On the blogby Alfred
December 11 2018

Icewines produced in our home

by Pascale Lemieux

It’s the beginning of winter, the white season rituals, including a wide variety of outdoor activities and the typical family and friends gatherings to enjoy comfort foods accompanied by local products, are finally starting.  It is one thing to be proud to prove that, in a country where temperatures are reaching -20 ° Celsius wine can be produced, but it is even more interesting to see that these wines can win international prizes! In fact, our winter temperatures, while cold and harsh, allow the production of a unique wine: Icewine. What makes Canadian Icewine so special? How did we manage to distinguish ourselves among the other Icewine producing countries? To answer these questions, I’ll address the next subjects: The making process of Icewines, Canadian legislation that certifies the quality of the product, and some honorable distinctions that have forged its global reputation, making this product a Canadian flagship wine.

The Icewine production implies costs and may involve risks, which justifies the high average price of a small bottle (375 ml). The process begins when the winemaker leaves a part of his grapes on the vine following the fall harvest. These grapes will then be used for the production of icewine. Beforehand, they will have to survive harsh weather, vine diseases, and early winter predators before being harvested. According to the Canadian Vintners Association, harvesting can begin when the temperature reaches -8 ° Celsius. They take place at night to harvest the grapes while they are frozen. They are then quickly subjected to pressing, thus holding the ice crystals containing the water and the pulp of the grapes in the press. The grape obtained is therefore concentrated in sugars by the loss of frozen water and a long maturation on the vine. As if there were not enough challenges, most grapes are harvested by hand in winter conditions! In terms of returns, there is a noticeable difference between icewine and table wine. For the production of Icewine, 3 kilograms or more of grapes will produce a 375 ml bottle, while at equal quantities, grapes harvested in fall will produce up to 10 times more table wine. After this expensive and uncertain harvesting process, the products are subject to the rigorous standards of the Canadian Vintners Association. Among these:  the grape must used in the production of the final wine must reach at least 35 ° Brix, the sugar content must be at least 100 g / liter, and the alcohol reached must be at least 7%. Finally, the alcohol and the residual sugars in the wine must come only from the grapes.

The majority of Icewines available on the Canadian market with the Vintners Quality Alliance logo come from Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. It was partly due to the 1989 Vidal Icewine from Inniskillin, which won the Vinexpo de Bordeaux Award of Honor in 1991, that Canadian Icewines became known abroad. Here in Quebec, the Rivière du Chêne vineyard located in Saint-Eustache collects awards in international competitions. In 2012, its Icewine “Monde” was awarded a double gold medal at the “Finger Lakes International Wine Competition” in the United States. This wine is made from only Canadian-made hybrid grape varieties; the Vidal, the Vandal Cliche, and the Frontenac Gris. It is the freeze-thaw cycle combined with the cold, wind and low humidity in the air that contribute to the dehydration of the grapes and therefore the concentration of sugars. All these factors combined give Quebec Icewine its unique acidity in addition to complex aromas and flavors. It is this acidity, which gives the wine freshness and balance, that allows it to distinguish itself from the other Icewines produced elsewhere in the world. In addition to our specific climatic conditions, the Canadian government has put in place a standard that requires the grapes used in the production of Icewine to be harvested naturally frozen from the vine, in effect since February 12, 2014. This standard allowed producers to adhere to a logo, which is a guarantee for the customers but also to increase their market share internationally. Thus, Icewine producers must take advantage of the cryoextraction method (concentration of sugars in the grapes by the action of the cold) without resorting to artificial freezing of the grapes or addition of sugars. Today, Canadian Icewine are responsible for 1.2% of the volume of wine exported. In terms of monetary value, it is responsible for 45% of wine export revenues in Canada. A flagship wine product for the country that continues to grow in reputation by winning honors in the most prestigious competitions in the world.

You can enjoy this unctuous golden nectar alone or with cheese, foie gras or desserts made from fruits that aren’t as sweet as the wine. As for the serving temperature, opt for the one that you like, but be aware: the colder it is served, the less sweet it tastes and the flavors are more subtle! A unique product that is nice to enjoy during this holiday season.

Produit: Vignoble Rivière du Chêne Monde 2012


AlfredThe sommeliers community in your pocket.

Begin your Alfred journey today: Sign Up