Icewine is perceived as the untamable beast of the wine family. Have you ever heard someone pronounce their undying love for it? Highly unlikely. Most of the time, I get "oh, it's far too sweet" as a response-- and it becomes an afterthought--- perhaps a novelty to try and have with either dessert or cheese. But its relegation to the end of a meal is unfortunate because it has far more potential than that. This 'rogue' family member of wines needs to be given a chance. And who better than to vouch for its amazing qualities than Chef Lynn Crawford herself.
She supports the Canadian craft involved in producing icewine and showcases its floral bouquet by pairing them with dish creations at her recent brunch and dinner events at Inn on the Twenty. For Chef Lynn, she embraces the bold flavour profiles found in every varietal. She adds with gusto, "Select foods with drama and assertive flavours. They can tolerate the sugars and aromatics in icewine. Do not be timid to taste and explore; spicy foods, seafood, and foie gras work well."
From now until the end of January, it will be a celebration of the sweet, intoxicating liquid. It began with a kickoff celebration at Fallsview Casino with the Icewine Gala. Chefs offered us their culinary concoctions as they used icewine in savoury and sweet applications.
Niagara's Icewine Festival continues on the weekends until January 31st with their Discovery Pass. A wealth of participating vineyards offer creative dishes to pair with their icewines. This is an ideal way to taste every varietal out there without having to commit to an expensive bottle purchase (unless you find one you're enamoured with on your tasting journey). In a sense, it is a way to discover what your palate enjoys most.
For me, the elements I consider when tasting include minerality (experts describe this as a vibration on the tongue, a saltiness that tempers the sweetness), acidity (another key component that keeps your taste buds enlivened, rather than being dulled by all the sweet), fruitiness (e.g. apples, pear-- detecting these notes help you pair it with meats and vegetables), sugar content, and viscosity (as a general rule, the more syrupy/ molasses-like in the glass, expect the sweetness to pack an assertive punch and flavours to be concentrated).
Here are my top five selections from the weekend's festivities; I chose these for their well-rounded flavour profile and versatility in being paired with savoury dishes.
Lakeview Cellars Gewurztraminer Icewine 2013 by Diamond Estates pairs beautifully with Peking Duck with steamed wraps, hoisin sauce, cucumber, and green onions. As with any icewine, it is searingly-sweet but there's depth of flavour with notes of orange zest, candied mango, and echoes of apple in the back of the throat. The rich texture of the duck plays nicely with the lively fruit notes found in the wine.
Colaneri's Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013 is barrel aged for 7 months and it is said that doing this mellows all the flavours out. The result is a lustrous texture; as well, it is an alluring sip that works splendidly with chocolate mole. With the wine on the palate, you get the essence of summertime, with strawberry and raspberries on the tongue. While Colaneri suggests pairing it with tiramisu, you get the same effect with the bittersweet notes of the stew that complement the icewine's flavours.
Chateau de Charmes pairs juicy pork crostini with their 2014 Vidal Icewine. It's something about the soft pulled pork meat along with the tanginess of the apple onion slaw that acts as an ideal counterbalance to the floral, honey & apricot notes found in the wine. This is a sweet and salty pairing that you can easily recreate at home. And if not with pulled pork, BBQ pork ribs with a honey glaze & cider vinegar slaw would work wonders with the wine too.
Scallops and foie gras are what Chef Crawford recommends with her current favourite icewine: Henry of Pelham's Riesling Icewine (2014). And no wonder, the veteran vines are old souls. At 20 years of age, they produce tiny grape spheres with intense flavours; and on the palate, you get the slightest minerality punctuated with the taste of honey nectar and dried fruits. Her Recipe.
Ravine Vineyards Vidal icewine 2013 is a deep, golden hued elixir that pairs with hearty beef stew & sweet cornbread toasts. It's a comforting, wintertime dish -- the sort of thing that sticks to your ribs and keeps you full for an extended period of time. As you sip, in between bites of stew, the notes of grilled peaches, honey and mango, become more prominent. Also welcome is a strong backbone of acid that prevents the icewine from getting to sickly-sweet on the palate.
Great icewine is no easy feat to produce. Ten icewine grapes produce a mere one ml of icewine vs. conventional wine where only 1.5 grapes are needed to produce one ml of table wine. So, remember to sip and savour -- and most of all -- don't be afraid to experiment with your own pairings.
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