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Thursday, October 30, 2008

A View on Ice Wine

I am reprinting my article from the main site page since this blog will become the main spring board to the main site.

When we hit the winter months of January and February the topic of icewine always comes up in Canadian wine circles. All 60 Canadian wineries that make icewine are keeping a daily vigil watching the weather forecasts and monitoring the temperature to see when then right conditions exist to pick the frozen grapes that have been left on the vine.

To qualify for V.Q.A. certification the grape the residual sugar and alcohol in finished ice wine must be the result of the natural sugars acquired while the on the vine and must be from juice reaching a level of sweetness of 35 brix. The air temperature must be a minimum of minus 8 C while the harvesting and pressing of the grapes are done continuously at these temperatures. The grapes must have been grown in a viticulturtal area and must be produced as a varietal from approved fruit (grapes). An agent appointed by the V.Q.A. must oversee the production and will force a stoppage of production if the temperature gets above -8C.
The output requires a trained labour force to hand pick the grapes and the pressing yield is only about one seventh the normal production of juice. The result is an extreme concentration of flavours and bouquet which is intensely sweet.

In 1794 some German farmers were very concerned over losing their grape crop when an unexpected cold snap froze their produce. In an attempt to salvage what they had, they stumbled onto this very concentrated juice after pressing. In the 1980's forward thinking producers of wine realized that Ontario had all the conditions in place to make great icewine. At the Bordeaux Vinexpo held in 1991, Canada made a break through in making a world class wine product by winning the Grand Prix d'Honneur. Inniskilllen winery had the honour of winning the award for it's 1989 Vidal Ice wine. It is probably fair to say that Canada now surpasses Germany in producing ice wine, since we have been able to produce it every year and consistently win awards annually for quality. Vidal and Riesling are still the staple varietals used in producing ice wine but other varietals including Gew├╝rztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Muscat Ottonel, and Gamay have been used

In my personal experience I have had the Magnotta Ice wine the most (primarily because it is the most inexpensive and still tastes like ice wine). They have innovated this product in the past being the first winery to come out with a sparkling Ice wine in 1999-2000. I purchased a bottle and enjoyed it. I've also had Sparkling Cabernet Franc and regular Vidal and Riesling Ice Wine. The main difference between a thirty dollar bottle of ice wine and a ninety dollar bottle as far as taste is concerned is one of balance. What I mean is that there must be enough acidity in the ice wine to sharpen up the concentrated sweetness that comes in ice wine juice, otherwise the sweetness has a noxiousness to it (cloying). In a thirty dollar bottle you may experience just a touch of this excessive sweetness on the palate where as in the ninety dollar bottle you would tend to not get anything like that at all. I am not saying this to discourage anyone from purchasing a more inexpensive bottle. I only want to share what in my opinion is the main taste difference between the two price points. The excessive sweetness lasted only a moment and still gives a very accurate gauge as to the qualities ice wine is known for. The higher price point does not give you a product which is three times better IMO. The difference is incremental so I would encourage anyone wanting to get familiar with what ice wine tastes like to start with the Magnotta 2004 Vidal Icewine Niagara Peninsula LE VQA. 50 ML 6.95 VQA (one person ) or the 2005 Vidal Icewine Lake Erie North Shore LE VQA 375 ML 29.95. Both have the same flavour profile of lemon, tropical fruit and honey associated with icewine and they really don't break the budget while providing excellent value compared to what you can pay at other wineries.

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