I have a wine maker friend from Spain with whom I have had a lot of fun, selling his wine all over the UK over the years. We have spoken at fancy dinners in plush surroundings and stood behind trestle tables in windswept markets . . . wherever we’ve ended up, it’s always been fun. I believe it was the first time that we met that we found ourselves standing in the same — very lengthy — queue to taste a sweet, sparkling wine from Canada.
This queue was long because it was no ordinary sweet, sparkling wine, but an ice wine no less. We both marvelled at the colour, the intensity of flavour and sheer thrill of having it come with sparkle too.
We loved it, bemoaned the shockingly small sample and talked about it for an unhealthy amount of time afterwards.
Taking a tardis-like leap on a few years and I found myself in Niagara, Ontario, visiting the Inniskillin Winery who were responsible for this marvel. I did the tour to learn how ice wine is made. The harvest only begins when temperatures drop below -8C for a sustained period of time. Ice wine pickers arrive, often in the dead of night, to harvest the frozen clusters. The precious grapes are immediately pressed in the extreme cold to extract the luscious nectar.
In this process, the water content in each grape remains frozen in crystals, leaving only a few coveted drops of concentrated, intense liquid. Slowly fermented over the coming months, the delicate nectar will eventually become ice wine. The learning done, I made an uncharacteristically speedy dash to the winery shop. I knew exactly what I was having and it was two bottles of the Sparkling Vidal Ice wine. The reason I was so keen to get my grubby little paws on a couple of bottles was that at the time of my visit the Canadians weren’t allowed to export the wine to Europe and so this was a rare opportunity to secure some stock.
I emailed my Spanish buddy and promised to bring a bottle with me, next time we met. Our next meeting transpired to be at a celebratory gathering in Barcelona. The bottle was carefully packed in amongst dresses, underwear and towels and safely transported. Then, disaster struck and I fell ill. So ill that at the end of dinner (not during, please note!) I was driven at quite some speed to a hospital and spent the night there; a night I spent mostly worrying about who had got a hold of my, by now, nicely-chilled sparkling treasure. I needn’t have worried. My friends had kept it safe and, as a thank you, I left it with them and told them to enjoy it in the days to come. Easily a year later my friend and I were in York, selling his wine. As is our want, we found a smashing little bistro on the outskirts of the city walls and set about eating some truly delicious mussels. And then my dear friend pulled out the bottle and asked the waiter if he’d mind popping it on ice.
They did so graciously and I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed that bottle (37.5cl) of wine. It was honeyed and fresh with rich apricot and white peach fruits. There was fabulously bright acidity and a length of flavour that went on forever. The whole experience was just magic.
Happily, the (incomprehensible) embargo on these wines has been lifted and you can now secure a bottle of Inniskillin Ice wine from Waitrose Wine (£43.69 for a 37.5cl bottle www.waitroswine.com). I know that in these recessionary times this seems like an insane amount of money but it is absolutely worth every penny — just once!