I took a week off work, but now it is over.
My vacation was one big week-long wintry cloud and I'm more than eager that things get cleared up.
Blog absence and travel have created a messy backlog. Here's one outstanding piece of correspondence I failed to respond to last week. I hope an answer to this reader's query is not too late.
An emailer writes:
I was wondering if you could help me. I have a friend who is planning on visiting Niagara with a view towards picking a few bottles of icewine.My response:
Can you recommend some labels? Nothing too expensive but maybe in something in the $25 to $50 range.
Also, my friend is curious about those flavoured icewines (hot peppers, berries etc.) What are your thoughts?
Any advice would be appreciated.
I was actually in Niagara for Good Friday so it seems appropriate that your "friend" poses this question now.
First of all, you can tell your friend not to worry. We all know that icewine is expensive. None of us can afford to live off this kind of wine. It's what I would classify as a true luxury item.
Icewine costs a lot because its production is a tall order that involves arduous work, nighttime cultivation, and tiny yields of heavily concentrated juice. Poor conditions can play havoc with the harvest and global warming is frequently mentioned as a major threat. Since we find ourselves in April and under a thin blanket of snow, this can be hard to believe. But in some years there is no icewine vintage. In fact it was only last year the harvest came perilously close to not even happening in Niagara. All of this goes to show you how rare and sought-after this stuff can be.
With that in mind, I can absolutely respect your friend's budget. Although it is a delicacy, there's no reason why icewine should be prohibitive. Knowing all that, do you still really want to meddle with hot peppers? In my mind, even so much as a single blueberry denigrates the final product, like smacking the end of a big glass bottle of Heinz while it is pointed at your filet mignon.
But that's just my impression of these products which -- if Google supplies any accurate indication -- are finding a bit of a niche in Niagara. I admit to never having tried flavoured icewines. I'm willing to be honest. But after sampling beer flavoured with grenadine last week I don't think I would want to. Little good that does to help you though.
LCBO INVESTIGATION ON ONTARIO'S FLAVOURED ICEWINES
So on my way out of the region, I stopped at the LCBO's large warehouse outlet at Yonge and Queen's Quay in Toronto. I enquired about flavoured icewines with one of the employees stocking shelves. She, like myself, had never heard of it. She directed me to LCBO VQA Expert Steve MacDougall (Vintners Quality Alliance is an Ontario regulatory designation for wine). If anyone at the Ontario liquor monopoly knew about flavoured icewines, it would be Steve.
Steve also had never heard of flavoured icewines, and asked me whether the blueberry version, for instance, was blueberry wine and not real icewine with blueberries added to it. I told him that was apparently not the case, or least it wasn't what was presented by the web sites of a few little-known wineries.
For example, Crown Beach Estates (clickable image above) explains how their flavoured icewines are made from real wine grapes and then flavoured. Steve recalled carrying Crown Bench icewines in the past though they were definitely not with added flavour. (At $90 a bottle, they were also definitely not cheap.)
Seeing that the Crown Bench flavoured icewines were not listed as VQA, I asked Steve whether VQA limitations could be part of the reason why they were not "mainstream" and not appearing on LCBO shelves. He wagered that if they used Ontario grapes there shouldn't be any reason why a VQA seal would be denied. He suggested that these flavoured icewines might be just the thing that is bubbling under the surface and that the right regional sales rep for the LCBO could know more. They could be coming in and be big at Christmas, he said.
HAS ANYBODY TRIED THESE WINES?
Once again, little good that does to help you. Since no one seems to have tried the stuff I'm going to stick my neck out and give you my own personal recommendation. [Ed. note: Someone very knowledgeable in this department has just left a comprehensive comment at the link below.]
Riesling-flavoured icewine is where my money's at. Icewine made from Riesling grapes typically is pricier than the more commonly found Vidal icewine, but you can find some that fits your price range to be sure.
Reif Estate Winery in particular makes one I'd recommend. Unfortunately for you, I'm not the only one singing its praises. This award-winning icewine is currently sold out.
Well I can't say that I haven't tried. Perhaps consulting this flight of Vineland Estates icewines could help inform your purchasing decisions in the meantime?