Celebrate Icewine Season in Wine Country
January 2nd 2023
There is a myriad of reasons to love winter in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Carriage rides through the historic downtown, ice skating at Gretzky’s, strolling around the snow-covered heritage district. And here's another - Icewine.
Icewine is an exceptional form of wine that you can only get under very specific circumstances. It's a traditional wine from northern Europe, and German immigrants brought it to Niagara in the 18th century. Icewine has a rich history and tradition that makes it special and unique from other wines. Let's take a look at how this fantastic beverage came to be!
Icewine is a traditional wine from northern Europe.
It's an extremely sweet and rich dessert wine, created when grapes are frozen on the vine. The grapes are then pressed, which results in a very concentrated juice that can be used to make Icewine.
Icewine is made in the coldest of climates by pressing frozen whole grapes or by concentrating their juice while they are still frozen. The result is a very aromatic, high alcohol content (10%-16%) beverage with intense fruity flavors including strawberry and raspberry notes as well as some floral aromas.
German immigrants brought it to Niagara in the 18th century.
The origin of ice wine is not completely clear. The earliest evidence of its production comes from Germany in the 18th century, but Canadian stories say that French nuns taught the technique to German immigrants who called it Eiswein (meaning "ice wine") and brought it with them to Niagara in 1749. Ice wine was first produced commercially in 1973 by Andrew Peller Ltd., and today it's made throughout the Niagara region by about 30 wineries (the only place in the world where this can happen).
It's extremely difficult to grow successfully in all but a few places.
You can't grow icewine in just any vineyard. It's extremely difficult to grow successfully in all but a few places, namely Canada's Niagara region and Germany's Mosel region.
In Canada, Icewine is made from Riesling grapes that are harvested late in the season as they reach their maximum level of sugar and acidity. The grapes are picked when they develop a high Brix (sugar content) level while still preserving their acidity. Icewine is made by freezing the grape concentrate so that it becomes syrupy due to water content reduction during freezing. Then, yeast is added, and fermentation takes place at low temperatures for about 4 weeks depending on the style of ice wine being produced (dry vs semi-sweet).
The grapes are only harvested once they have frozen on the vine, which can be challenging and risky for the grape farmer.
Each year, the best grapes are harvested after they have frozen on the vine. This is a very risky time for the grape farmer, since if he chooses not to harvest them immediately and opts instead to wait until spring, there could be serious consequences.
To extract ice wine from frozen grapes, they must be picked from their vines and pressed immediately (or as soon as possible) in order to keep all of their flavor intact. Unfortunately, this means that even though it takes several days for them all to thaw out again (and can take longer depending on how cold it gets outside), the process itself cannot begin until then—which means more than one season has passed before you can enjoy this delicacy!
You can expect the taste to be complex and rich, with flavors of fruit and tangy citrus notes. The bubbles are delicate, so you'll want to savor every sip. With each passing year, the wines become more concentrated in flavor as they age in their barrels, resulting in a syrupy liquid with a high sugar content. Icewine is a sweet dessert wine that tastes like a cross between an apple cider and a port and can be served warm or chilled. Icewine is best served chilled, and pairs well with chocolate or fruit. While it's often served as an after-dinner drink, ice wine is also a great dessert alternative to champagne.
Icewine Festival in Niagara
Now that you are an expert on everything icewine, it’s time to get out there and sample some. Each year throughout the Niagara Region, three weekends in January are dedicated to icewine, the production of it and more importantly, the tasting of it. Wineries across the region will host their own celebrations and activities like Twenty Valley’s Winter Winefest and Sparkle & Ice which celebrates Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Icewine makers. Or check out Niagara Icewine Village in Niagara on the Lake and enjoy several icewines from wineries across the region all in one place. Be sure to check out this years’ icewine festival guide and plan your own course for celebrating this truly unique Niagara specialty.