Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen On The Road: Ontario Wine Tasting & Ice Wines At Inniskillin

Until recent years, Canadian wines produced in the province of Ontario were known primarily only to Canadians.  Most Americans would give you a blank stare in response to a discussion of the wines produced in Canada.  However, over the last decade and a half, this conception has changed, as Canada has developed an international reputation for producing some of the best Ice Wines in the world at the Inniskillin Winery, as well as other smaller wineries located in Southern Ontario and the Okanagan region of British Columbia.  Ice wine, a late harvest dessert wine, where the grapes are harvested at lower temperatures, have put both Inniskillin and Canada on the map for its wine production.  But I discovered during my trip to some local Ontario wineries, that Canada's climate also allows for production of some excellent Rieslings and medium bodied red wines as well.

Yesterday, I spent a lovely day wine tasting with a group of old friends (Lisa, Jeff, Shannon and Michelle; as well as my mom and one of her friends) at two Ontario wineries, Inniskillin and a wonderful small winery called Lailey Vineyards.  A trip to local wineries, whether you live near the Finger Lakes Region, Canada, Oregon, Napa or Sonoma is a wonderful way to have a pleasant get together with a group of old friends.  It also makes a perfect girls day.  Whether you are a wine connoisseur or a casual wine drinker, wine tasting is a fun and relaxing way to spend a day, and you can learn a great deal about wine and the local wine making process.  In this article, I will write a detailed summary of how Ice Wine is made at Inniskillin, one of Canada and the world's most famous ice wineries, as well as our experience tasting wines at Inniskillin.  Michelle (who writes from Toronto), will follow up with an article about our tasting experience sampling the wines at Lailey Vineyards.  I will also discuss Inniskillin's other excellent wine varieties, including its regular harvest Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Ice wine, we learned was first produced in Germany and Austria (where it is referred to as Eis Wein).  Inniskillin has produced Ice Wine in Canada every year since 1984, while the climate in Germany and Austria is only suitable to harvest Ice Wine grapes every couple of years.  The winery first obtained its license to produce wine in 1975, after Ontario's prohibition on winery licensing ended, and was founded by Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo.  Crush, or harvest of regular grapes occurs in Ontario between September and November, while Ice Wine Crush occurs between December and February.  In order to comply with international standards, Ice Wine grapes must be harvested at a temperature between minus eight to minus twelve degrees Centigrade.  Grapes for Ice Wine are harvested between 2 AM and 4 AM for the most stable low temperatures.

There are several varieties of grapes that are used both for Ice WIne and regular table wines in Canada's cooler climate.  These include Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Vidal (a hybrid grape).  The soils, which were formed in Lake Huron thousands of years ago, as the glaciers of the last ice age receded, are clay-like and rich in minerals that are excellent for growing a number of varieties of grapes.  Winemakers generally believe that Ontario's cool climate allows for the production of excellent lighter, fruitier wines, whereas a warmer climate allows for production of less fruity, full bodied wines.  Ice wine is made from three grapes:  Riesling, Cabarnet Franc (which has a lovely raspberry sweetness to its flavor) and Vidal.  Eighty percent of Canadian Ice Wine is made form the Vidal grape, which is hardier and can be harvested later since it is a hybrid grape.

During our tour of the winery with our friendly and knowledgeable guide Jonathan, we saw the fields where the grapes are grown (and have already been harvested) as well as the wine production rooms at Innniskillin and learned how wine and Ice Wine are made in Canada as well as the history of Ice Wine production in this emerging wine region. We had a sampling of wines and local Canadian artisanal cheeses in one of the tasting rooms.

We sampled three wines while at the winery, each of which was fantastic.  The first wine we sampled was the 2008 Legacy Riesling, a light and fruity Riesling had a wonderful taste full of nectarines, honey, fragrant flowers and apple.  This Riesling, another wine that Canada is known for, was every bit as good as some of the very best Finger Lakes Rieslings, and nearly every member of my party purchased a bottle to take home.  It paired nicely with the local creamy Canadian cheese that we tasted.

The second wine we sampled was a light and fruity red wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes, from the 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve Series.  This wine was also fabulous, a floral red wine with the flavor of raspberries, chocolate and spice evident on its nose.  The wine is a nice well-balanced wine that highlights the spiced raspberry aroma.  It paired nicely with the Canadian blue cheese and with a Quebec cheese called Oka (a trappist cheese that was the perfect pairing for this wine).

Finally, we tried our first Ice WIne of the day at Inniskillin, a 2007 Riesling Ice wine, which paired well with the Blue Cheese.  This was perhaps my favorite Inniskillin wine (although it is a hard choice).  The Ice Wines we tasted both at Inniskillin and nearby Lailey Vineyards were some of the best well-balanced dessert wines I have ever had.  The 2007 Riesling Ice Wine had hints of lemon, lime and honey that was simply delicious.  I loved the Cabernet Franc so much that we tasted that I purchased a mini-bottle of its Ice Wine cousin at the store, along with a mini-bottle of Vidal Ice Wine to try at home.  I can't wait to pair these lovely Ice Wines with some of my favorite cheeses and desserts when I return to Brooklyn.

To learn about the wineries I visited in Napa and Sonoma on an earlier wine tasting trip, click here.


1 comment:

  1. An excellent post! We love the ice wines from Inniskillin and did a very similar trip/wine tasting a few year ago!


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