Inniskillin 05 Vidal Icewine

Niagara Peninsula. Class taste. Very intense mango-citrus nose. Sweet but focused. Refreshing. Superb.

Made from grapes frozen on the vine, Canadians have carved a very successful niche for themselves with Icewine because they know they are going to get the appropriate climatic conditions if they just wait patiently. Several of these Canadian Icewines have ruthlessly bitch-slapped top Sauternes in head-to-head competition.

Canadian Icewine

2005 Inniskillin Vidal from the Niagara Peninsula. Tasted at Fundamentals of Taste & Smell class in Palo Alto. Retail store wine cost is around US$20 for 187 ml (a quarter-bottle). This size bottle works well for such a focused dessert wine, because you don’t need much, and it is expensive. Even the little bottles are heavy. They look and feel like a round of artillery ammunition. Very popular for gift giving in Japan.

Background wine education

     Canadians use a voluntary marketing incentive to severely regulate the production of Icewine. In Italy such a mechanism is called a consorzio. In order to get a little neck indicia, producers agree to comply with certain standards. In Canada this group is called VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance). The regulations state grapes can’t be picked if the air temperature is above 17ºF. That means the grapes have frozen and thawed many times before they’re finally picked. Pressed immediately, a large amount of water remains behind in the press trapped as ice. The resultant wine not only has 10-12% residual sugar, but it has elevated acid to balance that sugar.
     Theoretically the mechanics of this process can be duplicated in the winery – chill the juice; filter out the ice. This cryogenic technique is used in the US, much to the Canadians’ chagrin, and the result is often labeled ‘Icewine.’ Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon has the decency to label his example “vin de glacier” (wine of the refrigerator). Tasted separately on successive nights, a VQA Icewine and a cryogenic example can both be quite pleasant. Tasted side-by-side, the VQA wine is clearly superior, albeit four or five times more expensive.

What does Icewine taste like?

Intense, concentrated, tropical fruit. The intensity is the most startling initial impression. One picks it up while the glass is still ten inches away. The second impression is sugar::acid balance. The wine is very sweet, but it also has a long, clean, refreshing aftertaste. That’s rare, and no one misses it.
     Many VQA Icewines are made from Riesling grapes. This one was made with Vidal grapes. Vidal is a French-American hybrid with good winter hardiness and a strong citral aroma. The nose of this wine takes on a soft sweetness which might be illustrated by that which distinguishes a Meyer lemon from a Genoa or Lisbon lemon. Now imagine a slice of Meyer lemon placed on a hot skillet.


Canadian Icewine is a fine illustration, particularly when compared to Sauternes, of how important it is to pair wines to desserts carefully. Crème brulee is the place where VQA Icewine and Sauternes intersect. Sauternes is not very good with fresh fruit; Icewine is. Sauternes is okay with milk chocolate; Icewine is not. So, for this Icewine I might try a crème brulee with a slice of perfectly ripe peach on top. But the best indication of how powerfully this Vidal Icewine comes across would be to serve it with a lemon tart. Believe me, it will pass the test.

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