An Iconic White Wine – for Dessert

Inniskillin Ice Wine with Trefoil Girl Scout Cookies

 ICE WINE: Naturally Frozen On the Vine

Ice wine grapes must be naturally frozen on the vine for a period of time, which usually happens in late December or January – several months after the table wine harvest date for these grapes. At harvest, the temperature may not be more than -8 degrees C (18 degrees F). The grapes must be hand-picked, and may be pressed at this temperature, too. Often the harvest happens at night in order to maintain the grapes’ temperature as they go from vine to press. Night, cold, and more cold: not an undertaking for the faint of heart.

Maintained at a low temperature, the pressed grape juice can take 3-6 months to ferment, leaving a significant amount residual sugar in the wine, and this must be balanced by the acidity and flavors in the finished wine. Ice wine is a low alcohol wine.

In recent decades Canada has taken the lead in the world of ice wine — though, of course, Germany originally made the delectable eiswein famous, a couple centuries ago.Ice wine can be made from different kinds of grapes. Traditionally (in Germany) it was white, but in Canada especially there are red ice wines, too. In Ontario’s Niagara region, the white hybrid vidal blanc is a favorite white grape to use for dessert wine. Ice wine is not a late harvest wine like the French Sauternes or certain German Auslese wines.


In recent years, the very existence of ice wine has become threatened due to climate extremes ranging from drought and fires to hail and floods. And winter temperature variations in wine regions can make it impossible for the grapes to freeze reliably every year.

During many recent vintages, German ice wine producers have been unable to make any ice wines. In Canada, wildfires, smoke taint, unseasonable heat and cold have also made it impossible to produce ice wines in different areas.

I wish I could offer an optimistic solution, but at this point all I can do is advise you to snap up those bottle ice wine wherever you see them.

Here’s a small compensation: ice wines do age well for years, even decades. Opened, a bottle will keep well for weeks in a refrigerator.

THE WINE:  2019 Inniskillin Gold Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, VQA Niagara Peninsula

In Eastern Canada, the iconic Inniskillin winery produces some pretty amazing wines. Decades ago, Inniskillin’ s visionary founders Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser recognized the winemaking potential of the climate along Lake Ontario’s southern shore. Inniskillin was Canada’s first estate winery, founded in 1975 at Niagara-on-the-Lake, and this is where Ziraldo and Kaiser crafted Canada’s first naturally-frozen ice wine in 1984.

Though I often find vidal ice wines too lush and overwhelming, I’m happy to report that this Inniskillin Gold is full, balanced, and not over-the-top. It’s like drinking a very intense, concentrated cider or perry. The aromas and texture of this light-feeling dessert wine are as captivating as its lovely tawny gold color in the glass, and full mouthfeel on the palate.

The wine’s aromas and flavors also offer a nice minerality while skating through tastes of grapefruit, pear and guava, with tinges of marmalade and clove – the whole beautifully offset by acidity. Fermentation and three months of ageing in barrel also contribute to the poise of this wine.

Many dessert wines are sold in half-bottles sizes (375 ml), as this one is: the right amount for the finale of one dinner party. The wine must be well chilled, then served in small pours of 1.5-2 ounces (4.5-6 cl). It’s enough to sip on its own, possibly adding nibbles of toasted nuts, cheeses, dried fruits, plain cookies – or even better, pistachio-studded Turkish Delight.

The hardest aspect of pairing dessert wines with dessert is making sure the wine is always sweeter than the food. In this case, the winery recommends fruit tartes, but I found that simple shortbread cookies were a wonderful complement – Girl Scout Trefoil cookies in particular because, as I write this, it’s Girl Scout Cookie season in the US.

WHO: Inniskillin

WHAT: 100% vidal blanc

WHERE: Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

HOW MUCH $80: (media sample)