The Iceman Cometh

Peter Morrell meets legendary Canadian winemaker Donald Ziraldo who is back with a new Ice Wine from the Niagara Peninsula and a Port from the Douro

Donald Ziraldo

Although local varieties of grape have been grown on the Niagara peninsula for 200 years the story of modern day winemaking starts in 1974. Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, both with a European heritage, wanted to grow grapes that produced wines akin to Italy, Germany and Austria. They persuaded the authorities to give them a licence to create the first post-prohibition winery in Ontario. The Inniskillin vineyard was born together with an industry which now predominates on the peninsula.

In the early 1980s they began to experiment with the production of ice wine. This is made by allowing the grapes to stay on the vine until early winter when they freeze, this concentrates their very essence into a tiny amount of juice. Harvesting is done at night and the grapes are pressed in unheated barns. The end result is an intensely flavoured wine that elegantly pairs with both puddings and cheese. Early production used the hybrid Vidal grape but soon they were also using the Riesling and Cabernet Franc grapes.

In 2006 Constellation Brands bought Inniskillin and Donald Ziraldo left the company. He is restlessly energetic and is now back growing grapes on the Niagara Peninsula and producing ice wine again, this time under the brand name, Ziraldo.

I met Donald in London recently to sample his wines and chat about their introduction to market. I tasted the Riesling, which is light and delicate and the more robust Vidal which would hold its ground against a good Stilton for example. Both of these wines have unique characters with very concentrated flavours on both the nose and the palate

The good news is that both varieties are available in the UK online from The Perfect Cellar (www.theperfectcellar.com) as well as from upmarket wine merchants. The wine is also the perfect base for a cocktail and you will increasingly see it in bars and restaurants.

Never one to duck a challenge Donald was recently invited to run a Port vineyard in Portugal’s Douro Valley by a Canadian Mining company, who were more interested in the minerals underneath it. The Port from the historic Senhora Do Convento vineyard is also being introduced to the UK again through The Perfect Cellar. I sampled the 2009 vintage which in my opinion is offering more that some of the well known port brands on the market.

It was a fascinating meeting both from the tasting perspective and to get to know the man responsible for putting the Canadians very firmly in the premier league of world wine making.

Also look out for the book, Extreme Winemaking, written by Donald and Karl Kaiser, it is full of facts about Ice Wine and has a collection of delicious recipes

For more information visit
www.ziraldo.ca and www.senhoradoconvento.com

To read Peter Morrell’s article on the Niagara Peninsula click here…

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