We arrived back in Canada in the midst of the ice wine festival. We briefly debated heading out and joining in in the festivities but saner heads (read Paul's) prevailed. While we like ice wine we don't often drink it. I have 9 bottles of the stuff down in the cellar ( quite an investment when you consider a bottle retails for anywhere from $ 25 - $ 60!) and I have no control at wine festivals. None at all. I taste it. I like it. I buy it. Full stop!
Some of you out there might not know what ice wine is. Ice Wine is a rare gift from a magical (and bloody cold!!!!!) Canadian winter. Picked at the coldest moment of a winter's night, each frozen grape creates just one drop of Ice Wine. One smooth rich, luxurious drop.In Ontario, Ice Wine must be made from approved grape varieties; the most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The season starts with netting the grape vines in the autumn, to protect the grapes from being devoured by birds. Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached (sometime between December and February). During the time between the end of the growing season and harvest, the grapes dehydrate, concentrating the juices and creating the characteristic complexities of Ice Wine.
Grape growers and wineries carefully watch the weather, looking for an optimum stretch of temperatures between -10°C and -12°C. This range will produce very sweet juice in the range of 35°Bx to 39°Bx (degrees Brix, a measurement of sugar). Typically, a period of at least six hours is needed to harvest and press the grapes—usually during the night. Many wineries harvest by hand.
While still frozen, the harvested grapes are pressed, leaving most of the water behind as ice. Only a small amount of concentrated juice is extracted. Juice yields for Ice Wine grapes are much lower than for table wines—only 15% of the expected yield for grapes harvested for table wines. The juice is very sweet and can be difficult to ferment. High sugars can create a hostile environment for the yeast, and fermentation stops early, leaving relatively low alcohol and high sugar levels in the finished wine.
A few years ago Paul and I participated in an ice wine harvest with our friend Catherine. I blogged about it here, back in the early days of this blog. I can still remember the bone chilling cold, the bright moon at midnight, and the amazement of watching the thick juice trickle out as it was pressed from the frozen grapes.
All of the chatter about ice wine recently caused me to crave it. I decided to make a martini that I've made a few times yet never blogged about. I've have blogged about ice wine martinis before but that was a combination of vodka, Grand Marnier, and Ice Wine. There are times I want something that is more pure - this one fits the bill!
In addition to the local ice wine we decided that the martini had to be mixed with a local vodka! I used some of the whole wheat vodka from Ontario's own brilliant 66 Gilead Distillery. The result was brilliant!
Ice Wine Martini
1 oz Ice Wine
1 1/2 oz Premium Vodka
Frozen grape or twist of orange peel
Shake the Ice Wine and Vodka in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the frozen grape or twist.