My Own Private Ice Wine Festival 🌬🍷😄


snapseed-4If I can’t make it to the Niagara Ice Wine Festival, I’ll make the Ice Wine Festival come to me!

And as luck would have it, I happened to have bottles from two great wine regions; Niagara and North East Ohio. While it won’t be on a grand scale, it’ll be sweet. Literally.

For the occasion, and completely ripping off their idea, I got creative and made my own marshmallows to toast. So there goes my new year’s resolution to limit sugar, at least for today.

Today’s featured wines are a 2010 Colaneri Profundo Aumento Chenin Blanc from Niagara and 2010 Ferrante Cab Franc from Geneva, Ohio. The  2010 vintage led me to wonder if maybe they were past their prime. Like many wines, ice wine can be cellared for many years, and because of the high residual sugars and acidity it would store well. But you won’t really know until it’s opened: if it smells like vinegar or sherry, it’s spoiled.
Being the brave student that I am, I’ll push on and try them. All in the pursuit of knowledge.

According to the Canadian Vintners Association, Canada is the world’s largest producer of ice wine. In 2015, Icewine made up 25% of the total export value ($18,623,057) and 0.3% of export volume ~ 234,604 litres). Ontario is Canada’s largest exporter valued at $15.6 million.
With similar weather patterns and temperatures to Ontario, Ohio is gaining steady ground with ice wine production. Its upcoming Ice Wine Festival in March will prove to be a great celebration of their hard work.

Ice wine is a sweet dessert wine produced from grapes that are left out on the vine to freeze. Hand harvested in sub-zero temperatures (usually before sunrise when temperatures remain consistent and its coldest~ brrrrrrrrr!) the grapes are pressed outside to maintain the consistent temperature and high sugar content of the grapes. You can read more detail about it here.
The homemade mallows were ready, and I thought I’d add to the pairing some Ghirardelli snapseed-5chocolate, fruit, and a little Brie as a savory contrast. And as an added treat, our friend, Shelly brought a bottle she’d bought back on our trip to Niagara a couple of years ago, a 2010 Pilliteri Estates Cab Franc Icewine. More yum! It tasted

like the most decadent honey, with a kick. Curiously, neither HubbyDoug nor Shelly shared my enthusiasm for sampling outside. Wah. So the kitchen served as a warmer venue.

It was great to sample ice wines from both sides of the border. Each one had its own unique vibe that made them very special.

I know I’ll get to the Niagara Ice Wine Festival again, and I’m looking forward to the Ohio Ice Wine Festival in March.  Both are a great celebration of not only the wine itself but of the winemakers who struggle against all odds to create and perfect this wonderful wine.


©TheWineStudent, 2017

My homemade marshmallows!

My homemade marshmallows!


Four Blondes, Five Wineries




This past weekend, I was able to bring my friends Terri, Shelly, and Cindy up to Niagara to experience some Canadian hospitality. And to check out the Niagara Wine Festival. After a brief stop to see Niagara Falls, and enjoy a great first night dinner, we began our journey the next day with Niagara Vintage Wine Tours. Gus, our awesome guide, was so friendly and knowledgable, he did an amazing job of filling in the picture at each winery we visited. He also gave a wonderful, anecdotal history of the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Our tour (which included lunch at The Charles Inn) stopped at the following four wineries:

  • Konzelmann ~ Located on lakefront property, when they opened their doors, in 1984, they were the seventh official winery in Ontario.There are now over 140. They had a great presentation by J.R. who gave a crash course in wine tasting and the proper way to sip effectively. He also talked about how it’s best to allow the wine, especially Icewine, to move to the back of the tongue (with a tiny bit of hang time) to get the full flavor and texture. It was amazing how much more depth there was to the samples we tried.

Four Blondes Pick: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Pilliteri ~ One of the world’s largest producers of Ice Wine, Pilliteri is steeped in history and family tradition. The Carretto, featured prominently in the awards room and pictured on many of their labels, is a Sicilian cart that provided transport for families and their belongings or moving their goods to and from market. The barrel cellar/events room is one of the coolest I’ve seen. A stunning concrete table, about 500” long is surrounded by 23 stainless steel chairs on the walls above. the chairs are specially engraved to commemorate significant dates in the history of the winery. Style definitely meets substance as this is a fully functional cellar, maintaining a constant temperature of 12 degrees C with increased protection against light and no vibration to disturb the ageing process. Shelly and I thought it was so cool, we fell behind in the tour and almost got a tardy. But Gus took pity on us and helped us catch up to our group. We joined them just as Francine, our winery guide began our tasting. We sampled quite a few and with such a variety of Icewine, including a Sangiovese and Cab Sauv, it was difficult to choose just one.

Four Blondes Pick: 2010 Exclamation Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2012 Cab Franc Icewine.

  • Between The Lines ~ After lunch, the skies cleared and we headed to the big red barn that houses this smaller, young winery. BTL has a lot of heart and maintains a preference to keep things small but real. Their wine is only available at the winery or via delivery (only in Canada) or at select farmer’s markets in Niagara and surrounding Ontario regions. I found the wines we sampled a bit young tasting but I believe they have great promise. Cellaring for a couple of years could just bring out the depth and complexity that I tend to look for. I like what Greg and Yannick are doing here, and the commitment they have to stay smaller and focus on creating a great product rather than mass produce and lose what’s unique. They’re headed in the right direction.

Four Blondes Pick: 2012 Lemberger Reserve

  • Marynissen ~ Our last stop was the home of wines chosen by former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chretien to be served at official state dinners. It also boasts the oldest commercial planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in Canada. We tasted a few wines ranging from the Unoaked Chardonnay to their notable Gamay Noir. A very pretty boutique winery, it was a quaint stop to round out our tour.

Four Blondes Pick: 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, which Cindy thought was, “very nice for the region.”


Peller Estates ~ This winery was not on our tour but we stopped in to round out our day. Beautiful and stately, Peller was a winery the girls spied as we drove into the old town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and mentioned that they wanted to look inside. There was a big country hoe-down going on and while we thought about sticking around to try the mechanical bull, we had dinner reservations so…                                                                                                                                                                                                                Four Blondes Pick:  the Riesling Icewine, fresh and crisp, it was an different alternative to traditional the Vidal.


Four Blondes Big Pick: 2012 Wayne Gretzky Estate No 99 Vidal Icewine. The delicate floral vibe on the nose and liquid amber, honey and butterscotch taste was heavenly.The rich, velvet-y mouthfeel was also incredibly pleasing. If this was in the Stanley Cup playoffs of Ice Wine, this number 99 just won the shootout.

The Niagara Wine Festival continues today and wraps up September 27 and 28.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote, ‘you can’t go home again.’ Well, in fact, you can. And if you’re really lucky, you can bring some great friends with you.


©TheWineStudent, 2014

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Ice Whine

Icy Loveliness: Ferrante Cab Franc Ice Wine

Icy Loveliness: Ferrante Cab Franc Ice Wine

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love Ice Wine. And in Ohio, there is a burgeoning industry that I am very happy to enjoy and help promote. Last year, my friends and I ventured out to the far East of Cleveland to enjoy the Ice Wine Festival, if you click on the archives for March 2012, you’ll find pics. But I have a conundrum: to get to any of the events from where I live, you have to travel at least an hour, through a variety of possible weather conditions ranging from snow to snow | wind to snow and freezing snow | rain | slush | yuck mix. I think you see where I’m headed.

The way the North East Ohio (NEO) Ice Wine festival currently works, patrons travel from one winery to the next, sampling the latest offerings and pairing with specialty appetizers or desserts. It can be a lovely afternoon, if the weather gods are smiling. If they’re not, you can find yourself navigating some fairly tricky roads both on major freeways and the unplowed back roads to get to your destination.

I understand that having the Ice Wine festival at the individual estates is a great way to bring people out to the wineries during the off-season; and that’s good for business. I also understand that there are many who live on the East side and so the drive isn’t too difficult. But how about a little love for those of us on the West side or downtown?

An additional Ice Wine festival downtown, perhaps on E4th ~ where the area is closed to all but walking traffic, would bring visitors to the resident restaurants that also experience a bit of a slowdown in the winter months. It could be done as part of the annual East side festival ~ three weekends dedicated to Ice wine and the promotion of NEO wineries. The first weekend could be as it already is; with trips out to the participating wineries. The following weekend could have a more urban flavor, at E4th, and the third at Crocker Park,  providing greater access to downtown and West Side dwellers, respectively.

I know, it sounds a little like putting up a barn and having a floorshow. But I really like the NEO wine industry and the wines they are producing can be really terrific. In September, Crocker Park in Westlake sets up a premier wine event promoting the industry and recent vintages. Their attendance is usually quite high. Downtown wine events are also well-attended.

It’s just a thought but it might be a great way to bring in some other unique wineries from the surrounding regions as well as the East. And it might be a way to open up the NEO wine market to all of North East Ohio.


©TheWineStudent, 2013

Ice Wine in the Grand River Valley

The nasty weather held off here in Cleveland, and I was able to check out the WineGrower’s of the Grand River Valley 9th Annual Ice Wine Festival. It proved to be a good afternoon to sample some of their award winning offerings. My friends and I narrowed our trip to two participating wineries: Debonne and Ferrante. Click on any thumbnail to view the entire gallery.

At Debonne, we were treated to some ice carving demonstrations and a taste of their Vidal Blanc ice wine with home made cheese. The pairing was nice and brought out the ‘velvet-y’ qualities of both. My friend, Kell, was quick to point out this term, one he had picked up from our discussions about the wine aroma wheel. Learning can be fun! We moved inside to the tasting room and sampled an off-dry to sweet varietal wine selection. It ranged from a blend (Jazz White) to Razzberry Riesling. My pick from this grouping was the Jazz White; a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling. It was a clear, light straw color, very minimal on the nose, but was lightly nuanced on the palate; refreshing with a subtle honey finish. I thought it could be a great sipping wine on a hot summer day and would be particularly good with a mild, white fish. The Riesling Reserve lot 907 was also light and sweet but didn’t have the same complexity as the Jazz White. The Razzberry Riesling, to me, tasted a lot like a Jell-o shot; very sweet and fun.

Ferrante treated us to their Vidal Blanc as well as a delicious Cabernet Franc. I have a soft spot for Cab Franc because it’s fruit forward with a rich, warm vibe (yes, even for an ice wine). And it has a buttery finish that can cuddle you up like a favorite blanket. Ferrante’s 2010 Cab Franc was no exception; it had a rich cherry top note and, true to form, ended with that beautiful butter kiss. You might say it was almost … velvet-y.

The Grand River Valley Ice Wine Festival continues March 10 and again March 17.


Chill out! ~ Ice Wine vs Iced Wine

Frost Bitten ~ an Iced Riesling

Frost Bitten ~ an Iced Riesling

So you’re standing in the aisle of your favorite wine emporium and you’re looking at a few bottles of ice wine. You come across something called ‘Ice Riesling” and you wonder, “what’s the difference?”

If you read my last post, you know that Ice wine is picked and pressed outside in sub- zero conditions to ensure consistency in both cold temps and sugar content. It faithfully adheres to a traditional method of wine making.

Iced wine, by comparison, is made from harvested grapes that are mechanically frozen after they are picked. Essentially, a wine broker or negociant can, via phone call or e-mail, hook up with a vineyard already growing and harvesting grapes, have them mechanically freeze some of the harvest and produce a variation of ice wine that is then bottled and sold.With iced wines, there’s no getting up at 3am, and venturing into the vineyards in a snowmobile suit to hand pick grapes until sunrise.

Frost BittenIce Riesling  is one such iced wine made this way.  Is it false advertising? Not necessarily. Most broker-based wines are careful to label accordingly. However, the distinction on ‘Frost Bitten’  is in small print on the back of the bottle: “Wine made from post-harvest frozen Riesling grapes.” On the website it’s described as, “A classic German-styled Trocken-Beernauslese- like dessert wine.” But how many lay people really know what that means?

That said, a wine broker is doing a service to many grape farmers who, due to the economic downturn, might not be able to sell all of their grapes in a particular year. It also gives them a way to sell off some of their product at a lower price point, under another name, while keeping their higher priced, name product intact. It is a win-win proposition and not necessarily a bad practice, I just think it’s important for the consumer to be aware of exactly what they’re getting in their glass. And I think it’s important to give the true ice wine makers their due: they get up awfully early, out in the cold to produce something rare for you to enjoy. And while the price point might seem extravagant, you usually get what you pay for.

I remember, some time ago, controversy between producers of Canadian ice wine and California vintners who wanted to  call their sweet, post-harvest frozen grape offering ‘Ice wine’. The Canadians and Germans (who originally created eiswein) took them to court to identify and protect  what could be classified as true ice wine. They also wanted to ensure that consumers weren’t buying something they thought was pure ice wine but was actually a variation. From this came some strict guidelines that were set in place and outlined by Wines of Canada.

In the name of science, and to appease my curiosity, I bought a bottle of Frost Bitten Ice Riesling to try after my Sunday night dinner. What I found was a light, sweet wine, similar in consistency to a thin late harvest. It had a nice pineapple bouquet and an robust raisin essence but it didn’t have the full, velvet-y mouthfeel of ice wine.  Overall, it was a refreshing, little dessert wine. When I paired it with some Belgian dark chocolate, it became less sweet but was still quite pleasant on the palate. I liked it, but it just didn’t taste as decadent and rich as an ice wine, and maybe that’s the point.

For some, it’s a probably like tomato and tomahto. It makes very little difference, except when you look at the price point: $12 per bottle for the iced variation, compared to $29 for ice wine. And I guess it all depends on what you like and what you want to pay for a dessert wine.

But I still think it’s good to keep in mind that part of what you’re paying for in the higher priced, true ice wine is the considerable time, effort and care it takes to produce it.


The Ice Wine Cometh…

The Sweet Escape: Ice Wine

The Sweet Escape: Ice Wine

It’s sweet and rare, and if you knocked back a whole bottle by yourself, you might need a trip to your local ER to check your blood glucose levels. It’s ice wine and it’s mighty fine.  It’s taken me a little while to put these next couple of posts together. For one thing, there’s so much information about it, for another, I wanted to get it right.  Producers of true ice wine work very hard to accomplish what they do and in some chilly, low temps. Shrinkage is a given. So here we go, into the land of ice wine and snow …

Ice. Wine. Baby.

Ice wine is a rich, dessert wine made from the juice of partially frozen grapes. They must remain on the vine and harvested when temperatures dip to between -8 and -12 degrees Celsius over three consecutive days. The sugar content of the grapes at this time will be at its most concentrated. The water inside the juice is minimal resulting in extreme concentration of flavor, sweetness, aromatics and viscosity.

Iced Vineyard [image via David Boily|AFP|Getty Images]Canada (primarily the Niagara region) and Germany are the leading producers of ice wine (with an increasing number of good producers in Western New York and Ohio)  and yet it is still quite rare; yielding 5-10% of a normal harvest. The brisk temperatures that we complain about when we scrape off our cars are ideal for ice wine, but it’s a delicate balance. The colder the temperatures become, the more the grapes freeze and it can become more difficult to extract the juice. Most ice wine is harvested in late December to mid January when the lower temperatures stay constant. Before the harvest, ice wine grapes must be netted for protection from birds and animals. Picking is generally done by hand and much of the time at night, when the low temperatures stay most consistent.  The crush is also done outside to keep the must at a constant, cold temperature. If any thaw occurs, the water content inside the grapes will increase, potentially spoiling the sugar concentration. It’s these factors that make ice wine a premium wine product and legitimize the price of $30.00+/ 375ml. Think about it: you’ve got to give it up to those who go out in the middle of the night to pick and press grapes for you to enjoy.

The best grapes for Icewine are those with thicker, more durable skins that will hold together during the freeze ~ thaw cycle common in cold weather. Grapes with higher acid, extremely high sugar yield the best. As with any wine, differing varieties produce different characteristics: Riesling has a green apple and honey vibe; Cabernet Franc produces a rich, berry, buttery character and Vidal, a good, hearty hybrid used commonly because of it’s durability gives a traditional raisin-y essence. Troutman Vineyards in Wooster, Ohio make an ice wine using Chambourcin, a rare, red varietal.

Grapes are 80-90% frozen to give the required concentration of sugar, which is measured by degrees Brix, typically 35 degrees. Brix is measured using hydrometer or refractometer. Both provide vital information about the amount of sugar that been dissolved and that will help the winemaker determine how much yeast to add, since yeast converts sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast used in ice wine must be one that can handle high sugar and not go too high in alcohol.  The yeast must be gradually acclimatized to increase the sugar environment. Fermentation can take 3-6 months and the percentage points in alcohol must progress slowly as this can increase spoilage if progressed too quickly.

After 3-6months, the ice wine needs to be filtered again, and very slowly or you get a fizzy wine. It’s a sticky process. Bottling is also slow so the wine doesn’t end up like fermented Hawaiian Punch.


Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are best when to drink when young. Gewurztraminer and Ehrenfelzer: 3-5 years maximum. Vidal and Riesling tend to be the most hearty and are best to cellar the longest at between 5-7 years. They make the best bet for long term cellaring because they are able to retain their acidity.

Like revenge and ice cream, ice wine is best served cold:

Ice wine should be served chilled but not frozen; extreme variations in temperature can compromise the quality of wine, so just chill in the fridge. The ideal temperature is around 12 degrees. As with most chilled wine, allow it to stand at  room temp for about 15 minutes to open up the bouquet.

Raise your glass

The glassware you choose is also important. I’ve made the mistake of serving it in liqueur glasses. I was wrong. So very wrong.  The common viewpoint among experts is that ice wine, like any other fine wine, should be served in glassware with a larger bowl (about 9 oz). All the better to sniff and swirl with. When you think about it, it makes sense. By swirling, you can better open up the intensity, bouquet and flavors of the ice wine. You also want to use a glass that has a stem, and hold by the stem or base to not heat your ice wine; it’s very delicate! While you might want it to stay cold as you sip, don’t you dare put ice in your ice wine. Considering what you’re paying for this rich nectar, you don’t want to water it down with melting ice. An option to keep it cold would be  whiskey stones. You can put in them the freezer, and they’ll keep your wine chilled but  won’t dilute it.

The best pairing for ice wine are chocolates, fresh fruit, and delicate, lighter cheeses. Yum.

After it’s been opened, ice wine can be re-corked and stored in the fridge for 3-5 days. But why would there be any left?? If, by chance, you’re looking for another way to use what remains, why not make an ice wine martini?

Ice Wine Martini:

10 large seedless grapes (2 halved grapes for garnish)

2oz Ice wine      (red gives a nice blush vibe to the ‘tini)

2oz Vodka                  (I use the Goose, but any will do)

ice       (yes, here you’re watering it down, so shoot me)

In your blender, puree 10 grapes with ice wine and vodka. Pour through a small strainer into the ice filled shaker. Shake it like you mean it! Strain again into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the grapes that you’ve dipped in lemon juice and sugar. Enjoy!

My Ice wine Martini

My Ice wine Martini

Next post, I’ll talk about the difference between Ice Wine and Iced Wines. And, yes, there is a difference between the two.

In the meantime bundle up, butter cup. We’ve got a little more ice on the horizon.


A Hot Kiss on a Cold Winter’s Night

The Hot Kiss: Chard and Dark Chocolate with Chipotle Pepper

The Hot Kiss: Chard and Dark Chocolate with Chipotle Pepper

I’m spending tonight on my own. It’s cold and blustery here in the Cleve, so I’m settling in with the leftover Enon Chard that I had in my fridge. I had bought some dark chocolate for my research on IceWine, and wondered what it would be like paired with the Chard. I thought if the spicy rice from the other night lit off some fireworks, maybe lightning could strike twice with a sweeter offering.

After the Chard loosened it’s chill (using the 15 minute rule), I took a little bite of the pepper-laced chocolate. As the heat began to swirl, I took a sip of the Chard. Lightning did strike again. And again. The chard took just a slight edge off the heat of the pepper, then sparkled into it’s own flavor; combining sweet and hot. Very nice.

I think tonight I will take my time, pair slowly, and enjoy the watching the snow fall delicately from the night sky.