Inniskillin Ice Wine: Best in Canada

The wine cellar at Inniskillin in Niagara, Canada, is cold. Just 15°c to be exact, the perfect temperature for storing ice wine. Despite wishing I’d brought a jacket, the cold is far from my mind as I’m about to try three of Canada’s best ice wines: the 2012 Inniskillin Oak Aged Vidal, the 2012 Inniskillin Riesling, and the 2012 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc. None of my group, including myself, has tried ice wine before and there’s a sense of anticipation in the air as we wait for the last sample to be poured.

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Although Canada may not compete with the top wine producing countries like France or Italy, when it comes to ice wine, it’s certainly leading the way. In 2013, over 2.5 million bottles worth $70 million retail were produced in Canada, putting the country firmly at the top of the ice wine podium.

This sweet, syrupy liquid, served as a digestif following a meal, is what coaxed me out to the verdant wine country of Niagara Peninsula. Only one and a half hours’ drive from downtown Toronto, Inniskillin Estate Winery sits at the heart of the Niagara wine region. The final twenty minutes of the drive meanders through undulating hills and row upon row of vines. In the balmy late spring, I could almost be traveling through the wine regions of Bordeaux.

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For our first taste of ice wine, one of Canada’s most famous exports, we couldn’t have picked a better place than Inniskillin. Since its founding in 1975 by Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, Inniskillin has garnered a long list of awards, most notably the Grand Prix d’Honneur in 2001 and the Premio Speciale Gran Award in 1991.

Upon our arrival at the winery, we were met by Debi Pratt, Inniskillin’s public relations manager. She strode up to meet us, welcoming us in turn with a firm handshake and a wide smile. Debi retired this past August after 39 years at Inniskillin. We couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide.

She led us through the rows of vines closest to the winery and I was surprised to see that the vines were bare. Being May, the grapes had already been harvested, Debi explained, ice wine grapes are collected while still frozen, usually sometime between December and February. The ideal temperature for harvesting ice wine grapes is between -10°c and -12°c. At this temperature, the resulting grape juice has a sugar concentration of between 35° Brix and 39° Brix, Brix being the measurement of sugar.

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While the grapes are frozen, they’re pressed to extract the concentrated juice. Only a small amount is extracted, with an average yield of 500 liters for each square acre. Considering this is only 15% of the expected yield for table wines, it’s no surprise that ice wine tends to be more expensive.

Of the three Inniskillin wines I’m about to sample, the 2012 Cabernet Franc fetches the highest price at almost CN$100 per 375ml bottle. In front of us are four glasses: one standard tasting glass, which contains the Riesling, and three Riedel Ice wine Glasses, one empty and the others containing the Vidal and the Cabernet Franc.

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Debi holds up the standard glass, affectionately dubbing it the “joker” glass, and invites us to take a sip. The sweet liquid slips down the glass and hits the tip of my tongue in a burst of berry flavor. It’s nice, but I don’t feel blown away. Then Debi decants the remainder of the Riesling into the empty Riedel Ice wine Glass. Again, she invites us to sip.

Riedel Ice wine Glasses are specifically designed to enhance the flavor of ice wine. The glass’ wider mouth sends the liquid further back on the tongue, almost by-passing the tip altogether. The result is a maximized taste and aroma that fills the mouth and nose.

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The Riesling delivers the most elegant taste of the three, with a light, fruity nose. The finish is slightly acidic while remaining sweet, crisp and refreshing. Next up, the Vidal. This luscious Inniskillin ice wine couldn’t be more different from the Riesling. Full-bodied with a mango burst, the memory of the Vidal remains on the tongue long after swallowing. We finished the tasting with the Cabernet Franc. The sweetest of the three, this smooth ice wine fills the mouth with flavors of strawberry and rhubarb.

Inniskillin is one of the leading ice wine producers in Canada, with wineries in the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, and Okanagan, British Colombia. Tours and tastings are available throughout the year on a first-come, first-serve basis. To ensure you get a taste of Canada’s delicious contribution to the world of wine, book your reservation in advance.

Charlotte Claxton

Charlie is a freelance writer who specialises in travel, luxury and food. Having earned her chops as a staff writer for international travel brands and digital marketing companies, she now writes for freelance clients and runs her own travel blog. Charlie grew up in London and has since lived in Canada and Australia. She currently writes from various cafés, hammocks and beaches as she travels the world, bringing LuxeInACity readers first-hand insight into the best luxury experiences worldwide. Get to know Charlie better at www.charlieclaxtonwrites.com

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