Nova Scotia Ice Wine Festival in Wolfville

I’ve always despised ice wine. While my experience with the syrupy libation has been limited to a few attempts at being fancy while I lived in Toronto, every glass ended in a disappointed, sugary depression. I didn’t like the overt sweet nature of Ontario ice wine, so I gave up on the whole idea of ‘dessert wine’ (except for a pricey Sauternes that turns my head every now and then, with foie gras, but that’s another story). And then, last weekend I tried Nova Scotian ice wine for the first time.

Game changer.

Nova Scotia Ice Wine

I used to think of ice wine as an annoying cousin who visits from the big city and complains a lot. Many people like the idea of ice wine, pouring it into tiny glasses to sip smugly as dessert, but I think most simply tolerate it. I was never impressed with the annoying, braggy cousin, nor a glass of Inniskillin (which lays claim —arguably— to be the creator of Canadian ice wine).

Granted, the making of ice wine is brag worthy. While regular wine grapes are harvested between September and October, ice wine’s grapes stay on the vine until frozen —usually until December, sometimes as late as February— and require three consecutive nights of at least -8C. The grapes are harvested in the middle of the night and pressed outdoors to extract the waterless sugary liquid. Pretty cool stuff.

It wasn’t until last weekend when I went to the Nova Scotia Ice Wine Festival at Domaine de Grand Pré winery that I finally found an appreciation for wine’s whiny cousin: ice wine.

The festival, which ran from January 31 until February 8, hosted a myriad of events including tastings, dinners, and guided snowshoe adventures through the vineyard. Adam and I headed to the valley last Sunday morning for the tasting event.

Arriving at Grand Pré, we couldn’t resist having a peek at the frozen vines. It was -15 and windy, but I still managed to snap a couple of pictures.

Yes, it was as cold as it looks.

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Inside, eight local wineries had wine and food for us to sample. I headed straight for the bubbly, still a little hesitant to dive into the ice wine.

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Oysters and Sparkling

L’Acadie Vineyards had two traditional method sparklings to choose from; I went with the 2011 Vintage Cuvee. I’ve never met a bubbly I didn’t like. It easy to drink and went well with the Sober Island oysters and the lobster the vineyard was paired up with.

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We were able to taste 4 different ice wines from local vineyards. The first was from Luckett Vineyard.

A whimsically excited Sophia Luckett poured a glass for both Adam and I claiming tasting it would turn us into unicorns. Though I didn’t sprout a horn in the middle of my forehead, I was surprised at how much I liked it. The wine wasn’t as sweet as I expected it to be, it was actually quite pleasant, especially with the spicy moroccan chicken that was paired with the Isolde vidal ice wine.

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Ice wine is nice

Apparently, in Nova Scotia it’s all about embracing acidity in ice wine as well as the sweet. Most of the wines that we tried that day were nowhere near as sweet as the Ontario wines I’ve had. Because the earth is more acidic here, so are the grapes.

Grand Prés 2013 Riesling Ice Wine was also a little less sweet. This is the first release of the riesling ice wine for the winery; they also have a vidal variety which is the most popular grape for ice wine.

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Served with smoked salmon on a baby biscuit by Le Caveau’s chef Jason Lynch, it was hard not to like it.

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Avondale Sky Winery’s ice wine was the sweetest one for me. Their Pinnacle Hill 2013 was definitely similar to the ice wines I associate with dessert wine, but vineyard owner Lorraine Vassalo encouraged the idea of serving their ice wine at the beginning of a meal with something spicy like edamame.

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They paired their ice wine with Flying Apron’s duck rillette. It had the perfect amount of savoury to balance the sweet ice wine.

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Blomidon Estate Winery’s ice wine was also on the sweeter side, but it was probably my second favourite of the day. Their 2010 Vidal Icewine was a little fruitier and balanced well with the pork rillette and apricot compote.

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In the end, I found myself going back for seconds of Luckett’s Isolde. The acidic nature of the terroir here in Nova Scotia has helped me to find affection for the whiny cousin, and it probably won’t be long before I buy NS ice wine for my wine rack. Almost all of the winemakers at the event warned me that prices for NS ice wine will go up as they rise in popularity, so apparently the time to buy is now. It also lasts much longer (10 years) than Ontario ice wine, which only lasts around three to four years.

Cheers to the out-of-town cousin!



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