Between a Frozen Rock and a Hard Place
“And I sacrificed a goat to St Urbain, the Patron Saint of Wineries.”
Daniel Speck, owner of Henry of Pelham Winery
Keeping ones sense of humour in light of adversity is always sound judgment. Certainly Daniel’s levity underlines a serious concern for the Ontario wine industry — two years running which saw vines damaged by frosty temperatures dipping below the -20˚C mark. The disagreeable conditions led to reduced crops in table wines, but more importantly Icewine, for both 2003 and 2005.
2005 was the hardest hit, as all growers reported damage with known workhorse, Vidal, and to a much more serious extent, Riesling. Adding insult to injury with the latter was the warm autumn weather and high humidity levels, causing serious viticultural issues. Tom Pennachetti of Cave Springs Cellars described the scenario best.
“Unbelievably, Riesling, which is normally far too green in early September to be affected by warm weather and rainfall, had already advanced to an extent that when such conditions did arise, the grape experienced a major breakdown. The result was yet further reduction in yield due to rot, not to mention that we lost most of the late harvest and icewine crop, as we were forced to pick the remaining healthy Riesling grapes for table wines, before they too went bad.”
A small measure of relief did appear on November 24th, when the earliest Icewine harvest on record officially commenced. This helped to alleviate some of the anxiety that came with leaving grapes on the vine until December or January, thus reducing yield even further due to dehydration. On average, producers reported between a fifty to seventy-five per cent reduction in yield compared to 2004.
Thankfully, a silver lining was found to exist with the 2004 vintage, in that a bumper crop of Icewines boasting good, clean flavors was successfully produced. Many wineries took advantage of this and filled their cellars, confident as a result that they will be able to supply all markets. Others are not so optimistic. A few producers have announced plans to scale back their allocations to different markets. Some go so far as to suggest that they will attempt to purchase any unwanted Icewine juice from other wineries. Given the scarcity of grapes on the vine, I find the last assertion rather unlikely.
Having tasted over three dozen 2004s, I can honestly say that they are solid group of ready to drink icewines, displaying pleasant fruit and acid balance. Stylistically they are elegant, not powerhouses like the 1997s and 1999s, which according to my tastes remain two of the top vintages for Ontario Icewines.
All wines were tasted blind. Prices are for 375 ml bottles, unless otherwise stated.
91 Cave Springs Riesling Icewine ($59.95)
The best icewine of the tasting. A beautiful nose of peach, toffee, citrus and smokey minerals. In the mouth, there is a nice mid palate of fruit and excellent length. Lots of zingy acid provides lift. Drink over the next 3 years.
90 Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine ($54.95)
A complex nose of peach juice, white flowers, minerals and grapefruit. Elegant with fine length and a fresh finish. Now to 2007.
88 Jackson Triggs Proprietors Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine ($62.95)
Intense peach jam, caramel and honey. Very good length with lots of peach on the finish.
87 Coyote’s Run Riesling Icewine ($45)
Gains points for a multi dimensional nose of marmalade, apricot jam, buckwheat honey, flowers and vanilla. Very good length with a nutty, lime finish.
87 Inniskillin Riesling Icewine ($69.95)
Pale straw colour and a delicate nose of fresh apricots, red apple, pear and lime. Spicy notes and apple juice flavours carry the length.
86 Fielding Estate Riesling Icewine ($36/200 ml)
Delicate with floral, peach, mineral and honey on the nose. Light to medium body and medium length.
89 Inniskillin Oak Aged Vidal Icewine ($110)
The most famous name in Icewine has turned a succulent stickie. Displays a personality of peaches, apricots, tangerine and spice. Sweet, but not overbearing thanks to the fine backbone of acid. Drink now.
89 Jackson Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Vidal Icewine ($45.95)
Wall to wall peach and honey. Medium bodied with great length.
88 Colio Estate CEV Vidal Icewine
One of the most unique noses I have ever come across in a Vidal Icewine. English toffee laced with roasted almonds and Grand Marnier liqueur. Try with an orange infused crème brulée.
87 Fielding Estate Vidal Icewine ($26)
Moderately aromatic with dried apricot, peach, pear, spice and honey. Balanced with very good length.
86 Willow Heights Vidal Icewine ($44.95)
A lighter style of Icewine with red apple, caramel and citrus flavours. Drink now.
89 Henry of Pelham Cabernet Franc Icewine ($39.95/200 ml)
Henry’s first attempt at Cab Franc Icewine has yielded great success. Deep rose colour with a bouquet of strawberry, raspberry, tobacco/smokey and dark chocolate. Excellent length with strawberry, watermelon and a certain milkiness on the taste buds.
88 Jackson Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine ($74.95)
JT always seems to capture more of the red fruit character in their Cab Fran Icewines rather than the herbaceous ones inherent in many others. Strawberry, cherries and raspberries are the main focus with an unmistakable undercurrent of violets.
88 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine ($110)
A bouquet of cherries, raspberry, menthol and herbs. Lengthy finish which resounds with flavours of red berry fruits.
87 Pillitteri Estate Shiraz Icewine ($60/200 ml)
Ontario’s first ever Shiraz Icewine … yes, I did say Shiraz. This offering captures Shiraz’s peppery, minty/herbal quality as well as cassis, cherries and cocoa. Very good length with just a touch of bitterness.
87 Royal DeMaria Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Imagine if you will the aromas of a ripe year Pouilly Fume combined with the richness only Icewine can offer. Aromas of smokey minerals, ammonia, gooseberries and fruit salad. Mid-weight in the mouth with fruit cocktail and loads of zippy acidity on the tongue.
86 Royal DeMaria Pinot Noir Icewine 2004
Salmon colour with an earthy, strawberry profile. Light-bodied with medium length.