Part of the historic town of Niagara on the Lake’s main street was shut to traffic and icewine and food were served up all afternoon to hundreds of visitors – including Ben Mulroney – both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday night, things heated up for the cocktail competition. With splashes of whisky, vodka and rum joining the icewine, the crowd was pretty voluble by the 10:30 judging time, with supporters of particular cocktails cheering or booing the results. Of the nine entries, one was disqualified on the grounds it wasn’t actually a cocktail. While it’s true that a square of jello with whipped cream isn’t the first thing you’d think of ordering at the bar, Riverview Cellars’ whisky-sour jello with icewine infused cream and lime zest was a light, fresh and delicious mouthful. It earned an honourable mention.
There’s a market for sweet cocktails – pina colada, strawberry daquiri, Sex on the Beach – and many of the icewine offerings would fit in with them. For me, the best were those with a sharp or savoury component to counterbalance the sugar.
Competitors ranged from a very peachy one complete with a chunk of peach, to one that looked like Listerine with toothpaste on top and tasted like cream soda, to a slightly fizzy float with cab franc icewine and double chocolate vodka. After an initial point-scoring round from the three judges (Zoltan Szabo, Margaret Swaine and me) the top four were selected for the public competition and we re-calibrated and re-judged. The winner was the I.Swine.Tini from Stone Road Grille, a tasty combination of whisky, cranberry and icewine, which then had a skewered rasher of bacon on top. I liked it because the whisky and cranberry succeeded in balancing the sweetness of icewine into something casually quaffable, and the smoky food pairing balanced out the residual sweetness.
The cocktail competition revealed a great (and fun) way to have icewine, which is very rich, concentrated and expensive. So if you’re not having a fancy dinner with a cheese plate for six friends, consider an icewine cocktail: one-ounce portions as part of a multi-ingredient cocktail make it much more affordable.
I.Swine.Tini – Stone Road Grille
The scotch whisky, cranberry and icewine was a smooth and rich combination, not too sweet. The smoky shock of the rasher of bacon added a whole new taste sensation.
- 2 parts bacon-infused scotch whisky
- 2 parts Pillitteri Gewürztraminer Icewine
- 1/2 part (splash) of cranberry cocktail
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a sprig of well cooked bacon. To make bacon-infused scotch, use cured and smoked pork hock. Place in a plastic tub with contents of a bottle of scotch and refrigerate for 48-72 hours.
Icewine Mojito – Peller Estates Winery Restaurant
Really fresh and minty, this combo of rum, mint syrup, and icewine with a bit of fizz initially seemed way too sweet, but squeezing the wedge of lime snapped it all into great balance. This was my personal favourite: very drinkable.
- 1 oz mint syrup
- 1 oz Vidal Icewine
- 1/2 oz white rum
- 5-8 mint leaves
- 1/2 lime
- 1/4 oz Peller Estates Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvée
Reserve a lime wedge for garnish. Muddle rum, mint and remaining lime juice. Mix mint syrup and icewine in a shaker with ice. Strain Icewine mixture into glass with mint and rum. Top with Ice Cuvée and garnish with lime wedge.
Winter Berry – Zee’s Grill
This one was more of a spicy mint – like Christmas candy – but there were also plummy and ripe raspberry flavours, a mulled wine note and a hint of cocoa. Nice balance, though definitely on the sweeter side.
- 1/2 ounce Chambard
- 1/2 ounce Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka
- 1/2 ounce Hernder Iced Raspberry
- 1/2 ounce Peller Estates Cabernet Franc Icewine
- Stick of cinnamon to garnish
Combine Chambard, Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka, Hernder Iced Raspberry and Peller Estates Cabernet Franc Icewine. Mix thoroughly. Add stick of cinnamon to garnish.
Icy Chocolate Float – Charles Inn
This one had a very chocolatey first impression from the double chocolate and was also very sweet. The main fruit flavour was raspberry, and there was a slight fizzy note.
- 1 part 360 Double Chocolate Vodka
- 1 part Reif Estate Cabernet Franc Icewine
- Cabernet Franc ice syrup cinnamon whipped cream
Combine 360 Double Chocolate Vodka and Reif Estate Cabernet Franc Icewine. To make Cabernet Franc ice syrup cinnamon whipped cream combine whipping cream and add sugar, Cabernet Franc ice syrup and cinnamon to taste. Whip until peaks form.
A question on many minds: How long can you leave icewine open?
With all the icewine talk in January, that’s a question I was asked a lot, and I just didn’t know. So I opened a bottle of Tawse Riesling Icewine. Two friends joined in and we appreciated the apricot and mango on the nose, then the fresh and fruity palate, including apricot and more tropical notes. Eight days later, re-sealed with the cork and after having left just a small amount in the bottom (oops!), the nose had taken a darker turn. There were some new raisin notes – common enough in icewine – but still the ripe mango. On the palate it was just as lovely and fresh and the acidity was great. The apricot was still there and carried through to the finish. So, slight changes, nothing serious.
I spoke to Bruce Nicholson, Senior Winemaker at Inniskillin, for his view. “Re-sealed in the fridge it will last a week,” he said, “even two weeks depending on the amount in the bottle.” He added that factors including the size of the bottle and the age of the wine count – “An older vintage will not last as long” – and he encouraged leaving a bottle at least half full, as the greater the ratio of oxygen to wine, the greater the oxidation/decline of wine. Nicholson advised against trying to save half a bottle of sparkling icewine even just overnight: “It’ll go flat.”
If you’re an abstemious singleton who stops after a glass or two, Nicholson strongly suggests getting an air pump and can of nitrogen, a spritz from which will slow the oxidation significantly compared to just re-sealing and chilling.
In saving my Tawse icewine, I broke several of Nicholson’s rules: didn’t pump out the air, left only a small amount of wine in the bottom, left the bottle in the room-temperature liquor cabinet. So I am confident that if you follow his suggestions, your leftover icewine will still be fine after two weeks, longer if you go the nitrogen route.
A version of this story also appeared on Winefox.ca