Let’s just get this out of the way.
I hate icewine.
There. I said it. On the record.
My fellow countrymen (fellow countrypeople? both-gendered inhabitants of the same nation?), especially those in the wine biz, might want to have me shot, or at the very least, severely injured, for making such a controversial statement. After all, our country is recognized world-wide for its icewine.
But although I’m a proud Canadian, and I’m equally proud that others in remote parts of the planet are smitten with a product we call our own, I’m just not enamoured.
And perhaps I overstated the case earlier. Perhaps "hate" is too strong a word. Well, upon reflection, it definitely is. But I really don’t like the stuff.
I appreciate how incredibly difficult and time-consuming and weather-dependent and labour-intensive icewine is to produce. I know that those involved in the industry are dedicated professionals who are justifiably proud of their accomplishment in making an exclusive beverage that’s heralded in far-flung parts of the globe.
However, the bottom line is this: Icewine is too sweet for me.
I’m sure some regular readers of this column, especially the icewine fans, might find that statement somewhat baffling, especially because I frequently sing the praises of Benedictine, my favourite liqueur, which is as sweet as sweet can be.
And I’m at a loss to explain why I like Benedictine (and most other liqueurs, to be perfectly frank, when they’re all crazily sweet) and not icewine.
But that’s just the way it is. It’s my palate and I’ll cry (foul) if I want to.
While I don’t mind late harvest wines, which are similar to icewines but not quite as syrupy, I’m not crazy about them either.
Which is what made an episode that took place a few weeks back all the more surprising.
Manitoba Liquor Control Commission product ambassador Kathy Boultbee and I conducted a wine-and-cheese-pairing session at the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts. We were joined by 18 wine aficionados and tasted 11 wines and five cheeses that evening. Responses were, understandably, varied between the participants, and between Boultbee and me as well.
For our last sampling, which was with blue cheese, I chose to include an old standby — port. In this case it was the Taylor Fladgate 10-Year-Old Tawny from Portugal, which sells at the Liquor Mart for $34.99 for a 750 ml bottle. Ever the adventurer, ever curious, and wanting to give those in attendance something different to try, Boultbee chose The Stump Jump Sticky Chardonnay from Australia, which costs $14.71 for a 375 ml bottle.
And while I wouldn’t say I was (stump) jumping up and down about it, I was impressed. It was just so… interesting! The sticky Chard was sweet, of course, but there was something special about it. With a faint hint of flowers and lemon, the wine was like butterscotch and marmalade and fresh plums all rolled into one. Yet it wasn’t cloying or overbearing — even with all that sweetness going on, it managed to pull off a zesty freshness. If you’re a fan of this sort of beverage, The Stump Jump Sticky Chard is definitely worth checking out, especially when its price is compared to those of the icewines and late harvest wines out there.
This particular round of wine and cheese wars was especially gratifying, because I really liked both of the options, by themselves and with the blue cheese. The Taylor Fladgate Tawny 10-year-old Port was also lovely — nutty, with berry notes and toffee, it was great on its own and especially with the blue cheese.
Those who prefer ruby port — and I know those folks are out there (a hearty hello to all the guys from my table at the Military Ball a few years back, who told me in no uncertain terms that tawny port is "a ladies’ port" and that real men drink ruby) — might want to give Dow’s Fine Ruby Port a go. Full-bodied and with plenty of raspberry and cherry flavours, this port has a long finish and is certainly easy on the pocketbook at $16.05 a bottle. (Incidentally, I prefer tawny, but I really like ruby Port, too. In fact, I couldn’t stand blue cheese until I tried it with Port about two decades ago. Ever since then, I’ve loved them both — Port and blue cheese.)
And for those who truly DO like icewine, check out the Magnotta Vidal Ice Wine from Niagara. The 2010 vintage boasts peach, apricot and tropical fruit flavor, complemented by hints of clove, spice, apple, and pear. At $39.66 for a 375 ml bottle, it’s sort of mid-range pricewise. And if you want to try before you buy (sort of), there’s a 50 ml bottle of the Magnotta Vidal Icecube available for $7.52. Note, though, that the Icecube is the 2008 vintage, while the bigger bottle is 2010.
While we’re on the subject of sweet wines, why not "Have Some Madeira, M’Dear!" The Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Madeira features a nutty raisin flavor — it’s creamy and has notes of spice and vanilla. Those who like dessert wines, or "stickies" (all of the above would pretty much fit into that category), would find that Madeira is likely to pair well with cakes and certain pies pecan springs to mind — or something with caramel, or crème bruléé.
So while I’m a fan of Port as well as Madeira, especially with blue cheese (or better yet, Stilton), if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, especially at such a comparatively reasonable price, it’s worth giving The Stump Jump Sticky Chard a try. It’s a lovely alternative to an old standby, and something fresh and unusual to add to your roster of dessert or after-dinner wines.