It is this writer’s humble opinion that ice wine is the most miraculous, most mind-bogglingly delicious elixir known to humankind. For me, it would be no exaggeration to state that it is a palate-invigorating sensation, with a taste second only to pure, bottled sunshine… All right, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but you get where I’m going. Ice wine – I love it. Since my introduction to this delightful creation over ten years ago, at which time I was taught how to “correctly” drink it (more on this below, hang tight!), ice wine has been at the top of my at-least-once-a-year, ultimate indulgence list.
Admittedly, that statement often earns me funny looks from ice wine nay-sayers. I understand – it’s a polarizing drink. Those who are not as enthusiastic as me usually find ice wine too sweet. But those who love it know that ice wine offers a prism of notes that only mother nature can produce. “You’re drinking wine in its most concentrated form,” explains Narek Nersisyan of Holland Marsh Wineries in Newmarket. “It is high in sugar, high in acidity, the complex flavours are amplified, and it’s all done by nature.”
You may have noticed that ice wine is somewhat pricier and smaller than your typical 750 mL bottle of table wine. This is because it is a much riskier product to invest in for growers. In Canada, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance mandates that specific weather conditions must be met. Grapes must be left to freeze on the vine, and temperatures must be no higher (i.e. warmer) than -8 degrees Celsius for a period of several days. At this point, the water in the grape freezes, but the sugars do not, causing them to concentrate. It is from their frozen state that grapes are pressed, and the concentrated juice is fermented—unlike dessert wine, which is sweetened after fermentation.
If the temperature conditions are not right, such as in an unpredictable winter where there is a cold snap that doesn’t last, the harvest will be lost. Further, VQA designation as a true ice wine is based on additional factors like quality and growing region. But if conditions are right, the result is worth the risk.
Though there is evidence of ice wine being produced in Roman times, its modern existence is credited back to the late 1700s and a German harvesting accident. A freak frost ruined the grape crop for peasant wine growers in Franconia in 1794, causing the fruit to freeze on the vine. Not wanting to lose their harvest, they pressed the grapes anyway, and were delighted with the result. Today, Canada and Germany are the world’s largest producers of ice wine, with Riesling being the preferred variety in the latter, and Vidal Blanc the preferred variety in the former. Although, experimentation has led to other varieties being used successfully, including Cabernet Franc which results in a pale red ice wine.
Holland Marsh Wineries is one of our local ice wine producers. It is a family-run vineyard and winery that focuses on small-batch, quality-driven wines. Narek Nersisyan’s father Roland built the business from scratch, planting the first vines on the 22-acre property in 2007. Today, Holland Marsh is one of the oldest vineyards and wineries outside of the traditional growing regions of Niagara and Prince Edward County. “We’re paving the way for emerging wineries,” Narek states proudly. “Today, there are many new wineries in the GTA. That’s pretty cool to see.”
The winery recently celebrated its annual Ice Wine Fest, where guests were invited to bundle up and spend the day in Newmarket enjoying the delicacy of ice wine, handcrafted specialty cocktails, cheese tasting and outdoor vineyard tours. “This is the fourth year we’ve done our winter wonderland-type festival, which we usually host around the end of January or in early February. But this year we decided to focus on ice wine,” Narek explains. “The festival is designed to get people outdoors so they can enjoy the last of winter. It’s a fun sort of gathering to experience on a weekend, and to celebrate a Canadian staple: ice wine.”
Hopefully I have managed to convince you that ice wine is as hands-down wonderful a drink as I think it is. But if you are still of the opinion that ice wine is too sweet, you may be drinking it incorrectly (of course, there is no wrong way to enjoy ice wine if you truly do enjoy it; you do you). Next time you have the opportunity to experience the wonders of ice wine, here are a few tips:
- Take a bigger mouthful of ice wine, to start. People tend to sip at it, but the bigger the mouthful, the bigger the flavour.
- Avoid contact with the tip of your tongue. This is where your sweet receptors are. Instead, let the ice wine sit at the back of your tongue where your palate won’t be overwhelmed by the rich sugars.
- Incorporate some air into your sip and keep your nasopharynx open – that’s the part that connects your nose to your throat. Scent is an essential component of taste, and a bit of air will allow the vapours of your ice wine to engage your olfactory senses and amplify the wine’s flavours.
- Hold your big sip of ice wine in your mouth for a few seconds. This one is easy… some things are simply too good to be rushed.
Are you convinced to give it a try? Stop by Holland Marsh Wineries to purchase your bottle of VQA Vidal Ice Wine, or shop online at www.hmwineries.ca. Just remember to save me some. In the process of writing this post, I may have convinced myself to tick off the Ice Wine box on my at-least-once-a-year, ultimate indulgence list.
Holland Marsh Wineries – 18270 Keele St., Newmarket, (905) 775-4924
Discover more about Holland Marsh and King Township at experienceking.ca.
Story by Katherine Ryalen