John Schreiner's book Icewine The Complete Story became a Best Seller.
This is the time of year for what the Australians refer to as “stickies” – ports, late harvest wines and Icewine.
I accumulated a number of samples of dessert wines that came in this year and added a few from earlier years that missed being reviewed. After making my notes, I shared all the wines with members of a winemaking club. It was a good party.
That's what makes dessert wines so appealing: they are very good social wines. No one thinks of drinking an Icewine alone.
It is perhaps unfortunate that these wines have been classified as dessert wines. It has led consumers to think these wines can only be enjoyed with dessert, or as dessert. That creates a dilemma: by the time the dessert is served, most people have decided they won't drink anything at all. They have to drive home; or they are watching calories. As a result, these glorious wines just gather dust.
My suggestion is to start the evening with dessert wines (with the possible exception of port). Duck liver pâté or Cambozolo cheese pair easily with late harvest wines or Icewines. Most dinner guests are bowled over by the novelty.
If you must have spirits before dinner, consider an Icewine martini. The Liquor Distribution Branch of Ontario actually has recipes available on line.
The wines reviewed here fall into several categories. Late harvest wines typically are moderately sweet. Because they are made with grapes that usually are not frozen, the winery's yield is larger and thus the price of the wine is usually half the price of Icewine. The port-style wines also typically cost less that Icewine.
Icewine is expensive because the winery's yield from the grapes is perhaps 20% of the volume of table wine that could be made from the same grapes. Thus, a $20 bottle of table wine becomes a $100 bottle of Icewine (except that Icewine is sold in half bottles at $50 or in 200 ml bottles at $25-$35).
Icewine is difficult to make. Picking at night when the temperature is well below zero is very demanding. Pressing frozen grapes is very hard on wine presses. Getting a healthy fermentation started is challenging because yeast struggles to survive in the sugar-saturated solutions. If fermentation is less that healthy, off-aromas and off-flavours can develop in the wine.
I mention those hurdles because I have awarded 100 points to the Riesling Icewine from Nk'Mip Cellars. Having tasted hundreds of Icewines over the last 15 years, I know perfection when I find it. Put NK'Mip winemaker Randy Picton's Icewine on your bucket list.
If you can't find it, there are a lot of other terrific wines, too.
Unless otherwise stated, the bottles are all 375 ml in size.
Cassini Cellars Moscato Dessert Wine NV ($24). Perhaps this is the Okanagan's answer to white Port. With 18.6% alcohol, this is a fortified wine. Fermentation was stopped with the addition of alcohol to preserve some of the natural sugars and flavours. The wine also aged 14 months in French oak. The wine has floral and apricot aromas, leading to spicy baked apple flavours. The finish is lightly spirituous and fairly dry. I would like this wine with Gouda or aged cheddar. 90.
Clos du Soleil Saturn 2011 ($28.90 for 56 cases). This is a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Moderately sweet, it has 14.5% alcohol. It is a perfect wine with blue cheese or savoury pâté. There are hints of honey and citrus on the nose. On the palate, the wine shows vivid flavours of grapefruit and lime. The finish is a trifle spirituous but that helps add spine and definition to this delicious wine. 91.
Harper's Trail Late Harvest Riesling 2012 ($20). The wine begins with a room-filling aroma of lime, grapefruit and Muscat raisins. This translates to delicious flavours of Muscat and nectarine, with fresh acidity to balance the residual sugar. The finish is long and refreshing. 90.
Hester Creek Late Harvest Pinot Blanc 2010 ($17.95 for 200 ml). Plump in texture, the wine is richly concentrated, with flavours of ripe pineapple and baked apple. Good acidity balances the sugar, leaving the palate refreshed. 89.
Inniskillin Okanagan Riesling Icewine 2011 ($60.10). Gold in the glass, this is a rich wine with honeyed aromas of apricots and peaches. On the palate, the wine has a concentrated texture with flavours of ripe apricot and tangerine. There is a long and lingering finish like a very fine toffee but with brisk acidity to prevent the wine from cloying. 94.
Nk'Mip Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine 2012 ($60). The wine begins with honeyed aromas of lemon and lime. It delivers flavours of key lime pie and ripe apricots, with an exquisite balance of acidity and natural sugar. The purity of the fruit is exemplary. This is very, very fine. 100.
Paradise Ranch Late Harvest Cabernet Merlot 2011 ($18.90). The wine begins with a strawberry pink/bronze hue. The fruity aroma is led by cassis. On the soft juicy palate, there are flavours of stewed strawberry and blackberry. The texture is light and silky. The finish is sweet but not jammy. The alcohol is only 11.5%; don't expect this to taste like a fortified wine. 88.
Pentâge Cabernet Franc 2011 Appassimento Style ($35). This is an Okanagan winery's take on Amarone because the technique is similar. The winery dried hand-picked grapes for 58 days, concentrating juice, flavour and sugar, before pressing the fruit. The result is a dark wine with 15% alcohol. The aroma is glorious – blackberry and black currant jam. The intense flavours include black currant, lingonberry, black cherry and spice. The tannins are ripe but firm enough to give this wine a future in bottle. Since the bottle is 375 ml, remember that wine ages most quickly in small bottles. 93.
Quails' Gate Totally Botrytis Affected Optima 2008 ($29.99). Think of this wine as the Okanagan's very own Sauternes. Quails' Gate is fortunate to have the right conditions in its vineyard to make such a wine almost every year. This has a lovely gold hue and opulent aromas and flavours of honeyed apricots and pears. The wine has an unctuous honeyed finish. However, the sugar – 122 grams per litre – is well balanced with 9.7 grams of acidity. The finish has an appealing note of caramel. The current 2012 vintage is in liquor stores is just as good. 90.
Quails' Gate Fortified Vintage Foch 2011 ($22.99 for 375 cases). Made in the tradition of Port, this wine, which spent 18 months in barrels, has 18% alcohol. Dark in hue, it has aromas of spice, chocolate and cherries. On the palate, the wine is rich in texture, with flavours of black cherry and chocolate. Imagine drinking a Black Forest cake! 91.
Saxon Estate Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2012 ($24.90). The wine begins with aromas of spice, lychee and grapefruit. On the palate, it is plump, with flavours of lychee and peaches. The acidity is soft. There is a pleasant lingering sweetness on the finish. 88.
See Ya Later Ranch 2011 Hunny Late Harvest Riesling ($25.09). The grapes were harvested at 32 brix, not far off the minimum for Icewine. As a result, this is a rich and concentrated wine, with intense aromas of Muscatel raisins. On the palate, there are layers of flavours, including raisins, figs, citrus and a touch of candy apple on the finish. The 9.3 grams (per litre) of acidity balances the 100 grams of sugar to leave the palate refreshed. 90.
Seven Stones Late Harvest Merlot 2010 ($NA). The dark hue and the 15.5% alcohol signal that this is a bold and ripe wine. Aromas of blueberry and cassis explode from the glass. The wine delivers intense and delicious flavours of blackberry and plum with a silken finish. The finish goes on and on, leaving a lingering sweetness which is very well balanced. 91.
Sonoran Estate Winery Oraniensteiner Icewine 2007 ($34.90 for 200 ml). This is Sonoran's signature wine; no other winery as embraced the Oraniensteiner grape with such dedication. It is an obscure German varietal notable for both flavour and high acidity which suits Icewine. This wine has an appealing gold hue. It begins with intense aromas of apricots and dried fruits, which carries through to the flavours, where the dried apricot persists. The bracing acidity leaves the palate refreshed. The winery recommends this for making Icewine martinis as well as for pairing with cheeses, pâté and desserts. 90.
Stoneboat Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2008 Very Late Harvest ($NA). This would have qualified as Icewine if Stoneboat had registered to make Icewine - because the grapes were picked and pressed at -10ºC. It begins with appealing aromas of pineapple and clover honey. There are flavours of ripe pineapple and baked apple, with a bracing acidity that gives the wine a dancing freshness on the palate. 91.
Stoneboat Vineyard Verglas 2007 ($54.90 for 2011 vintage, the current one). This is Icewine; Stoneboat uses a proprietary name for it. The grapes in this blend, Oraniensteiner and Pinot Blanc, were picked January 22, 2008, at -15ºC, yielding a juice with 56 brix. The grapes had also been touched with botrytis which is unusual in Icewine, but hardly undesirable. The wine begins with aromas of honey and tobacco, classic with a botrytized wine. On the palate, the wine is rich with a complex array of flavours ranging from strawberry to pepper, encompassing caramel and ripe pineapple. The superb balance leaves the palate clean and refreshed. 95.
Tinhorn Creek Kerner Icewine 2012 ($57.99 for 90 cases). Lightly gold in colour, the wine begins with baked raisin aromas. There are flavours of caramel and baked apples, with a nutty note on the finish. 88.
Van Westen Vicicle 2012 Viognier Icewine ($24.90 for 200 ml). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and apple, leading to honeyed flavours of apple, lemon and pineapple. The crisp acidity gives the wine a clean, fresh finish, with lively citrus notes that linger. 91.
Whistler Icewine Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($28.90 for 200 ml.) The winery claims this is the first Sauvignon Blanc Icewine in Canada . It begins with a dramatic aroma of ripe pineapple with a generous squeeze of lime. The flavours are simply stunning – layer upon layer of tropical fruit with a finish that calls for a stop watch. It is still on the palate minutes later. The balance is exceptional. This wine was a double gold winner this spring at the All-Canadian Wine Championships. 93.