Niagara-on-the-Lake: To Your Health! August 14, 2009

grape vine

When I joined WordPress and filled out the "About" section, I made the mistake of saying that this blog was all about food and everything related to food.  At that time, I didn’t think I would be talking about wine because I’m neither a wine lover nor a social drinker.  Oh sure, I’d have the occasional chilled glass of Sangria with my meals but that’s as far as I go.

Travelling to Niagara Falls last week with my brother, I thought about the mysteries and joys of ice wine as I absent-mindedly read the road signs announcing wineries in the region and their ice wine specialties.  Ice wine is popular in Quebec.   It’s also very expensive – the cheapest bottle available in any SAQ  outlet is about $26.00 (the SAQ is the Société des alcools – the province’s liquor commission).  That’s a slim-size bottle. 

But to keep an open mind, I decided this trip was a good time as any to find out all about ice wine.  At the hotel, a tour agent was taking reservations for their five-hour wine tour in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  It would include three sample tastings for each visit :  red, white and ice wine.

The tour took us to three wineries.  Their brochure said "experience three world class wineries" – Inniskillin Estates Winery, Pillitteri Estates Winery and the Reif Estates Winery.  The brochure also mentioned that while visiting the Pillitteri winery, we’d get a chance to go down to the "dungeons" and look at those famous aging barrels.    

Here’s my brother posing by the sign:



We had a charming and very knowledgeable tour guide.  She warmly welcomed us at the lobby, proudly showing off  the awards and citations received by Pillitteri (it has won more than 450 international and domestic medals).  They take pride in their ice wines and they also produce full bodied reds and whites as well as Shiraz.  It was here that I learned why ice wine fetches a steep price.

The VQA is Ontario’s wine watchdog.  The VQA seal means that the estate uses only the best quality grapes grown in the province; Niagara is blessed with a temperate climate and benefits from the glacial soils nurtured by the Great Lakes.  Canada’s wine industry spans 200 years.

Below are some of the ice wines produced by Pillitteri which delicately stand on an enclosed glass shelf.

ice wines 

You might want to know that…

  • ice wine started in Germany in 1794.
  • harvesting the grapes for making ice wine should be done on a cold winter night when the temperature is between minus 10 and minus 13 Celsius and the grapes are completely frozen on the vine.
  • frozen grapes have a high sugar concentration.
  • one frozen grape yields only one drop of ice wine.
  • the juice that’s extracted from the grapes go through months of fermentation
  • taste:   intensely sweet and highly concentrated.  You can detect subtle tastes of lychees, mangoes, peaches, and sometimes caramel.
  • the first Canadian ice wine appeared in 1973.  It was made by Walter Hainle who later established the Hainle Vineyards in 1978, producing the first commercially available Canadian ice wine.
  • when serving ice wine to guests, serve it in small wine glasses – the "bar lady" at the  Inniskillin winery suggested no more than the equivalent of about 6-8 tablespoons.  Ice wine goes best with very sweet desserts.

If you find yourself in the Niagara region, I recommend you take a wine tour or drive to three or four wineries in one afternoon.  The wineries are the pride and joy of Ontario’s Niagara and it is a big deal hereabouts (British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Quebec also produce some of the best ice wines in the country).  If you call ahead, some wineries serve lunch with wine pairings, and your hosts are guaranteed to be the friendliest you could ever meet.