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

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

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 Jack­son-Triggs, 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

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