A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about Icewine. The deeper I waded into my research, the more I wanted to do a blind tasting between traditional Icewine and cryo-wine. These two wines represent two very different approaches to wine making, and I was beyond curious to compare them.
And there’s no cure for curiosity, so . . . it’s time for the Icewine Throwdown!
Here are the contenders:
Pacific Rim Vin de Glaciere 2010
Grapes frozen after harvest.
Grape: 100% Riesling, from the Wallula Vineyard in Yakima Valley, Washington
Retail Price (approx.): $17
Scores: Wine Spectator, 90 Cellar Tracker, 87
pH level: 3.31
Residual Sugar: 16.1%
Total Acidity: 1.01%
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2008
Grapes frozen prior to harvest.
Grape: 100% Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Retail Price (approx.): $70
Scores: Wine Spectator, 91 Cellar Tracker, 87
pH level: 3.4
Residual Sugar: 270g/L (23.7%)*
Total Acidity: 11.5g/L (1.01%)*
* I consulted with my Math Department (my husband), and he did the conversion for me, using some kind of black magic math formula that I have no hope of ever understanding.
I included the vital statistics for both wines to highlight this point: they’re pretty close. The obvious difference between the two wines is $53. Less obvious is the way they’re made. The Inniskillin Icewine is made from grapes frozen prior to harvest, while the Vin de Glacier is made with grapes frozen after harvest, a process called cryo-extraction, which artifiially freezes harvested grapes to replicate the natural freezing on the vine. Cryo wine is less risky and less labor intensive, so it’s less expensive than traditional Icewine.
I’m a big believer in the idea that wine tastes better when you share it with a friend, so I asked one of my wine-loving friends to come over and help me. To conduct the blind test, we used 4 identical Riedel glasses. Each glass was labeled on the underside with an “A” or a “B”. For absolutely no reason at all, the “A” wine was the Inniskillin, and the “B” wine was the Vin de Glaciere.
To make sure we were tasting absolutely blind, I enlisted the help of my 11-year old daughter and her friend. I poured the wines into the glasses (who trusts 11 year olds to pour $87 worth of wine?), and then our lovely assistants happily scrambled the glasses for us while we looked away.
In addition to the blind wine tasting, I also wanted to do a food pairing. While researching my Icewine post, one pairing kept popping up again and again: Icewine and Foie Gras. Color me curious. Again. So I found a recipe called Foie Gras with Roasted Apples in Ina Garten’s cookbook, “How Easy is That?”. I can’t find the recipe reposted anywhere on the Internet, so I can’t give you a link (and I’m not copying it — the last thing I want to do is make an enemy out of Ina Garten). If you’d like to try something very similar, here’s a link to Emeril Lagasse’s Seared Foie Gras with Sauteed Apples.
I admit to being a Foie Gras novice. I have never tried to cook Foie Gras before. I’ve never even bought Foie Gras before. My girlfriend and I took a field trip to Wegmans, and here’s what we got:
For those of you Foie Gras connoisseurs out there, you already know what I’m about to tell you. This is Foie Gras Torchon (which translates literally to “in a towel”). Torchon is more of a pâte, made from Foie Gras lobes molded and wrapped in a towel and then slow cooked. What the recipe called for (and what we should have used) is the Foie Gras lobes. In our defense, we didn’t see anything at Wegmans other than the Torchon, so we bought it. (And btw, slow cooked duck liver wrapped in a towel isn’t cheap . . . it’s $40)!
We came home, roasted apples & prunes, and seared Foie Gras Torchon. And that’s when we noticed . . . seared Foie Gras Torchon bears an unfortunate resemblance to Fancy Feast cat food.
And with that mental picture, we dug in! The dish itself had a nice flavor, and the roasted apples & prunes played nicely with the Foie Gras, but the texture of the Foie Gras was, um, unsettling (that’s a nice way of saying gross, right?). Foie Gras Torchon should have a warning on the label: Chewing Optional. But because we amuse easily . . . this will forever be known as the Fancy Feast Pairing!
But back to the task of the day . . . the wines solo, and the wines paired.
Inniskillin Solo: Oooh, pretty! A pronounced petrol note on the nose. I look for and forward to that signature note in a Riesling, and this did not disappoint. Thick, almost unctuous texture. My friend said the texture reminded her of canned peach syrup — a minus for her, a plus for me. Beautifully balanced, with laser focused acidity, especially on the back end. Apple and lime notes.
Pacific Rim Solo: Oooh, pretty! Noticeably lighter and less acidic than the Inniskillin. It seemed sweeter to me, even though the Inniskillin has more residual sugar. My girlfriend said the petrol note was more pronounced for her on this wine; it was less pronounced for me. Peach and stone flavors.
Inniskillin with Food: We both agreed — this wine is beautifully balanced, the backbone of acidity made it a home run with the Foie Gras! And the apples in the dish neutralized the tartness of the wine, without sacrificing balance. An overall great food partner.
Pacific Rim with Food: Agreement again — a bite of apple alone was a fabulous match (both in balance and texture) to the wine. I would love to try this wine with a fruit tart! But the Foie Gras seemed to leech the sugar in the wine, to the sacrifice of balance.
With a $53 price differential, I expected (and kind of wanted) there to be some kind of mind-altering difference between the two wines, but the differences were subtle. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed both wines. My girlfriend preferred the Vin de Glaciere solo, I preferred the Inniskillin. We both preferred the Inniskillin with food. Overall, I’m not convinced the Icewine is necessarily $53 better, just different.
At the end of the day, choosing a winner depends entirely on your palate . . . and your pocketbook! If you want an outstanding dessert wine that you won’t have to take out a second mortgage on your house to afford, get the Vin de Glaciere. If you want an outstanding dessert wine that allows you to savor the risk and reward of tradition, get the Inniskillin. Both wines will make you smile!