Canadian Icewines: Tasting in Delhi

Not many wine-enthusiasts in this country would know about the characteristics, grape varieties, and origin of Icewine, or even what it is, in the first place. Time has come then to introduce the magical potion to the citizens of this sweet-loving country. What would be better than tasting delicious and yum Icewines (not iced-wines) in this chilling winter of Delhi? The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi conducted an Icewine introduction-cum-tasting evening on the 5th January, 2010. For this first of its kind session, Prof. Ramesh Srinivasan, Director of Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), was present to talk about the wines and also led us through a highly interactive and interesting guided tasting. Over the course of two hours, seven Icewines were tasted, rather relished, to their last dregs. Though the wines were already the highlights, Prof. Srinivasan added more fun to the evening with his light and friendly sense of humour and delivery. Apart from his duties with the liquor board, he is also an F&B professor and lecturer at Humber College, Canada, and hence, a great orator.

Icewines are hidden gems and not so easily available in the country, yet. So what are they? No it is not a wine served frozen or had with glass-fulls of ice cubes. Icewine, or Eiswein in Germany, is a dessert wine made from grapes left on vines to freeze. For table wines, Canada harvest grapes starting mid-October. In the case of Icewines, the harvesting is done as late as up to mid-February. Grapes are harvested once the temperature falls below -8⁰C, also a legal requirement (VQA). The harvesting is done manually as the grapes become too delicate and fragile to come in contact with the machines. The ice in the grapes is removed (water is almost 90% of grape constituent) resulting in smaller amount of juice but one that is thick and treacly and rich in highly concentrated sugars. So if a tonne of grapes can give almost 720 litres of regular dry wine, it will only yield about 120 litres of this sweet elixir. Price then is naturally, and justifiably, high.This thick juice is then left to ferment and that process can last up to 3 months, not just a few days as with normal wines. Some wines do see some oak aging but most are ready to be released post fermentation. Noble Rot (helpful bacteria for dessert wines) aka Botrytis is not a must for these wines, unlike Sauternes in France. All these appellation wine laws are controlled by Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Ontario, the legislative body of Canadian wines. Other way of making similar wines is by using cryo-extraction (mechanical freezing) but such wines are not allowed to call themselves Icewines. Either ways, they don’t taste half as divine.

For the history buffs, Icewine was introduced by Germans in the 1700s. They immigrated to Ontario and brought thisstyle of wine to Canada. Though Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, and Switzerland also make Icewines, Canada has marked itself as the biggest and perhaps the finest producer of Icewines in the world since its first produce in the 1970s. Canada today makes 10 times more Icewine than what it did 8 years ago. Most of it is made for exports using six main grape Varieties. This includes thick skinned Vidal, producing luscious wines, delicate and fruity Rieslings, aromatic Gewürztraminer giving a clean aromatic finish, and red varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Most famous style is its white version, though reds and sparkling are making big waves now. Although Canada has been making it for over 25 years now, its biggest breakthrough came in 1991 when Inniskillin’s 1989 Vidal Icewine won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo. Since then there has been no turning back.Back to our tasting, it was no modest line-up, showcasing some of the best of Ontario. The tasting included seven wines and all were paired with some cheese and/or dishes. Here are our tasting notes:

2007 Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling. Paired with Cheddar CheeseGagan:  Of course an enticing name for the Indians, the wine has a story to tell. Aromas of candied fruits, honey, oil, and rubber. Young fruity and floral wine with low alcohol, tight acidity, non-cloying sweetness and good balance.Magan: The name is appealing enough, but the wine reassures. Nose is soft but with certain candied fruit. Sugar is soft but acidity too, sadly. But a good wine and if in the entry level zone, value-worthy.2006 Konzelmann Vidal Icewine. Paired with spiced Cheddar CheeseGagan: Young wine with dark colour and multiple layers of aromas. Tropical fruit nose with half ripe mango, apricot jelly, lychee nectar, and pineapple, highly perfumed and aromatic. It also shows notes of sweet spices and cinnamon powder. A sticky dessert wine with high acidity and good balance.Magan: This Vidal Icewine shows a brilliant robe and is rich on the nose. The palate is layered, fruit and acid both high and balanced, aptly if I may add, and reminding of mango chutney, apricot compote at the same time. Truly a good wine.

2007 Ziraldo Estate Riesling Icewine: Paired with Mushroom Quiche2007 is considered to be one of the best vintage for Icewines so far.Gagan: This gold colour wine had oily and spiced notes with hints of apricot, and candle wax. Sticky and sweet wine with spicy character, cumin, prunes and figs. The wine is velvety and, thus, is a good pair with creamy or fluffy dishes.It still has a long way before the complexity reaches its peak.Magan: It is lighter in colour but the nose goes the other way: away from fruits and more onto spices. Sure there is fruit, grape after all, but with other evolved aromas. Sugar is heavy and claws a bit but that could be attributed to the warm temperature. But the wine is young and needs to sleep before the richer aromas find their grip. Great.2008 Stratus Red Icewine: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah. Paired with Chocolate Brownie:This winery operates on the principle of Gravity and natural pull, thus, no pressing. Also, the wine maker specialises in Elevage (art of blending) which gives birth to this red beauty.Gagan: The wine looks like a young ruby port with low intensity. Harsh and uninviting on the first nosing. Violet, cherry syrup, berry jam, quince paste based aromas with a slight hint of oak. Bit peppery too. Sweet wine. Good effort.Magan: A first for me. The aromas seem basic, cherries and strawberry fruit coulis, tad subued but it’s a new flavour and obviously the fuddy-duddy in me (apparently there is one) was the one who seemed to tut-tut initially. The build-up is slow and the crescendo is not über-high but still a good sip.

2007 Foreign Affair 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine. Paired with Chocolate Brownie:Gagan: Lighter colour with heavily faded rim. Dusty nose with cherry, beetroot, and plum skin. Jammy taste with violet, currant backbone. A bit of tannin hit is visible still the wine remains fruity. Higher acidity, sweet but doesn’t stick. Eventually, a uni-dimension wine.Magan: It is more direct, lacks spice but also is generally simpler a wine, or so it appears. Lovely label nevertheless.2007 Malivoire 100% Cabernet Franc Icewine. Paired with Chocolate Brownie:Gagan: A darker colour wine and looks like a dark rose or a diluted cold climate Pinot. Intense nose with spices, cumin, kidney beans, gram powder, cherry juice reduction, baby pink pepper, Simply put –  sweet and soft pomegranate juice. Lacks balance hence not impressive.Magan: It is yet another red Icewine. And once again, I am not convinced of the nose here. Or the palate.2002 Daniel Lenko Vidal Icewine. Paired with Roquefort Cheese:Gagan: A dark coloured wine drifting towards light golden colour and light honey. Typical tropical fruity nose with sweet mango relish dominating. Apricot ham, honey, hint oak, guava, and peaches. The wine has good balance with nothing overpowering.Magan: Rich creamy palate, soft to start and lifts gradually. The complexity is rarely beginning to show itself – fresh fruit still – but the bit that will take blue cheese to new heights is yet to come. Great still.

We noted mixed reactions about the wines while we shared ours. Magan added that he is not a big fan or the red Icewines and is far from becoming a convert yet. He adds, Icewine for now, for him at least, should stay white. While I believe that the reds are an interesting produce though comparing them to their white counterpart will be unjust, they need to evolve overtime. Either ways, we concurred that Icewines can be great with food, they can age well and they can be complex. Just because they are sweet doesn’t mean you become any lesser a connoisseur for liking them. And when someone as learned as Ramesh is kind and generous enough to lead you through them and manages to make them taste yummier, it seems even better than the real thing. In the end, Magan’s golden rule is this, “Sweet wines are only and always to be judged on a scale of ‘yummy’!”These wines are yet to be introduced to the market commercially and definitely wouldn’t come cheap. We at Wi-Not hope to stock some of these to add charm to our special occasions. With so much happening over a couple of hours, we can add, the evening ended, most definitely, on a sweet note.

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