Icewine - Wine Country Ontario

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Icewine

The Story of Icewine

There is a mystique and romance that’s grown up around Icewine. It’s called Canada’s “liquid gold”, receives critical acclaim, wins gold medals in international competitions and commands high prices. It has acquired the status of being the flagship product that has made the world take notice of Ontario winemaking. Still, for all its fame, many consumers have only a vague understanding of what differentiates Icewine from other wines, when it should be served and with what foods (is it just a dessert wine?), and why it is expensive.

The story of Icewine is for many Canadians a source of pride. When consumers hear how Icewine is made, why Ontario’s wine regions are exceptionally well suited for Icewine, and the international attention these wines have received they are intrigued and keen to try it.

The Cold Facts on Icewine

A Little Bit of History

It is said that Icewine was accidentally discovered in Germany in 1794 by farmers trying to save their grape harvest after a sudden frost. In the 1980s, perceptive vintners recognized that Ontario’s cold winters would provide the perfect conditions for producing exceptional Icewine. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1991, Inniskillin entered its 1989 Vidal Icewine at Vinexpo in Bordeaux where it won the Grand Prix d’Honneur and the world’s attention. Since that time, Ontario’s Icewines have been unrivalled on the world stage. Year after year, they bring home gold medals and critical acclaim from the most prestigious international competitions.

What is Icewine and How is it Made? 

Icewine is a dessert wine renowned for its intense flavours, rich bouquet and unsurpassed smoothness. It is produced from grapes that have been left on the vine after the fall harvest. When temperatures dip to -8ºC (or lower) the frozen grapes are handpicked and pressed immediately to carefully release a thick, rich, yellow-gold liquid, highly concentrated in natural sugars and acidity. See our video on how Icewine is made here!

VQA Requirements for Icewine

  • Production must be monitored by a VQA-appointed agent who will stop the harvest once the temperature rises above -8°C.
  • It must be produced as a varietal from approved grapes.
  • The grapes must be naturally frozen on the vine and harvested and pressed in a continuous process while the air temperature remains at or below -8°C.
  • 100 per cent of the grapes must be grown within a viticultural area, which must be indicated on the label.
  • The average sugar level of the juice used must reach at least 35° Brix (Brix is the measurement of sugar in grapes) and both the alcohol and residual sugar in the finished wine must result exclusively from the natural sugar of the grapes.

Why is Ontario one of the World’s Leading Producers of Icewine?

To produce Icewine, summers must be hot and winters must be cold and sharp. Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate sufficiently cold to ensure an Icewine crop every year. Even Germany cannot produce an Icewine every vintage.

Why is Icewine So Expensive?

  • The production of true Icewine is risky. Icewine producers leave select vineyards unharvested and wait for winter to set in. The fruit left on the vine after the normal fall harvest is vulnerable to rot, ravaging winds, hail, hungry birds and animals.
  • The making of Icewine is labour intensive. In order to ensure that the grapes are harvested when frozen solid, a trained workforce must be available to go out into the vineyards in the middle of the night at temperatures below -8°C to pick the frozen grapes by hand. The grapes must be pressed immediately while they are still frozen.
  • Yields are small. It takes about 3.5 kilograms of Riesling grapes or three kilograms of Vidal grapes to produce one 375-millilitre bottle of Icewine. The same amount of grapes would produce six to seven times as much table wine.

Which Grape Varieties Are Used for Icewine?

  • The majority of Icewine continues to be made from Riesling and Vidal. Riesling produces an Icewine with more acidity than Vidal.
  • Other varieties used include Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Muscat Ottonel, and Gamay.
  • Newer variations to look for: sparkling Icewine and other varietals.

Icewine — Not Just a Dessert Wine

  • If you’re serving Icewine with dessert, make sure the dessert is less sweet than the Icewine (try fruit-based desserts such as peach cobbler, cheesecake or unsweetened fruit pies).
  • Serve as a starter with pâté or foie gras.
  • Enjoy anytime alongside fresh fruit and young, soft cheese.
  • And, it’s superb all by itself.

Some Serving Tips

  • Chill Icewine in an ice bucket for 15 minutes or refrigerate for two hours before serving.
  • Serve Icewine in a traditional white wine glass to fully enjoy the rich, full bouquet.
  • Allow 1.5 ounces per person.
  • Once opened, Icewine will keep for several weeks if sealed in the refrigerator.

Imitations Are Not the Same

There’s a growing market in fake Icewine (particularly in Asia), as producing the real thing involves financial risk and intensive labour. It’s cheaper and easier to freeze grapes artificially, use concentrate, and sweeten or fortify wines. But the result is a poor imitation.

To distinguish the real from the fake, look for the word “Icewine” to be spelled as a single word and make sure the VQA logo is properly displayed on the bottle. “Icewine” is a registered trademark in Canada and can only be used by producers of VQA-approved Icewine.

VQA Icewine Food Pairings

Savoury

When paired with savoury dishes, VQA Icewine truly shines! Salty foods enhance Icewine’s fruit flavours, while the sweetness of the wine softens the sharp saltiness of the dish. Rich, full-flavoured foods stand up to the full-bodied nature of VQA Icewine, while the high acidity of the Icewine cleanses the palate between each bite.

Casual canapés: Chicken liver pâté

Fancy appetizers: Foie gras

Spicy

Spicy food and sweet VQA Icewine is a classic yin and yang pairing. The active component contributing to the spice of most peppers is capsaicin, and the only way to tame it is with sweetness. The cool, fruity sweetness of VQA Icewine takes the heat out of the dish, and maintains the flavours of the spices.

Comfort food: Spicy crunchy chicken

Fun takeout: Spicy Thai curry

Sweet

Why not pair a dessert wine with your dessert? When pairing VQA Icewine with sweeter dishes, make sure the dessert is no sweeter than the Icewine. This allows both the wine and the dish to shine. Fruit-based desserts are enhanced by the fruit flavours of the Icewine, while the rich texture of the Icewine stands up to rich, creamy desserts such as crème brulée or chocolate.

Fruit dessert: Ice cream with fruit compote

Creamy dessert: Crème brûlée

Chocolate and Cheese

Chocolate and Cheese

Chocolate and cheese are often paired with VQA Icewine for a reason. The complex textures and flavours of VQA Icewine are truly magical when paired properly with the right chocolate or cheese.

Pair white chocolate with a VQA Riesling or Vidal Icewine, and pair dark chocolate with a VQA Cabernet Franc or other Red Icewine.

Blue cheese and VQA Icewine are a heavenly match – the sweet, luscious Icewine being the perfect match to tame the salty, rich flavours of the cheese.

VQA Icewine Cocktails

VQA Icewine Martini

  • 2 oz VQA Vidal Icewine
  • 2 oz Vodka
  • Frozen grape for garnish

Pour VQA Vidal Icewine and vodka over ice in a cocktail mixer or shaker. Stir gently, then strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a frozen grape.

VQA Icewine Royale

  • 1 oz VQA Red Icewine
  • 3 oz VQA Sparkling wine
  • Raspberry for garnish

Pour VQA Sparkling wine into a chilled flute glass. Gently add VQA Red Icewine and garnish with a raspberry.

VQA Berry Frosty

  • 1 ½ oz VQA Vidal Icewine
  • 3 oz Peach juice
  • 1 oz VQA Rosé Sparkling Wine
  • 5 strawberries

In a cocktail shaker muddle four strawberries, then add VQA Icewine and peach juice. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass with ice. Top with VQA Sparkling wine. Garnish with a strawberry.

VQA Icewine Cosmopolitan

  • 1 oz VQA Vidal or Riesling Icewine
  • 1 oz Premium Vodka
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 ½ oz Cranberry juice
  • ½ oz lime juice
  • Citrus peel for garnish

Pour VQA Icewine, vodka, Grand Marnier, cranberry and lime juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously, then strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a citrus peel.

VQA Icewine 76

VQA Icewine 76

  • 1 oz VQA Riesling or Vidal Icewine
  • 1 oz Premium Vodka
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • 3 oz VQA Sparkling wine
  • Citrus peel for garnish

Pour VQA Icewine, vodka and lemon juice over ice in a cocktail mixer or shaker. Stir gently, strain into a chilled coupe glass and top with VQA Sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

VQA Icewine Apple Martini

VQA Icewine Apple Martini

  • 1 oz VQA Riesling or Vidal Icewine
  • 1 oz Premium Vodka
  • ½ oz Apple Liqueur
  • Baby crab apple for garnish

Pour VQA Icewine, vodka and Apple Liqueur over ice in a cocktail mixer or shaker. Stir gently, then strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a baby crab apple.

VQA Red Icicle

  • 1½ oz VQA Vidal Icewine
  • 2 oz Pomegranate juice
  • 2 oz Ginger ale
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish

In a rocks glass with ice, add VQA Vidal Icewine, pomegranate juice, and ginger ale. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

VQA Cold Fashioned

  • 1 oz VQA Red Icewine
  • 1 oz Canadian Whisky
  • Cherries and orange slices for garnish

In a rocks glass with ice, stir VQA Red Icewine and whisky together. Garnish with cherries and orange slices.

VQA Icewine Bellini

VQA Icewine Bellini

  • 2 oz Peach purée
  • 1 ½ oz VQA Vidal or Riesling Icewine
  • VQA Sparkling Wine to top
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Pour peach purée into a chilled flute glass, followed by VQA Vidal or Riesling Icewine. Top with VQA Sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon twist.

VQA Winter Festival

  • 1 oz VQA Riesling or Vidal Icewine
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • Cinnamon stick for garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add VQA Icewine, vodka, freshly squeezed orange juice, lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Shake sharply and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

VQA Icewine Grand Prix

VQA Icewine Grand Prix

  • 1 oz VQA Red Icewine
  • 1 oz Premium Vodka
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • Orange peel for garnish

Pour VQA Red Icewine, vodka and Grand Marnier over ice in a cocktail mixer or shaker. Stir gently, then strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with an orange peel.

VQA Niagara Mist

VQA Niagara Mist

  • 1 ½ oz VQA Riesling or Vidal Icewine
  • 2 oz pear nectar
  • ½ oz vodka
  • ¼ oz lemon juice
  • Pear slice for garnish

To a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add VQA Icewine, pear nectar, vodka and lemon juice. Stir until cold, then strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a pear slice.

A Canadian in Manhattan

A Canadian in Manhattan

  • ½ oz VQA Riesling or Vidal Icewine
  • 1 oz bourbon
  • ½ oz maple syrup
  • Maraschino cherry for garnish

To a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add bourbon, maple syrup, and VQA Icewine. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

VQA Spring Fizz

  • 1 ½ oz. VQA Vidal Icewine
  • ½ oz. Canadian Rye Whisky
  • ½ oz. Lemon Juice
  • 1 tablespoon Apricot Jam
  • 2 dashes Aromatic Bitters
  • Top with VQA Sparkling Wine

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Add ice and shake again for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a Collins glass packed with ice and top with VQA Sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

VQA Bittersweet Symphony

  • 1 ½ oz. VQA Red Icewine
  • ½ oz. Campari
  • ½ oz. Passionfruit Juice
  • ½ oz. Lime Juice
  • Top with VQA Sparkling Wine

Pour VQA Red Icewine, Campari, passionfruit and lime juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice & shake vigorously. Strain into a flute and top with VQA Sparkling wine. Garnish with skewered Passionfruit & long lime twist.

VQA Love Smash

VQA Love Smash

  • 1 ½ oz VQA Vidal Icewine
  • ½ oz Strawberry and Thyme infused gin**
  • ½ oz Honey
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Splash of Absinthe

In a shaker tin, combine all ingredients and shake vigorously for 10 – 15 seconds. Pour contents into a chilled wine glass, pack with more ice and garnish with lemon wheels.

**To make the strawberry and thyme infused gin: Add 2 or 3 slices of strawberries and a quarter teaspoon of dried thyme leaves in a small mason jar with 2 oz of gin and agitate. Let sit in room temperature for minimum 2 hours. Shake well again and strain out solids.

The following video captures VQA Icewine production:

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