovered in Germany in 1794, but it wasn’t until the early 1800s that there was better documentation of it being produced. Fast-forward to today, and Canada is well known for its production of icewine. To create this smooth beverage, wine grapes are left on the vine until they are frozen, then harvested — almost always by hand and often in the deep cold of a winter’s night to keep them frozen until pressing. The grapes are ready when the temperature reaches minus 8 degrees C, and the harvest begins at minus 10 to minus 13 degrees C. At this point the grapes have become somewhat dehydrated, and the juice is more concentrated — so much so that a harvest of frozen grapes will generate only about one-tenth of the amount of wine that would be produced by normal methods. While this product is not unique to Canada, according to Agriculture Canada, our cold winter weather can guarantee a successful grape harvest and allow winemakers to create a new vintage each year.

Canadian icewines

The VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) protects the standard of Canadian wine, so to be sure you’re purchasing a quality wine, look for the VQA symbol on the label. While the new harvest of frozen grapes is still a few months away and the new vintage of wine not ready to consume for years after that, here are a few of our Canadian favourites you can try right now.

Jackson-Triggs: 2007 Delaine, Riesling Icewine (Jackson-Triggs online,  $60). Richly flavoured with a syrupy texture, this wine is delightful on its own, but with its subtle notes of ginger and orange, an interesting pairing may be with grilled chicken or shrimp kebabs.

Quails’ Gate: 2010 Riesling Icewine (Quails’ Gate online, $35). With lingering notes of apple and a wonderfully even balance of tropical fruit essence, this could easily be paired with a homemade apple pie and extra-old white cheddar, among many other things!

Gehringer Brothers’: 2011 Cabernet Franc Icewine (approximate retail price, $50). While a red Icewine is harder to find, it can be simply sensational when sipped while chilled or paired with chocolate and berries.

Inniskillin: Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2011 (approximate retail price, $50). A variety of fruit flavours — including citrus and peach — characterize this wine and are highlighted by the sweetness of honey. Try it with a selection of dried fruits and nuts or sweet pastries.

Many more delicious icewines can be found on the market, each with its own distinctive qualities, so why not take the time to discover one of the many things our local vintners are known for: Canadian icewine.

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