ICE WINE Frozen on the vine
You may want to mark your diaries for the world’s only wine route best appreciated in the snow in January, puffs Kevin Pilley
The asparagus and brie wonton tartlets circulated. Feet stomped. Breaths smoked. Teeth chattered. Noses became rosed. The snow fell, the Eiswein frothed and the marshmallows toasted over open fires.
If you haven’t drunk high-quality, multi-layered wine while wearing thick gloves, an all-elements protecting Sprayway fleece-lined parka, thermal underwear and a woolly anti-hypothermic Tilley hat, you haven’t had the full extreme Canadian oenological, multi-layered experience.
Every January, over three weekends, Niagara-on-theLake, a village an hour from Toronto and nearly 644km from New York, holds its Icewine Festival. The 2019 edition takes place from January 11 to 27.
Canada makes 70 percent of the world’s ice wine. Thirty-five Ontario state winegrowers man the revival stations and provide the ripe quince, baked apple and tart grapefruit bouquets. The climate provides the cryogenic suspension. The growers include Megalomaniac, Coyote’s Run Winery, and Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo’s Inniskillin, which first made ice wine on its Brae Burn estate in 1984.
The Romans discovered ice wine accidentally, noticing that grapes left to rot for livestock winter fodder made
good sweet wine if picked and pressed when frozen solid. Germany probably made the first commercial ice wine in the late 18th century. Luxembourg has a “vin de glace”. Japan’s Furano Winery in central Hokkaido produces ice wine. New York State, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio do too.
But Canada is the hub and Niagara the HQ. Grapes must be picked at no less than -8°C. Sugar levels must be no less than 35 Brix. Ice wine can be made from riesling and red cabernet France, although the Vidal grape is most common. This French hybrid was originally developed for cognac production. Pillitteri Estates Winery makes superb
cabernet sauvignon and blanc ice wines, and JacksonTriggs, a delicious Gewurztraminer one.
On your ice wine crawl around the only wine route best appreciated in the snow, warm in your winterhardy salopettes and hydrophobic nubuck leather Obox B-Dry hiking boots, you have tutored tastings with producers who offer food pairings such as scallops, candied salmon, double chocolate macaroons, Bleu d’Elizabeth cheese and sweet potato brûlée!
Ice wine seems to go with everything. It’s not just a dessert wine and recommended with sushi and spicy food. Red ice wine goes well with dark chocolate. The most unusual suggested to me was a wine complimenting cobbler.
At the Niagara Icewine Festival, a $40 Discovery Pass allows you to visit the barrel cellars of eight wineries and taste, sometimes in the fog among frosty vineyards, at places such as “13th Street” and “Reif ”, “Peller” and “Konzlemann” estates, as well as Megalomaniac Winery, which began as a retirement fund-raising project for a children’s charity. Owner John
Howard refused to have his wine named after him. Megalomaniac Winery produces Local Squeeze Riesling and Bigmouth Merlot. The Selfie and Narcissist are also on its list.
Pillitteri Estates Winery, founded by a Sicilian, now exports to 40 countries, producing over a quarter of the country’s ice wine. Says the estate’s Marketing Manager Jeff Letvenuk: “We typically harvest in early January, but it’s completely weatherdependent. We usually have a three- to fourday lead time to know when the temperature will cooperate. We love having people come to visit us to see one of the world’s rarest wine harvests happen live!”
By the end of it all, having learned all about sweet and savoury synergies, and how to survive prolonged exposure to warm hospitality from people who know how to control their fruitiness and, having been educated into appreciating fine wine with no feeling in your fingers (let others pour), your face takes on the colour of the iconic and unique local produce – pale yellow at first, light gold next and then “maderize” or deep amber golden. And very often, burgundy.
It’s called chilling out.
Harvesting frozen grapes in sub-zero pre-dawn temperatures, before the thaw begins The finest wines from the highest-quality Niagara Peninsula grapes
Pruning the vines at Pillitteri Estates Winery
Peller Estates was the first winery to be licensed in Ontario in 1969