The romance of late harvest wine production

| September 2, 2010 | 0 Comments
Southbrook Vineyards’ 2004 Barrel Fermented Vidal Icewine is densely layered with flavours of apricot, papaya, orange and baking spices.

Southbrook Vineyards’ 2004 Barrel Fermented Vidal Icewine is densely layered with flavours of apricot, papaya, orange and baking spices.

Autumn is an exciting time in a vineyard. After a long year of work, patience and more than a little concern and anxiety, everything comes to fruition. In the Northern Hemisphere, the time for harvest can begin in September and, depending on the grape varietal, vineyard location, the year-to-date climatic conditions and the desired final style of wine, can carry on until February. Thinner skin grape varieties and grapes destined for drier styles of wine will usually be harvested earlier, while thicker skin grapes are collected later. If the intention is to make a rich and concentrated still wine with slight to significant sweetness, the grapes are usually harvested even later. This beautiful and expressive style of wine is labour intensive, difficult to produce and delicious, especially at this time of year.
Though late harvest wines can be made in many wine-producing countries, Ontario’s Niagara region consistently produces some of the world’s best. VQA Ontario designates late harvest wines from “Late Harvest” through “Select Late Harvest” to “Special Select Late Harvest” depending on the sugar content of the grapes used. Each change in level is a step up in richness, power, and, typically, sweetness until the most concentrated level is reached. That one is known as “Icewine”. The first Icewine is thought to have been made in 18th Century Germany. Legend has it that one year, freezing cold weather arrived before the grapes could be picked. The winemaker carried on anyway and produced a wine of great power, Eiswein. Though Germany and Austria continue to produce Icewine to this day, Ontario is now the world’s leading producer and has earned much global acclaim. Late harvest wines are a universally risky venture with animals, diseases and weather all posing as potential threats. Combine this with the fact that the entire process is long, arduous and uncomfortably cold with hand-harvesting in sub-zero temperatures, and you can see why the cost of these wines can be high.
An excellent example of a select late harvest wine from Niagara is Cave Spring’s 2007 “Indian Summer” Riesling. This wine is produced from grapes grown in selected vineyards of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, which lies along the south shore of Lake Ontario. The grapes were left on the vine to partially raisin during late autumn, with a further concentration of sugars and acids occurring when the grapes became partially frozen. Selective hand-harvesting occurred between the middle of December and early January at temperatures of -7˚C. The wine has aromas of pear, apricot and ginger, followed by a rich palate with hints of baking spice and a strong seam of acidity. This wine is an excellent accompaniment for foie gras whether seared or done as a torchon, soft pungent cheeses or desserts involving tree fruits, nuts and citrus. The wine is available in 375ml bottles either through the LCBO or the winery, and, at $24.95, serves as a reasonably priced introduction to the late harvest style of wine.
An interesting alternative would be Cattail Creek’s 2008 Select Late Harvest Meritage. This red late harvest wine is made of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes from Niagara’s Four Mile Creek sub-appellation. Harvest occurred in mid-January at temperatures of -5ºC. Each grape varietal was vinified separately and blended together just before bottling. The wine exhibits enticing aromas of candied sour cherries and raspberries with a hint of spice and mint. Though very rich and robust, the wine is still elegant. Enjoy it with duck terrine or desserts with red and dark fruit, rhubarb pie and chocolate. A 375ml bottle is $30 and only available directly from the winery.
If you want an Icewine, try Southbrook’s fantastic 2004 Barrel Fermented Vidal Icewine. It’s densely layered with flavours of apricots, papaya, orange and baking spices. The texture is smooth and balanced with acidity while the finish is tremendously long. Enjoy with powerful, blue-veined cheese and desserts with peaches and apricots. Coming in a 375ml bottle for $49.95, this excellent wine is available only from the winery.
As the days grow shorter and the air cools, you can experience the excitement and romance of late harvest wine production. Every taste will echo the labours and success of the grape growers and winemakers.

Pieter Van den Weghe is the sommelier at Beckta dining & wine.

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Category: Delights

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Pieter Van den Weghe is general manager and wine director at Beckta dining & wine.

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