Canadian Icewine: Quality and Diversity from Coast to Coast

I used to love Canadian Icewine and its less expensive, but often quite as tasty counterpart, the late harvest. And then, for some odd reason, I practically stopped having it.

Over the last few months, however, I drank icewines from Ontario, British Columbia, Québec and Nova Scotia. And baby, I’m back.

Those were fine, fine wines, with all the apricot, honey and floral aromas and flavors you’d want, the acidity needed to balance out the concentrated sweetness. What struck me the most, however, was the diversity of styles – a much greater range than I would have expected.

Let me give you an idea of this range of styles by giving tasting notes from West to East.

From the Okanagan, in British Columbia, the Mission Hill 2005 Select Lot Collection (SLC) Riesling Icewine was full and intense, with ripe stonefruit and orange marmelade aromas, and with honey flavors turning almost to buckwheat honey and caramel. This concentration and grip alloweed it to stand up to some chocolate bites served for dessert at the Mission Hill winemaker dinner served at the Aviatic Club, in Quebec City, during the Salon des vins et spiritueux de Québec, last March. That’s unusual for icewine, which goes better with, say, hazelnuts, white fruit, or white chocolate (not dark).

From Ontario, the Inniskillin 2006 Niagara Peninsula VQA Vidal Icewine showed a brighter, sunnier side of the winter-harvested drink, with orange and apricot galore. In all likelihood, this was largely because the wine was made with vidal, a variety that maintains high acidity all the way through the January harvest.

What I found interesting was the way the wine opened up over time. With the sugar and acidity present in the wine, it’s pretty normal that a bottle can keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. But for it to improve? The fact that it gained further complexity, along with a beautiful touch of honey and beeswax, was a beautiful surprise.

Although you could have it with foie gras or dessert, I had great fun just sipping a small glass after dinner, while watching television. A delicious way to wind down.

From Quebec, my favorite is the Vidal Icewine from the Vignoble du Marathonien, a wine that won countless national and international medals over the years. The acidity of the Vidal again helps give this wine a good amount of freshness, with peach, honey and citrus rolling around a silky smooth mouthfeel. The cooler temperatures experienced in Quebec vineyards naturally result in higher acidity in the grapes, therefore helping winemakers create balanced, bright icewines. Score one for cold weather winemaking.

The same principle is at work in Nova Scotia vineyards, where high acidity goes hand in hand with the cooler climate. But the folks at Benjamin Bridge, a rising star of the local wine industry aiming to produce some superlative sparkling wines, have decided to use that advantage to age their Borealis icewine in oak for no less than four years, allowing it to develop a subtlety and finesse that was truly remarkable. The combination of honey, stonefruit and citrus fruit was remarkably well-integrated, and flowed into a long, smooth finish.

The 2004 Borealis was, simply put, one of the very best icewines I’ve ever had – and one of the most memorable dessert wines of any category. High praise indeed, in such a strong field. Canadian icewines have been the international calling card of the Canadian wine industry for years now. Beyond the marketing, they are certainly worth discovering – or rediscovering.


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As much as I love wine, I obviously need to step outside of my comfort zone and try new stuff…never even heard of Ice Wine. thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  2. I really enjoyed this piece on ice wine – a category Canada produces the best in, due in part to our climate. For more Canadian wine tidbits follow me at

  3. […] But the extent to which this wine had withstood it – combined with the great impression a four-year barrel-aged icewine from Nova Scotia made upon me last spring – tells me that there could be considerable interest in working that frozen treat with long […]

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