For many Canadians, there is a certain romance when it comes to icewine. The image of hardy pickers braving the elements to harvest frozen grapes in the middle of the night, while the ground is decked in freshly fallen snow, appeals to many wine-lovers.
While icewine production in Europe dates back to the late 17th century in higher-latitude wine regions (Germany and Austria, specifically), it’s rare that it would be made more than about once or twice in a decade there, as not every winter is cool enough to press a frozen grape. In Canada, a cold freeze is virtually guaranteed each year, and as such, Canadians have become experts at making icewine—it is one of our premium (and also most expensive and delicious) exports.
A great deal of work goes into making icewine, and the risks are high. The grapes must be fully frozen while still on the vine, which means that ripe grapes have to be shielded from hungry birds and marauding bears until the temperature falls to at least -8° Celsius—this usually occurs in the middle of the night. Only then can the frozen grapes be harvested and pressed, and each one yields just a few drops of highly concentrated juice.
Icewine is unapologetically sweet and should be served cold in small glasses—a 375 mL bottle can easily serve six or more people. White icewine will typically have intense tropical flavours like nectarines, lemons and peaches, and it strangely pairs well with fruit-based or fruit-garnished desserts like panna cottas, trifles and custards. Red icewine flavours tend toward red fruits like strawberries and raspberries, can be spicy or smoky, too, and pair well with fruity desserts and dark chocolate.
Four Canadian icewines to try
Gehringer Brothers 2015 Signature Riesling Icewine
Named Best Dessert Wine of the Year at the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships, with intense flavours of lemon and tropical fruits.
Henry of Pelham 2015 Riesling Icewine
Niagara Peninsula, Ont.
Loaded with honey, lemon, and apricot preserve flavours, this wine is finely balanced—dessert not required.
Mt. Boucherie 2013 Merlot Icewine
Okanagan Valley, B.C.
A gold medal winner at the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships, this wine has aromas of berry fruits and toffee, with bright acidity.
Lakeview Cellars 2015 Vidal Icewine
Niagara Peninsula, Ont.
Icewines like this one, made from the vidal grape, are more common in Ontario than B.C. and have a prominent lemon/citrus flavour.