by Fred McMillin
for May 27, 1998

Thick Skin, Great Wine


1986—Vidal Blanc, a French-American hybrid variety, manages quite high sugar levels in cold climates. Acid levels are also agreeably high and the flavor sufficiently fruity to make one hope that the grape will prove increasingly popular.

...British expert Jancis Robinson

Ten years later:

1996—Vidal Blanc's slow, steady ripening and thick skin make it particularly suitable for ice wine, for which it is famous in Canada.

... Jancis Robinson

1997—The Inniskillin Winery near Niagara Falls in Canada pioneered North American ice wine, and its experience shows in the quality of its wines...Some Japanese racehorse owners made a 45-minute stop at the winery and spent $10,000 on Vidal ice wine.

...The Wine Spectator Magazine

The Rest of the Story

So Jancis' hope has been realized. The Vidal has found a home in snowy Ontario, which has become the world's leading producer of ice wine. Why does it pay to have a thick skin? Well, ice wine is made by allowing the grapes to partly freeze. The water in the grape juice forms solid ice crystals, while the flavor agents remain in the liquid. If the skins are too fragile, the grapes rupture during the process and the rich nectar is lost...a winelover's nightmare.

The Wine

1996 Ice Wine, Vidal Grape (harvested Jan. 1997)
Niagara Penninsula, Canada
Inniskillin Winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
President—Donald Ziraldo, (905) 468-2187, X-301
Rating—EXCELLENT (fabulously rich apricot flavors)
Service—Feature at the end of the meal with slices of slightly-sharp white cheese and semi-sweet crackers.
Price—$100 for 375 ml.


The chilling details of making ice wine:
1. Stop the birds with nets and leave the grapes hanging above the snow-covered ground until you have three nights of temperatures near 15 degrees F.
2. Harvest and crush the grapes at night, avoiding the warming sunlight. The yield of juice will be roughly 15% of harvest at normal temperatures.
3. Ferment for two to six months, rather than a typical 7 days. Sugar will drop from say 38% initially to typically 18% in the finished wine. Alcohol will be only 10-11%.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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