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Vail Masterful Picks: Canada excels at icewines

Sean Razee
Masterful Picks
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Perhaps it is the excitement of the Winter Olympics, but Canada has been on my mind lately. So it seems fitting that I recently had the opportunity to taste through a range of six Canadian icewines – made from grapes such as Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc – deftly matched with six savory courses paired by Spago Executive Chef Mark Ferguson. And yes, I do love my job.

Icewine is a specific category of sweet wines composed of grapes are left on the vine through early winter. If they are in good condition – without cracked skins or rot – the grapes are harvested and gently pressed while still frozen, producing a sweet, syrupy, nectar that can be transformed into an incredibly complex dessert wine.

Because about 80 percent of the water from the frozen grapes is locked up as ice crystals, the yields from this process are rather minuscule, which contributes to this variety’s higher price.



Canada has a long grape-growing history. After landing on the shores of modern-day Newfoundland around the year 1000, Leif Ericsson and his fellow Norsemen christened the region Vinland, presumably after the grapes growing in the newly discovered territory.

Canada’s Niagara Peninsula – where several of the best icewines are produced – is at about 43 degrees latitude, roughly the same as Nice, France. But without the perennial warmth of the Mediterranean Sea, the Niagara region experiences long, cold winters and hot summers. The saving grace for the region’s icewine producers is Lake Ontario, which has a moderating influence on the local climate.



Although Canada produces some notable dry red and white wines, generally only the country’s icewines compete on an international level. The Canadian sweet wines’ consistent quality from vintage to vintage is probably only matched only by those produced by vineyards around Austria’s Lake Neusiedl.

Depending on the grape varieties used, icewines can exhibit a wide range of flavors. The best are often made from Riesling or the hybrid grape Vidal, which produce wines with tropical fruit flavors of lychee and mango and brilliant, balancing acidity.



Sean Razee is the beverage director and sommelier for Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain. He currently holds the master sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Razee is one of 96 master sommeliers in the United States and the only person in the Vail Valley that holds the distinguished certification.


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