Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A Sweet Treat for Summer: Canadian Icewine!

Canadian Icewines, often described as “liquid gold” are a treat that all of us should experience at least once in our lifetimes. 
The first question that comes to mind when talking about Canadian wine is: How? How is viticulture even viable here, so north in latitude to ripen grapes?
Indeed, all four wine appellations that make wines in Canada: Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia, enjoy very cool climates, described as continental-maritime. This entails a short growing season with less than the minimum 1500 sun hours required to achieve ripeness and a spring frost proneness enough to discourage anyone.  This was why historically, vine growers planted and experimented only with hybrid crosses, such as Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch, deemed better suited to withstand these harsh conditions than traditional vitis vinifera varieties. It was not until the 1980s that growers began uprooting some of these hybrids and began replacing them with vinifera plantings of Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc. 
But to answer the question I posted at the beginning, viticulture is only possible here, mostly due to the proximity to large bodies of water, the Ontario and Erie lakes, that naturally moderate temperature in the vineyards and reflect their much needed sunlight. Besides we are talking about icewine production here, a style of wine made from frozen grapes. But, how does this magic happen? 
Icewine is a luscious, dessert wine crafted from naturally frozen grapes, purposely left to mature on the vines, until temperatures drop sufficiently to at least 17.6º F or -8º C. This usually occurs between the months of December and late February. Once frozen, these super sweet grapes are harvested by hand and pressed immediately, usually on crushers located outside the wineries. Here the juice is separated from the ice, yielding a concentrated nectar. Fermentation can take up to 6 months, due to the high sugar content in the must, which is measured in brix. All Canadian icewines must contain a minimum of 38 brix + of sugar by law. Such amounts will, for sure, slow down the fermentation process, with yeasts dying before consuming all of it, leaving plenty of residual sugar behind. The resulting wine is sweet, light, low in alcohol, with high acidity, featuring delightful aromas, reminiscent of Sauternes or German TBAs, with notes of peach, apricot, pineapple, lychee and quince. Some grapes may or may not be affected by Botrytis Cinerea or noble rot, adding complex notes of lanolin and honey to the wine's profile.  
Similar to what happens in Europe, Canada’s VQA system regulates all aspects of viticulture and winemaking, including the grapes allowed in each appellation, the minimum weight limits and the minimum brix on the grapes. No sweet reserve is allowed in icewine production and wines must have a minimum of 125 gr/lit of residual sugar in them, though 138 gr is typical.
The favorite grape used to make icewine is Vidal Blanc, but wonderful samples also come from Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon. 
Wondering about what to pair with these seductive wines? Foie gras and blue cheeses offer a delightful savory-sweet contrast, but also spicy cuisines like Thai or Indian can complement icewines beautifully. Additionally, they pair exquisitely with sweet desserts such as fruit tarts, crème brûlée, panna cotta, cheesecake or simply they could be served on their own as a luxurious finale to any meal.
Beyond icewines, Canada produces many other delicious wines including late harvest, sparkling, and dry wines from both vinifera and hybrid varieties. Ontario stands as the most significant of the four Canadian appellations, producing 75% of all wines. It boasts a rich winemaking history, with vineyards established as early as the 1860s on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
My recommendations: I had the pleasure of attending my first Canadian wine tasting in late March, these are just some of my favorite wines tasted while there:
Inniskillin Gold Vidal Icewine 2021 $70
Enticing, with plenty of layers of dried apricot, orange marmalade and ripe mango. Lip smacking acidity balances its delicious sweetness. 

Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine 2022 $93
Truly fabulous, showing elegant notes of red fresh fruit that includes raspberry, red cherries and strawberries.  Very expressive with lively acidity and a long spicy finish.

Reif Estate Grand Reserve Vidal 2019 $90
Decadent, displays succulent apricot marmalade, white peach and honey notes. Unctuous, yet vibrant with acidity.
Stratus Riesling Icewine 2022 $77
Packed with delicious minerality, offering caramelized pineapple, citrus and quince preserve notes. Its cleansing acidity balances the generous finish.

Malivoire Icewine Gewurztraminer 2019 $65
Creamy and rich, it offers rose, lychee and spicy ginger notes. Intensely long and mouth filling, this was my favorite of the whole tasting! What can I say, I’m a Gewurz fan in any shape or form!

Pillitteri Family Reserve Riesling Icewine 2019 $45
Rich and lavish displaying candied lemon peel, ripe pineapple and apricot preserves notes. Seamlessly balanced with piercing minerality and a viscous, multilayered texture.
Pillitteri Market Collection Vidal Icewine 2021 $45
Palate teasing, this beautiful icewine features crème brûlée, orange rind preserves and honey blossom notes. Refreshing acidity complements its creamy richness.
So what do you say? Isn't it time to drink some sweet Canadian Icewine? Give them a try and let me know what you think. Cheers! Silvina.
#thoughtsoflawina #Canadianwines #Canadianicewines #Canada #Drinkupamerica #WineWednesday.