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Ice Capades

In his first year at the helm of Pillitteri Estate Winery, Marc Bradshaw had something special in mind for the small block of Semillon grapes behind the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery. In his words, he thought he'd "have a go at producing a Semillon Icewine."

    After all, the golden grape variety was already responsible for one of world's great dessert wines, Bordeaux's Sauternes. Why not see how Semillon fared as an Icewine grape?

   "I had no benchmark whatsoever, which was part of the fun. There was nothing to compare it to except the Semillons I had tasted back home," explained Bradshaw, 34, a native of Red Cliffe in Queensland who worked as an assistant winemaker at Pillitteri in 2004 and 2005.

   Australia has a long tradition of creating Semillon-based "sticky wines" as sweet wines are commonly called Down Under. De Bortoli's Noble One is one of the best examples, which occasionally turns up at Vintages outlets.

   Pillitteri's 2006 Semillon Icewine ($40/200 mL) presents the tropical fruit flavours you'll find in top examples of Riesling Icewines, but with an electric citrussy charge that's unlike any other sumptuous sweet wine produced with grapes that were naturally frozen on the vine.

   "The juice was beautiful - really intense. Really fat in the mouth, too," says Bradshaw, who harvested the grapes January 21, 2007 at an intensely sweet 41.2 º Brix (a measurement the sugar level of a grape). "There was this rich, tropical fruit flavour, a sense of stewed apricot. The lychee and lime zest notes came out during the fermentation."

   As good as the finished Icewine is, Bradshaw says he had something else in mind for the fruit from those 10 rows of Semillon vines for 2007. He harvested the fruit in the fall to see how it would fare as a dry table wine. "The plan that's in my head is a big white blend," he says, with a glint in his eye. "I'm thinking about blending it with Sauvignon Blanc, but I'm not sure... Now is when the fun begins."

   Bradshaw's arrival at Pillitteri in 2004 likely helped inspire the production of the winery's 2004 Shiraz Icewine. Since that initial bottling, Konzelmann Estate Winery and Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake have created delicious examples with the dark skinned grape that is alternatively referred to as Shiraz or Syrah. Stratus's version sees Syrah blended with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to create an unorthodox yet extremely enjoyable taste experience. It's clear there's much more to Ontario Icewine than the traditional Vidal, Riesling and Cabernet Franc examples.

Wines of the Week:
Pillitteri Estates Winery 2006 Semillon Icewine
Niagara Peninsula $40/200 mL
   The signature of any great sweet wine comes from its acidity. An Icewine that doesn't finish with a clean sweep of acidity isn't a good Icewine. It is fat and flabby - better used as pancake syrup. This electric version manages to convey both the rush of honeyed tropical fruit flavour and the zesty charge of acidity that keeps things fresh and interesting. Ontario's first Semillon Icewine is more than just a novelty. It's an exciting new style that's well worth exploring. Available exclusively from the winery.

Stratus Wines 2006 Icewine Red
Niagara Peninsula $39/200 mL (056689)
   Following Stratus's assemblage philosophy, this red icewine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The resulting sweet wine is awash in red berry and sour cherry fruit that makes for an interesting tart vs. sweet flavour contrast. Watch for this wine to be released at Vintages outlets Feb. 2.

Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2006 Cabernet Icewine
Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula $90/375 mL
    The first (and reportedly only) Cabernet Icewine to be made at Thirty Bench is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grown at the Beamsville estate. It is remarkable for the smoky, curranty character that actually smells and tastes like Cabernet, not some pink candied confection. Thirty Bench will continue making Icewine from the Riesling vines located behind the winery. Available exclusively from the winery.

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