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The opening of a bottle of ice wine is cause for celebration. While small bottles of the lusciously sweet wine are frequently given as gifts, in my experience those presents are rarely served and enjoyed.
Common complaints suggest ice wine is too sweet and too expensive. As a result, it risks becoming the vinous equivalent of fruitcake. Those who love it, enjoy it without hesitation. Everyone else tends to squirrel it away in a dark corner somewhere, waiting for just the right occasion, or an opportunity to re-gift it. The fermented nectar of frozen grapes becomes an adult variant of the Hot Potato game.
Ice wine has long been pegged as Canada’s most famous wine, but too few Canadians actually drink it. Producers of Canada’s best ice wines struggle to effectively market their sumptuous and honeyed wares at home. (The export market has always been the main sales channel for Canadian ice wines.) There’s a concerted effort to deflect any references to it being a dessert wine. Instead, it’s positioned as a sweet wine that can be enjoyed before, during or after a meal.
Winery restaurants use ice wine as a pairing for savoury courses, while their chefs effectively use it as an ingredient in meal preparation, say as a glaze for duck or part of the sauce for poaching lobster.
Wineries were also quick to show how consumers could use the rich and intense sweet wines as a mixer, encouraging people to taste ice wine martinis or ice wine Royales, a splash of ice wine in a glass of sparkling wine and garnished with a frozen grape or red berry.
The creative team behind VQA Wines of Ontario have taken that idea to the extreme, offering a dynamic range of cocktail recipes that use different types of ice wine, made from vidal, riesling or cabernet franc grapes, to great effect.
Mix one ounce of Canadian whisky and one ounce of a red ice wine in a rocks glass, garnish with cherries and an orange slice and you’ve got yourself a Cold Fashioned.
You might also consider shaking up a batch of ice wine Cosmopolitans, with one ounce each of vodka and riesling ice wine, half an ounce of Grand Marnier and lime juice, and 1.5 ounces of cranberry juice. Pour into a martini glass that’s garnished with a citrus peel.
The recipes are available on Wine Country Ontario’s website along with other information about ice wine, like how it’s made and best enjoyed (winecountryontario.ca/ice wine/).
Even with the different look to this year’s holiday season, the coming weeks offer an opportunity to open and enjoy a bottle of ice wine – or different styles of sweet and/or fortified wines. An open bottle of ice wine will last for two weeks or more if kept sealed in the refrigerator. White or red, younger and fresher or more mature and complex, ice wines are more versatile that you expect – and probably taste better than you remember. You’ll never know, of course, until you open that bottle.
Globe and Mail subscribers can register to join Christopher Waters on Thursday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m. ET for a wine tutorial on buying bottles for the holidays, developing your palate and serving for best enjoyment.