Saturday 26 November 2011

Canada, More than Just Icewine

“Well integrated oak and expressive fruit”, commented my dining companion. “I could have mistaken this for a Burgundy.” In fact, it was a Canadian table wine brought in by Randy Dufour for a dinner featuring Inniskillin wines. Randy is the Export Director of Vincor, the parent company that owns Inniskillin, and the dinner was held at Santi on the 10th of November. The event offered two rare tasting opportunities; icewines made from different grape varietals, and table wines from Canada.
Inniskillin is undoubtedly the winery that put “icewine” on everyone’s lips, both figuratively and literally. The grapes are picked in the cold winter months of December and January when the temperature drops to -8˚C and freezes the fruit. Leaving the grapes so long on the vine increases the risk of them being eaten by birds, infected by disease, or pelted by sudden hailstorms. When the winemaker decides that the weather is optimal for picking (generally around 2 or 3 am in the morning), the workers will receive a call and rush to don their waterproof gloves, rubber boots and every bit of clothing they have. Leaving the comfort of their warm beds for the chill and dampness of the vineyards is “not a lot of fun”, says Randy.
Speed is essential when making ice wine. The grapes must be pressed before they start to thaw. Pressing frozen grapes is akin to squeezing marbles, and the concentrated nectar that oozes out is very high in acidity and grape sugars. Randy notes that “Even though our icewines typically have twice the residual sugar of some of the great Sauternes, it has more than twice the acidity. It is that freshness and that vibrancy that makes icewine unique.” There is also no trace of botrytis (the beneficial fungus that concentrates sugars in the grape) in the production of icewine. Purity of fruit flavour is the essence of icewine.
Inniskillin makes single varietal icewine from three types of grapes. The thick skinned Vidal, practically unknown outside of Canada, is prized here for its winter hardiness and late ripening. Icewines made from this grape have ripe stone/tropical fruit characters (think yellow peaches, mango and apricots), high acidity and a full body. Riesling, a more familiar varietal, has a rich tradition of making sweet wines, especially in its native Germany. Riesling icewines are intensely floral, with notes of citrus fruit and lychee. Both Riesling and Vidal are white grapes, but Cabernet Franc, the final varietal, is a black grape and thus the flavour profile leans towards red berries and candy floss. It has a tangy sweetness unlike the full bodied, honeyed sweetness of the other two icewines.
Having a dinner with only dessert wines could quickly lead to a sugar coma, but fortunately the icewines were interspersed with some fine examples of dry Canadian table wines. Particularly enjoyable was the ‘Le Grand Clos’ Chardonnay 2008 from Le Clos Jordanne, another winery under the Vincor portfolio. Showing judicious use of oak, the cashew and vanilla undertones lifted and enhanced the fruit flavours of the wine. We also tasted a Pinot Noir from the same winery, and while it displayed varietal characteristics of raspberry and cherry, the alcohol was a bit too pronounced. Still, a laudable effort for a varietal that is notoriously difficult to handle. The table wines were specially brought in for this dinner as they are not distributed in Singapore.
Many thanks to Culina Pte Ltd for arranging the dinner at Santi.