Ontario is blessed, at least from the perfectionist winemaker’s point of view, with the kind of winter climate between November and February that ensures that Icewine can be made consistently well every year.
Nature’s gift for punishing us with polar winter temperatures is that they are perfect for making Icewine, because the grapes have to be left on the vine to freeze solid. Temperatures must drop to at least –8 degrees Celsius before bunches can be harvested.
While the berries are frozen as hard as marbles, the juice is pressed out. Since a grape contains eighty percent water, the action of pressing allows much of this water to be left behind as shards of ice, while small amounts of very concentrated juice, terrifically sweet and high in acidity, trickle ever so slowly from the press.
The Ontario grower, however, takes a big gamble leaving fruit on the vine after the normal harvest in September or October. The bunch of sweet grapes becomes prey to sugar-hungry birds and wild animals. Rain can cause bunch rot and wind and hail can strip the fruit off of the vine. The grapes must be handled with great care; they must not be allowed to thaw before they are pressed, otherwise the water will dilute the juice again. Not all grape varieties are suitable for making Icewine.
Experience has shown that the “thick-skinned” Vidal and Riesling are the best.
The flavour can range from the honeyed peach and apricot to more tropical fruits (mangoes, passion fruit) with a hint of toffee. And on the final taste, a refreshing, orange-like acidity cleans off the palate and prolongs the fruit flavours. Icewine is indeed a dessert in itself.