The wine buff: Chill out with icewine
If you have ever been to Toronto in Canada, chances are you visited the Niagara Falls. The city of Niagara Falls, with its garish casinos and slot machines, is tacky as hell, but the falls are spectacular, and a trip on the Hornblower boat, which brings you drenchingly close to the thunderous cascade of water, is an absolute must.
What you might not know is that this area of Canada is wine country, and it is possible to visit some of the vineyards in the region. It makes for a really great day out. I went to Inniskillin vineyard in the morning, did the tour, had lunch there, and then headed to the falls. The wine, which they make here is called ice wine. It originated in Germany, where it is called eiswein, and it's a pretty complicated process.
To put things in context, the Niagara Peninsula is on the same latitude as northern California to the west and Rome to the east, so it gets more sun in the summer than you might imagine. Add the moderating influence of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and the protection of the Niagara Escarpment, and you soon realise that you've got pretty good conditions for growing vines. The difference here is, rather than harvest the grapes when they are ripe, they are left to hang on the vines as the blasts of cold Arctic air start to whip around the vineyards.
The time for harvesting is quite specific and tightly regulated. It can only start after there have been three consecutive days with temperatures at or below -8°C; if it rises above that temperature, the harvest has to stop until it lowers again. At the correct temperature, the water in the grapes freezes, but the sugar does not. It is risky, because if the onset of winter is slow, the grapes may have rotted on the vine or fallen, leaving little to harvest. Sometimes the harvest can be as late as the New Year. And there are further challenges. The harvest is done at night and everything is hand harvested. So what you need are a lot of people, at short notice, who are willing to bear the intense cold in the dead of night.
Conditions at the winery where the grapes are processed are kept at the same temperature, so when the grapes arrive they are immediately crushed. What results is a small quantity of concentrated nectar, called "must", separated from the skins and ice crystals of water. To get enough juice for one 375ml bottle, you need the same amount of fruit you would use to make three-and-a-half 750ml bottles of table wine. This fresh, sweet must is then allowed to settle before fermentation. So, as you can imagine, this wine is not cheap. Beautiful to drink, the balance and tension between the freshness and beguiling sweetness is what makes it so special. An icewine from Inniskillin features on today's line-up (left) along with a delicious dessert wine.
It's time to welcome in the cooler months - and there's no better way than indulging in some wild game and wine. Wilde at the Westbury is running a wild game and wild geese tasting menu until November 30, with wine pairings guided by sommelier Philip Dunne, formerly of Ashford Castle. Roasted wood pigeon and venison loin feature with some exciting picks from the cellar. €75, wilde.ie, Tel: 01 646 3352.
Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling, 375ml
€12.95 reduced from €16.95, 9.5pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
With a beautifully perfumed nose, the grapes for this Australian dessert wine have been allowed to hang a little longer on the vine so that the flavours become more intense. Light, yet concentrated, this has fresh citrus flavours with rich dried peach and a kiss of wild honey.
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2015, 375ml
€79.99, 9.5pc, from Baggot Street Wines, The Corkscrew, Clontarf Wines, Mitchell & Son, Redmond's, all Dublin and wineonline.ie
Harvested under a full moon at -10°C, this has aromas of lime, stone fruit and white blossom with a crisp, honeyed palate of tropical fruit. Will age beautifully if you can leave it for a few years.