Here's a cool treat for summer. Sip a chilled glass of sweet Icewine and enjoy one of our Icewine-based desserts from Izabela Kalabis, Resident Chef at Inniskillin Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. Icewine, known as eiswein in Germany, where it originated, is a delicious sweet wine made from frozen grapes. It is now made by wineries throughout North America, but not always by the true method. One winery that has been a leader in producing traditional Icewine in the new world is Inniskillin. Read our profile of Inniskillin's founder, Donald Ziraldo. And learn more about Icewine from Mark Bell, formerly sommelier at Vong in New York, currently East Coast Brand Manager for Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, and a Canadian himself.
Niagara and New York City
From where I sit perched on a bar stool at 54th and third, I can't see the rolling plains of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and if a tree fell I wouldn't be able to hear it, but I know it exists; for the proof lies in a glass in front of me. Flavours of peach, crisp citrus, and ripe apricot race along my tongue as I sip the Pearl Icewine from Inniskillin.
What I do see when I look north to the Niagara peninsula is an exciting, new, cool-climate viticultural area. The peninsula is situated in southern Ontario and is sandwiched between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. At 43 degrees of latitude it is just south of Burgundy and north of Napa Valley. This makes it an ideal growing area for grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. The vineyards lie primarily on the shores of Lake Ontario. The vines benefit directly from the lake's depth and breadth as stored heat is released during the summer just as the air and land begin to cool. This is similar to the way that the stones of the Rhone Valley release their heat during the cooler nights. This micro-climate provides a cushion for the grapes and slightly extends the growing season.
My favorite product from Niagara is the Icewine. Icewine is fermented from crushed grapes in the same way that other wines are with one major exception: the grapes are harvested well into January and are only picked after they have completely frozen. Since temperatures will often fluctuate during the day, the harvest usually occurs in the dark and windless hours between two and four a.m. Only then can the growers be assured that the temperature will stay below -10 degrees Celsius and the grapes will be truly frozen when they are crushed. It takes a lot of good will and some very creative planning to get people to harvest in the middle of the night.
Icewine relies on the combination of a slow cycle of freeze and thaw and the extra long "hang time" to produce a poetry of intense flavour and high acidity. It is a showstopper with dessert and it works extremely well when paired with rich foods such as foie gras sautéed with ginger and mango, or a spicy chicken and coconut milk soup. It is also very refreshing when served before a meal on a hot summer afternoon. What a lot of flexibility for a wine that is made from only 5% of its original juice.
Good things do indeed come in small packages.
One of my responsibilities as sommelier is to look around my neighborhood for new and interesting wines. Long Island and the Finger Lakes are providing some great products, and I'm happy to say (being Canadian) that Canada is as well. It makes me happy to recommend a Chardonnay from the southern edges of Lake Ontario to a German tourist or a Cabernet Franc to a New Yorker and listen as they order a second bottle. One of my favorite pleasures is watching as the flavours of the very-late-harvested Inniskillin Icewine lift the corners of the first time taster's mouth and replace the day-long strain in their eyes with a mischievous glint.
They have discovered a new and wonderful friend.
My job is done.