Icewine 101: what goes into each glass of ‘liquid gold’

Niagara Icewine bottles on shelf Photo by Chris Cramer Photography/Shutterstock

In wine-loving circles, Canadian icewine is known as “liquid gold.” The nickname isn’t just a reference to the golden hue that many icewines are known for. Rather, it’s a reflection of just how magnificent this specialty wine really is.

While stories about frost-filled harvests date back to ancient Roman times, Canadian icewine has only been around for 50 years, first appearing in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and later in Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake. Today, Niagara produces more icewine than anywhere in the world—and Ontario residents are the envy of oenophiles everywhere. Here’s what goes into each glass of liquid gold.

What is icewine and how is it made?

A lot of rough work goes into this sweet wine. Harvest can only take place when the temperature drops to -8°C. By pressing the grapes while they’re still frozen, the grape juice is released, but the icy water crystals stay with the fruit pulp. The result is an intensely concentrated juice unlike any other used in winemaking.

Red grapes for ice wine on the vine in winter conditions and snow
Photo by KarepaStock/Shutterstock

How much does it cost?

Even when Mother Nature cooperates, making icewine can test the fortitude of even the most experienced winemaker. It takes between three to three and a half kgs of grapes to make a single 375-ml bottle of icewine. Grapes are sometimes damaged, diseased, or pilfered by birds long before harvest time. As such, you can expect to pay between $8 to $12 (for 50 ml) and $50 to $100 (for 375 ml).

Which grapes are used to make icewine?

While Riesling and Vidal varietals are the leading choices for icewine, there’s no single go-to grape. Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are all employed in the process. As you might imagine, the resulting “liquid gold” might range from pale yellow to a lively pink! 

What do you drink it with?

There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy icewine. Consider it a counterweight to rich, buttery foods like cheese and foie gras. Allow it to round out bitter mouthfuls, like a peppery arugula salad with toasted nuts. And consider enjoying it alongside sharp flavours like strong mustards, rich curries, and fiery chilli peppers.

Who makes the best icewine in Canada?

There are close to 100 icewine producers in Canada. In Ontario, some notable producers include Niagara’s Inniskillin, which uses Vidal, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet Franc grapes. They also make sparkling icewine. 

Another big name is Jackson-Triggs, one of the oldest and largest Niagara wineries. It’s a pioneer in promoting Canadian wines, and they make icewine with Vidal, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet Franc grapes.

Trius Winery has Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and Vidal icewines available at their Niagara estate. They also sell a “late harvest” wine, which refers to wine made from the second pressing of icewine grapes. The result is a delicious but less sweet product.

Strewn Winery, located in a renovated 1940s fruit cannery, produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Vidal icewine. They offer three different tasting bars at their Niagara-on-the-Lake winery.

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