Thoroughly enjoying the Niagara Icewine Festival Gala with Sara D'Amato. Magdalena Kaiser, Michael Godel, GFR's Malcolm Jolley, and Master Sommelier John Szabo.

Thoroughly enjoying the Niagara Icewine Festival Gala with Sara D’Amato. Magdalena Kaiser, Michael Godel, GFR’s Malcolm Jolley, and Master Sommelier John Szabo.

Historically, I think it would be fair to say that until recently I’ve always felt a little nonplus about Canada’s most well known wine export, icewine.

Ever since I first tasted the stuff upon my maiden voyage to Ontario some quarter of a century ago, I was more confused than anything else ; just where did this extraordinarily sweet wine fit in at a civilised dinner table? …and who actually drinks this stuff? …and what on earth is it doing to my dental health?

In the years when I used to have to time to do a fair bit of wine judging, it was always the Icewine category that simply destroyed my palate, every one of my teeth feeling as if it were wrapped up in a furry little jacket, my tongue would be pulsing and aching from all that prominent acidity, and then came the heartburn and gastro reflux. Ouch.

I guess that another two decades of Icewine being clumsily shoehorned into tasting menus cemented these feelings and turned it into something bordering upon resentment for the stuff, as it has taken all that time for me to finally come around to the realisation that, given the right context, I can really appreciate it for what it is, and understand, in better examples, its inherent subtleties and nuances.

According to lore, Peachland’s Hainle Vineyards and Estate Winery produced the Canada’s first icewine in 1974, and I can only begin to imagine how icewine’s have changed since those early days, as I’ve seen some bloody major changes in the icewine industry over the last 25 years. 

So what makes for an icewine of excellence? Well, to be honest, it’s pretty much the same as what make for a quality still or sparkling wine… balance.

Looking back at some of the tasting notes I compiled on icewines over the decades I don’t think that I even mention balance once, mainly concentrating upon the wines intensity, and perceived sweetness, but a real sense of equilibrium is certainly what sets the better ice wines ahead from the rest of the pack, and when it comes to food pairing a sense of balance is absolutely key.

Two weekends past I had the pleasure of attending the Niagara Icewine Festival as a media guest, and if ever one were to indulge/experiment with Niagara Icewine and food pairings it would certainly be there.

Not having a particularly sweet tooth, I spent most of the evening darting from station to station in an attempt to find the better icewines on offer with the best savoury pairings and with the help of a few other icewine-honed palates came up with the following shortlist:

2015 Creekside Estate Winery Vidal Icewine paired with Maryland Crab Cakes with Remoulade and Micro Arugula

For the wine
4 apples out of 5For the pairing

2018 Malivoire Wine Company Gewurztraminer Icewine paired with Cauliflower Fritters with Chili Aioli and Radish Salad

For the wine
For the pairing

2017 Peller Estates Oak Aged Vidal Icewine paired with Potato, Rosemary and Caramelized Onion Flatbread 

4 apples out of 5For the wine
For the pairing

2018 Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine paired with Sea Scallops with Pistachio Purée, Caramelized Pear, and Reggiano Foam 

For the wine
For the pairing

2017 Inniskillin Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine with Taleggio, Copa, and Apples Flatbread 

4.5 apples out of 5For the wine
4 apples out of 5For the pairing

2017 Trius Winery Showcase Cabernet Franc Icewine paired with Duck Duet: Leg Confit and Duck Breast with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Red Wine

5 apples out of 5For the wine
For the pairing

2017 Ferox by Fabian Reis Dornfelder Icewine paired with Ricotta Gnocchi with Forest Mushrooms, Black Truffle, Wild Boar Bacon, and Truffle Cream

4 apples out of 5For the wine
4.5 apples out of 5For the pairing

Tasting, comparing, and contrasting with such a vast selection of food samples on offer was a unique opportunity to experiment with icewine pairings, and taught me much about how to best utilise the wine style in a dinner setting. Interestingly enough I did find the red icewines to be a little more versatile when it came to savoury pairings, no doubt something to do with that additional tannic component.

All seven of the icewines listed above would rate as four to five apples (out of a possible five), so there were some really excellent examples presented that evening.

I would recommend the Niagara Icewine Festival events for any icewine lovers out there, as there is simply so much to taste and explore.

Jamie Drummond

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s certainly warming to the Icewine experience.