Icewine: Intensely sweet and indulgent

This sweet dessert wine, traditionally made with white grapes, is now also made with red varieties, each with its own unique character.

The grapes stay on the vine through autumn and dry into raisins. As winter arrives, the freeze-thaw cycle further dehydrates them, intensifying the sugar, acids and other components. The flavour of the juice is highly concentrated, making a complex wine with deep, rich nuances.

Canada has made icewine into an international star. We’ve trademarked the term, and our Vintners Quality Alliance has created the most stringent regulations in the world for its production: it must be naturally produced (no artificial freezing); it must have a minimum Brix (sugar content) of 35 degrees; the alcohol must come from the grapes’ natural sugars; and the harvest must not start before Nov. 15.

Why the exorbitant price tag and small bottle? When pressed, the frozen grapes produce miniscule amounts of juice. The yield is less than one-quarter of what would be produced by unfrozen grapes.

10 things you should know about icewine:
1. Icewine was discovered accidently in Franconia, Germany, in 1794. Vintners pressed frozen grapes they’d left on the vines for winter animal fodder and found that the resulting wine had a very high level of sugar. Late-harvest sweet wines were already prized in Germany, so by the 1800s, Eiswein was being made intentionally in the Rheingau region.

2. Icewine is made in Canada, Germany, Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Israel and California. Those made using freezers are often called “icebox wines.”

3. The first Canadian commercial icewine was made in 1978 by Hainle Vineyards in British Columbia. Ontario followed in 1984, when Karl Kaiser of Inniskillin produced his first batch, using nets to protect the sweet grapes from hungry foraging critters (yet another reason for the high cost).

4. The Canadian harvest only happens in winter, once temperatures have fallen below –8ºC, and lasts for just two or three consecutive nights. The grapes are frantically hand-picked, at night or in early morning, then pressed while still frozen in an unheated building.

5. White Vidal and Riesling are the most common icewine grapes in Canada, but red Cabernet Franc is increasingly popular. Syrah/ Shiraz and Gewurztraminer are up-and-comers.

6. Icewine fermentation is long (one to three months). Some are then aged in barrels, according to the winery’s style.

7. Sparkling icewines exist, too. They are quite full-bodied and, not surprisingly, sweet.

8. In June 1991, Inniskillin won the Grand Prix trophy in Bordeaux, France, for its 1989 Vidal icewine. This put Canada on the world wine map and inspired other vintners. Now icewine is made by more than 50 wineries in Ontario, 30 in British Columbia, and a few in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

9. Icewines are highly sought after in the Far East, where a bottle can fetch up to three times the price it would here.

10. Young icewines have vibrant fruit and acidity. But they also age well, evolving into wines with more complex, subtler flavours.

How to serve icewine:
Stemware: Although traditionally served in smaller glasses, icewine benefits from a regular white wine glass, which showcases all of its wonderful aromas.

Temperature: 10 to 12°C. Don’t overchill; put it in the fridge only an hour or two before serving.

Shelf Life: Because the sugar content is high, icewine will last for three to five days after opening if stored in the refrigerator.

Best Enjoyed: On its own after a meal (think of it as dessert in a glass). The rule is to serve this rich, sweet wine with a dessert that is a bit lighter and less sweet, or with something savoury and full-flavoured for balance. Serving it with a too-rich or too-sweet dessert doesn’t allow you to enjoy its merits. Try it with a simple dessert of fresh fruit with cheese, or as an aperitif with foie gras or rich pâtés. Red icewines with plum aromas pair well with chocolate. Icewine also makes amazing, if somewhat pricey, wine cocktails, which is a great way to use up any leftovers from the night before.

This article is originally from Canadian Living

Gold is Made in the Cold

Debbie Trenholm
Savvy Company

How does Icewine differ from other wines?

Throughout the growing season, winemakers decide which grapes to leave on the vines long after the regular harvest is complete and wait for Mother Nature to turn them into gold – icewine grapes that is. The magic number is the air needs to hit -8 degrees Celsius or colder. At this point, the frenzy begins! The frozen grapes can be picked (by law it must reach -8 degrees in order to be classified as an Icewine). Some wineries leave the grapes on longer (such as -10 degrees). The trick with Icewine is that winemakers never know when during the winter -8 degrees will come.

This year -8 degrees came to Niagara in early January. Winemakers also need a long period of time at that cold temperature to pick (some wineries have many acres of vineyards with frozen grapes) and crush the grapes.

In 2001 I was called on to pick in an Icewine harvest. While staying in Niagara doing some consulting work, I received a phone call at 11:30 one night from Ann Sperling – Winemaker at the time at Malivoire. What an opportunity! I bundled up and headed out!

When you think of a vineyard often thoughts of lush green comes to mind. But in January, the reality is that many grapes had fallen off (these are no good), and the bare dead vines set against the stark whiteness of the snow was very dramatic. Shadows of people were cast from the head lamps of the tractor going up and down the rows of grapes being picked by people with ski gloves.

The grapes look like almost like raisins – brown & shrivelled. Mother Nature has attacked them – hitting them several times by frost. I had to snap the bunches off the vine (remember with ski gloves) and they were hard as marbels. Clunk they go into my bucket.

The winemaker’s job is to press them – they press these little pellets and patiently wait until the first juice comes out. The juice looks like apple juice concentrate that you get at the grocery story – as thick and the same caramel colour.

Once the grapes are crushed outdoors (they too have to maintain -8 degrees Celsius during this part of the winemaking process) they can bring the juice into the cellar to start to ferment it. As you can imagine, the juice in each grape is highly concentrated because the water content of the grapes is frozen. What is extracted from the grapes is pure nectar – this is why Icewine is deliciously sweet.

For my Icewine harvest experience, the team of pickers (all family & friends) were out for about 6 hours, until sunrise. We had to stop because the sun was rising and the temperature began to rise above the magic number -8C.

What foods go well with Icewine?

When I serve Icewine I follow a simple rule of thumb – make sure that the food is not sweeter than the Icewine – it will make your Icewine seem sweeter. Good accompaniments include dark chocolate, roasted nuts, and fresh fruit. Icewine can be served before or after dinner or as a dessert all on its own.

How much does a bottle of Icewine cost, on average?

Because of all that work that goes into making a bottle, and because, like maple syrup, it takes a lot of grapes to make one bottle – most Icewine cost between $45 and $85. I know of some Icewines that have a price tag of $1000 plus!

An interesting note: at the recent Nobel Peace Prize dinner President Obama was served an Icewine by Niagara winery Inniskillin (click here for more info). This same wine was recently featured in Oprah Magazine.

Why is the Icewine experience one to try?

People are really starting to recognize the beauty of this type of wine. Bottom line, it is uniquely Canadian. There is so much love and care that goes into making the wine that it is magical! Everything has to come together to make this type of wine: -8 degrees and a team of patient pickers.

If someone wanted a good ice wine to start with, can you suggest a few types/brands?
In Niagara, winemakers started with Vidal as the main grape variety to create Icewine. it is hardy grape to grow with its thick skin, so it weathers well while waiting for the magic -8 degrees. But with the curiousity and experimentation of many winemakers, you can get almost any grape variety in this sweet rendition. I have enjoyed icewines made with Chardonnay and Reisling as well as red icewines made with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. It is neat to see how the same grape can taste so different. There are also sparkling Icewines.

My favourite sparkling wine is made by Pillitteri Estates Winery. Be sure to try the classic Inniskillin Vidal Icewine VQA, served at the Nobel Peace Prize dinner. And if you want to indulge in a red Icewine, try Malivoire’s Cabernet Franc Icewine VQA ….and those are just for starters!

An event not to be missed! Check out the Niagara Icewine Festival on now until January 31st. A delicious getaway with tastings and winemakers dinners.

Icewine Recipe: Icewine Crème Brûlée (Egg-Free)

Icewine Crème Brûlée (Egg-Free)
Courtesy of: Anna Olsen
Food Network
Serves 6
This version of crème brûlée is not cooked using eggs, but instead uses the acidity of Icewine, a very sweet dessert wine, to set the cream. Because it is not baked, it can be beautifully presented in wine glasses.

2 ½ cups whipping cream
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Pillitteri Riesling Icewine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Oat Brûlée & Assembly
¼ cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons regular rolled oats (not instant)
1 ½ cups mixed fresh berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries

Oat Brûlée & Assembly
¼ cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons regular rolled oats (not instant)
1 ½ cups mixed fresh berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries

Heat the cream and sugar over medium heat and whisk occasionally, heating just until the sugar has fully dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the Icewine and lemon juice. Allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes, then carefully pour into serving dishes (you can use wine glasses, champagne flutes, or other desired attractive glassware, since you will not be using a torch to “brûlée” this dessert). Chill overnight to set (these custards need at least 8 hours to set).

Oat Brûlée & Assembly
1. For the oat brûlée, preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a pie plate with foil and spray with food release spray.
2. Stir the maple syrup and oats until the oats are fully coated and then pour this into the prepared pie place, swirling to make an even and thin layer. Bake this for 15 to 20 minutes, until bubbling and a darker brown at the edges. Cool completely to room temperature.
3. To serve, gently sprinkle or arrange the fresh berries over the custards, then break off shards of the oat brûlée and arrange them over the berries. Serve immediately.
4. *The brûlées (ungarnished) will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.

2014 Niagara Icewine Festival – My Review

By:Jason Solanki
Published: January 23rd, 2014

What an amazing two days! Last weekend, we enjoyed many Icewines and tasty culinary creations at 9 different wineries throughout Niagara-on-the-Lake and Twenty Valley. The full photo gallery is available at the bottom of this post.

Our group of 11 began Saturday afternoon at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery, where we were greeted by Chris, whom I first met back in Fall of 2012 at Niagara College Teaching Winery. While waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, we tasted a few wines in Sue-Ann’s kitchen. Sue-Ann tends to make wines in a crowd-pleasing style, and her 2012 Rosé (87 pts) fits that bill nicely. It’s a blend of 92% Loved by Lu Riesling and 8% Unoaked Cab Franc and is fresh and crisp with grapefruit, peach, and lime aromas, with nice replays on the palate; it’s medium-bodied with a long, tart finish.

Chocolate bark topped with goodies at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
Once everyone arrived, we walked into Sue-Ann’s formal dining room where we chose our chocolate bark and hand-picked our toppings, and then paired it with our choice of the 2007 Riesling Icewine or the 2011 Sparkling & SASSY Riesling (89 pts, reviewed here). On my chocolate bark, I opted for the nuts, dried citrus and dried berries and paired it with the sparkling wine. The pairing was fantastic – the right amount of sweetness from both the wine and the chocolate bark was in sync and perfectly complemented each other. There was also a smoked salt bark which I completely forgot about, but at least one person in our group tried it and said it was delicious! Ironically, this first stop ended up being my favourite stop of the weekend and is definitely a MUST stop if you’re heading out on the final weekend of the Icewine Festival.

Canadian Beavertails and Chardonnay Icewine at Pillitteri Estates Winery

The second stop was in Niagara-on-the-Lake at Pillitteri Estates Winery, where they had brought in Canadian Beavertails topped with lemon, cinnamon and brown sugar and paired it with their delicious 2007 Chardonnay Icewine (89 pts, reviewed here). Once the again the pairing was quite well done, and if you’ve never had a Beavertail, this was a great opportunity to try it! Icewine made out of Chardonnay is also not very common, so it is not surprising to see the largest Estate Icewine producer in the world make it – and it was a treat to taste on this day. We then headed inside to warm up a bit and found my wife talking to Beth, who convinced us that maybe we should head further inside do some more tastings. I’m glad we went inside the private tasting room to taste three more Icewines made out of grapes you normally you don’t see – 2008 Gewürztraminer Icewine (89 pts), 2008 Merlot Icewine (88 pts), and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine (89 pts, reviewed here) – it was quite the experience!

All in all, we had a great time at this year’s Icewine Festival. I hope you enjoyed my review. It runs one more weekend (January 25-26) and I hope this will help you plan your Discovery Pass Experience to Niagara. If you’re interested in joining me on a future visit to the region, let me know and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

For Full article, please visit

Icewine Recipes: Poached Pear Infused with Pillitteri Vidal Icewine

Poached Pear with Icewine? This is delicious!

Ingredients (serves 4)

3 cups water
1 cup (firmly packed) brown sugar
½ cup Pillitteri Estates Vidal Icewine
2 x cinnamon sticks roughly broken
2 large, just ripe bosc pears, peeled, cored and cut in half
4 1inch x 1inch thin squares of good quality white chocolate
Good quality blue cheese to crumble, like Blue Benedictine, enough for 4 people.
*½ cup of Pillitteri Estates Vidal Icewine, reserved


Combine the water, sugar, ½ cup Icewine and cinnamon in a large sauce pan over low heat. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes or until the sugar dissolves and liquid turns lightly syrupy. Add the pears and stir to combine. Cook, covered for 10 – 15 minutes or until the pears are tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pears from the poaching liquid.

In a small sauce pan, carefully add 1 cup of warm poaching liquid plus *½ cup of Vidal Icewine and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered for 5- 10 minutes until syrup reduces and thickens slightly.

Individually plate a square of white chocolate. Place a warm pear half on top of the chocolate. Crumble blue cheese over top of pear. Finish with a drizzle of reduced syrup over blue cheese and pear. Serve immediately.

Enjoy with a glass of Pillitteri Estates Vidal Icewine.


Pillitteri Estates Winery Completes Their Largest Icewine Harvest

Published by: Wines in Niagara
Rick VanSickle ‏

January 3rd, 2014

Pillitteri Estates Winery completed their largest ever harvest of icewine grapes during a wild New Year’s winter storm. A record icewine harvest for Pillitteri, which began in early December kicked in to high gear on New Year’s Day. At 5 a.m. as the temperature reached -10C and the snow moved in to blanket the estate vineyards the Pillitteri team mobilized for a marathon finish.

It was the largest icewine harvest ever for Pillitteri and included the harvesting of rare icewine grapes including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Shiraz and Riesling. The bulk of the icewine harvest came from the popular Vidal grape with over 200 tonnes harvested. The final stretch of the harvest primarily took place throughout the early morning of New Years Day and continued into the night with extreme challenges.

“With the amount of blowing and drifting snow and the depth of snow it was difficult to even get into the vineyards. The visibility was very poor and with the whiteouts, it was difficult to see the equipment and even the vines. Our tractors were slipping in the snow and we were constantly fighting the elements,” explained Jamie Slingerland (see top photo), Pillitteri’s Director of Viticulture.

This was a lengthy harvest, and one of the earliest completed for the winery, which finished the entire harvest by Jan. 2. It took many hours of dedicated work to complete, resulting in a total tonnage of 750 tonnes. This year’s timely cold spells offered an excellent quality of juice, which will ultimately take up to two weeks to press and re-press for icewine and late harvest wines.

Much of the icewine produced is destined for China through a number of partnerships, which Pillitteri has recently established. Many of the rarer icewines harvested will be sold exclusively at the winery’s retail store. Icewines such as Sangiovese, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are only available at the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery and will be front and centre in this month’s upcoming Icewine Festival.

Pillitteri Estates Winery is a family owned and operated business founded in 1993 in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It currently exports to 32 countries and is the largest estate producer of Icewine in the world. Pillitteri is the only certified Advantage HACCP Plus winery in Canada and has also received recognition for bringing the first certified “Verona” vines to Canada and for its work in appassimento wines.

A record year for BC Icewine

By John Schreiner

Here’s hoping that consumers still have a taste for something sweet: British Columbia’s winemakers are likely to produce about 300,000 litres of Icewine. This is double from the 2012 production.

Some 29 producers have registered to turn 1,000 tons of grapes into Icewine this year. The harvest began November 20-21, the third earliest Icewine harvest in British Columbia. The earliest harvests were November 3, 2003 and November 19, 2011.

One winery, Little Straw Vineyards in West Kelowna, was able to pick some grapes early on the morning of November 20, stopping when the temperature rose during the day, and finishing that night.

Several consecutive days of frigid weather in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys have given producers a generous window for the harvest.

For the whole article, visit

Market for icewines heats up

The Vancouver Sun

By: Michelle Locke

November 20th, 2013

Leaving grapes to freeze on the vine seems like a recipe for stone cold failure. But under the right conditions, the grapes that come in from the (extreme) cold can produce delicious dessert wines that are a cool favourite for holiday pairings.

What to call it? It depends on where you are. It’s called eiswein in Austria and Germany, where it began; icewine, one word, in Canada, where it’s become something of a signature wine; and ice wine, two words, in the United States, where vintners in New York state and few other regions are experimenting with the hard-to-make, easy-to-drink product.

The icewine category in Canada is continuing to evolve with new and innovative products entering the market each vintage. The thing that’s cool about ice wine is there’s a textural difference that you don’t see with other wines, and you see the care- the fact that there’s so many steps, there’s so much effort that goes into making it.

Click here to read more of this article.

Best Ways to Enjoy Icewine

Love Icewine  but have a hard time wondering what to pair it with? Pillitteri has you covered, providing several suggestions on what to have with Icewine. Icewine is incredibly versatile, pairing nicely with a variety of foods and snacks. The only thing we do not recommend is pairing Icewine with something that is much sweeter. Other than that, the possibilities are endless.

These ideas could be used at gatherings, parties, or even for a treat on your own. Click this link below, and it will take you to our Pinterest page. All of our pairing suggestions are listed there.


Niagara Icewine Festival Brings Cheer

By: Waheeda Harris

The annual Niagara Icewine Festival is a celebration of the bounty of grapes that makes the award-winning dessert wine. The festival runs on weekends in January.

For winemakers in the Niagara Region winter isn’t a time of reflection — it’s harvest time for Icewine.

Produced in Ontario since 1984, the province has become as well known for its Icewine as maple syrup — a sweet by-product of bitter winter temperatures.

Ontario VQA Icewines are made with Vidal Blanc, Riesling or Cabernet Franc grapes, with smaller batches now made with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewurztraminer.

The grapes are protected from birds in the last months before harvest and then it’s time for patience, for the grapes to hit the 35 Brix of sugar needed for this dessert wine. In December, January and February, Icewine grapes are poised for picking, an old-fashioned by hand harvest that occurs when the temperatures hit the sweet spot of between minus-10 and minus-12 Celsius degrees (about 10 Fahrenheit degrees).

The annual Niagara Icewine Festival, with tastings and events held throughout January, is a perfect time to experience wine country as well as taste some amazing culinary creations by local chefs.

To read more, please click the link provided.