Friday, January 08, 2010

Canadian Ice Wine Tasting

Picture this - A cold winter evening…a nearly deserted road leading to an equally deserted driveway…the rustle of leaves as the cold wind blows…distant chatter of voices…a hurried pair of footsteps… Sounds like a scene straight out of the new “Sherlock Holmes” movie? Well not quite.

Apologies if I made this sound like a movie review…and anyways what is a movie review doing on this entirely Indian beverage website? The occasion of the eerie lines above was actually a private tasting of some of the finest Canadian ice wines from Ontario at the Canadian High Commission held recently. When we landed up at the Club Canada there were already a few gold diggers (the Canadians love to call their ice wines, “liquid gold” and hence the name!) clutching firmly onto their glasses of Rieslings and merlots. We were welcomed by Sudha Kshatriya, the Counsellor for Agriculture and Agri Food & Trade Commissioner at the High Commission and introduced to the agenda for the evening. I quickly grabbed a glass of the white that was being served around. A close inspection of the label read “Chateau des Charmes” Riesling. Well for one it was a young wine but had this delightful off dry appeal on the palate with a fair amount of fruit on the nose. I am not much of a white wine drinker but I couldn’t give this one up! I have to admit here that I have a soft corner for Rieslings and this one had me glued to it and it paired perfectly to the Thai Chicken Satay that was being served as pass around snacks the sweet fruit tackling the spiciness of the dish.

Grapes for Ice wines being grown at the Inniskilin Vineyards in Ontario.

I was quite in the mood for the red being served, a merlot – described as pleasantly fruity by a certain someone who looked quite content with his glass in hand – when we were ushered into the tasting room and the agenda for the evening – tasting! The room was quite warm and welcoming from the chill outside and was arranged with neatly laid tables with rows of wine glasses and an assortment of nibbles laid by the side. And placed along all the tables were small stands holding the Indian Tricolour and the Canadian Maple Leaf – two giants – geographically and economically but quite nascent when it comes to their wines!

Taking us through the guided tasting of the wines for the evening was Ramesh Srinivasan, Professor of Hotel & Restaurant Management at Humber College, Canada and member of the Society of Wine Educators.
Ramesh Srinivasan

Ramesh also is a member of the elite 11 member panel of directors of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. His credentials could actually take up this whole paragraph but that wouldn’t be necessary here, would it? Satisfied that we were at the hands of an expert, Ramesh had a small movie on Canada’s famed Ice wines and the region that it comes from – Ontario. The first wine being tasted was  a late harvest Riesling. I think that started it all! Ramesh’s point of selecting this wine as the first wine for the evening was to demonstrate the fact that Late harvests are intrinsically different from Ice wines. A late harvest is usually plucked later than the usual harvest time – towards the end of October. Grapes for ice wines, on the other hand, are plucked when temperatures fall to -8˚C there by freezing the water content of the grape and concentrating the sugar and acid.

The second wine on the list, and the first of the Ice wines, was a Vidal.  A hybrid grape variety, Vidal produces high quality ice wines with high sugar levels and with tropical fruit aromas. This was paired with some hard Cheddar and was quite nice in fact. What followed next was my personal favourite for the evening – a Ziraldo Estate Riesling, 2007 (which in fact was one of the best vintages ever in Ontario!).

Legendary Canadian Winemaker Donald Ziraldo

The most striking thing about this one was the super balance of acidity versus the sweetness in the wine (the others were no less though, but this one was brilliant!). I guess this one hit the right note with everyone in the room, the next thing you knew all the extra glasses with this particular wine vanished of the covers of unoccupied seats! Am sure Ramesh must have had a very contended smile over this animated scene!

The fourth and the fifth wines were reds. The first was a “Stratus” – blend of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and the Syrah and the second one was called “Foreign Affair” which was a hundred percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Immediately following this was a 100% Cabernet Franc wine (I didnt quite get the name of this one, I apologise…must have been the wine!). Distinct as each one of them were, there was a certain fruity jammy aroma common to all, sweet yes, and I thought that the “Foreign Affair” was slightly spicy towards the finish. And oh yes, accompanying these lovely wines were servings of an equally super chocolate brownie. Pure delight!

The session was supposed not to have taken more than 45 odd minutes or so, but by now we were well over an hour into the tasting…but what the hell, no one was complaining! Ramesh was slightly apologetic though, but am sure none of the people in the room had any reason to complain – an engaging evening with some delightful wines paired with the right foods and a very well informed speaker – all for free, no complaints at all! I thought we were quite done with the tasting when Ramesh bought out what he had saved for the last – A Daniel Lenko Vidal, 2002. A luscious, floral and fruity wine, this wine delighted the senses with aromas of flowers and honey, zesty citrus and sweet orange marmalade. And paired with the Roquefort, Oh I could tell you, that was one happy lot in that room! Though I still felt that the cheese was a bit overpowering for this wine but then hey, its just a personal opinion! I savoured the rest of this minus the cheese! Surely, this was the best saved for the last!

There wasn’t much of the wines that was left back after the tasting and Ramesh and Sudha very courteously invited the group to pour out a portion for each one of themselves. Sheesh! I have never been lucky in availing of such impromptu invitations and before you knew it the tasting table disappeared behind the “gold diggers” (no pun intended!).

The one thing that crossed my mind as we walked out of the high commission’s grounds was, when is it that we would produce wines of consistent quality that would have such bespoke tastings abuzz with excitement – yes we do produce a few that captured a few rungs in the climb up the ladder to the higher echelons of the wine world – but I guess we would have to wait. And why blame our enterprising winemakers only? Its high time that we (read the average Indian consumer!) gave up that night cap of a scotch and reached out for a glass of wine – dessert, Canadian, Indian – whatever!

Rohan Jelkie