Grapes picked in icy conditions yield a sublime nectar prized the world over

Wednesday, December 31st, 2003

Eric Akis

Warm and rich, Icewine Sabayon is the perfect way to end dinner. CREDIT: Bruce Stotesbury, CanWest News Service; Victoria Times-Colonist

Buckets of Champagne will spill into glasses and recipes tonight in celebration of the New Year to come. When recently sipping a glass of Canadian icewine, I wondered if this sublime nectar could ever fill this role.

For some years, icewine has been offered to close a meal in the grandest style. It is often paired with the finest desserts or incorporated into them.

But what about serving icewine before the meal, during the meal, or even in the meal?

A colleague told me she loves the flavour of icewine, but after a rich meal, usually with a glass or two of fabulous dinner wine, her palate is often too tired to appreciate the splendid, almost overpowering taste of icewine.

When considering the possibilities, I looked to another French wine with some similar qualities — Sauternes. For gourmands, this luscious, sweet, golden wine is best enjoyed early on with a food of equal flavour intensity: foie gras.

In the handy guide for wine novices, Clueless about Wine by Richard Kitowski and Jocelyn Klemm (Key Porter), the authors note the rich syrupy texture of Sauternes complements the rich, silken fatness of the goose liver; the sweetness of the wine contrasts with the liver’s savoury flavour.

With Quebec being home to some of the best of foie gras around, it seemed only natural to me that Canadian icewine would be the perfect accompaniment. However, I don’t recall ever seeing it served in a high-end restaurant.

“It should be the classic Canadian interpretation, but few chefs prepare it,” says Vancouver Sun wine columnist Anthony Gismondi.

I decided to give it go. To simplify things, instead of sautéing slices of foie gras, I bought some ready to eat goose liver paté, placing thin slices on lightly toasted rounds of baguette. I took one bite of this elegant canapé, and then a sip of icewine. Excuse my language, but “culinary orgasm” is the only way I can describe the heavenly combination of flavours.

The icewine also worked well with equally rich, but less costly duck liver paté, and my own homemade, buttery, chicken liver paté.

Wilf Krutzmann, owner of The Wine Barrel, a VQA wine store in Victoria, which offers an amazing array of icewines, says camembert also pairs beautifully with the wine.

“The rich and creamy texture of the cheese goes beautifully with the sweet and seductive flavours of the wine. To me, it’s like Stilton and Port — they’re a perfect match,” says Krutzmann.

I took up his suggestion and sipped some icewine while nibbling some Comox camembert, an award-winning version of the cheese made by Natural Pastures Cheese Company in Courtenay. Wow! The two married perfectly, and what made the experience more rewarding was that both the wine and the cheese were produced in B.C.

After establishing that icewine can be successfully paired with savoury foods, I wondered what else I might do with it. Pour it into a cocktail? Perhaps add a dash to a savoury dish? But at around $50 for a 375 mL bottle, why would I do that? For the same reason we add other pricey liquids such as cognac, Grand Marnier, truffle oil or pure vanilla — it’s for the intense, unique and splendiferous tastes even just a drop can provide.

This proved very true with a drink my wife and I enjoyed at the Bengal Lounge in The Empress. It was called an Icetini; a well-chilled combination of Riesling icewine, calvados and white grape juice. The divine flavours of the icewine made this cocktail linger lusciously on the palate long after the final sip was taken.

Several savoury dishes call for a splash of something sweet. Usually, when I prepare cedar plank salmon, I flavour the fish with a little maple syrup. Why not try the more complex taste of icewine? When blended with sea salt, the tart flavour of lemon, the licorice taste of tarragon and spiciness of black pepper, it proved to be one of the most delicious decisions I’ve ever made.

I’ve included the recipe for the fish, and for a few other dishes designed for celebrations.

In the New Year, I plan to explore more of the fine foods and wines of Canada. Discovering new ways to pair and use icewine has deliciously provided the motivation to taste and celebrate what this country has to offer.


The rich and luxurious taste of the foie gras (goose liver) matches beautifully with the sweet and seductive taste of icewine.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Makes: 8 canapés, 4 servings

8 1/4-inch slices goose liver paté (about 120 grams or 4 oz)

8 thin rounds baguette, lightly toasted

8 red grape slices, each cut into a diamond shape

8 green grape slices, each cut into a diamond shape

Set a slice of foie gras pate on each toast round. Decorate centre with a diamond shaped red and green grape slice. Serve immediately.

Note: To toast baguette rounds. Bake on a non-stick baking sheet in 350 F oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using.


My wife and I enjoyed this divine cocktail at the Bengal Lounge. Luckily the Hotel was willing to share the recipe. It serves one.

In martini shaker, pour over ice:

1 1/2 oz Riesling icewine

1/2 oz Calvados

2 oz white grape juice

Shake vigorously and strain into martini glass. Garnish with frozen grape.


Cedar plank salmon is usually done of the barbecue. To simplify the process, and to keep you out of the wind and rain, this version is done in the oven.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Makes: 4 portions

4 5-6-oz salmon fillets

1 1/2 oz Pinot Blanc icewine

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp dried tarragon

2 tsp coarse sea salt

2 tsp coarsely cracked black pepper

Submerge an untreated cedar plank in cold water for at least an hour. Place the salmon in a dish just large enough to hold it in a single layer. Combine the icewine, lemon juice and tarragon in a bowl. Spoon the mixture over the salmon. Turn the salmon to coat on all sides. Season the salmon with salt and pepper on both sides. Marinate in the refrigerator 20 minutes. Turn the salmon over and marinate 20 minutes more. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Remove the plank from water and, with a paper towel, pat the smooth side dry. Remove the salmon from the marinade and set on the plank. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until just cooked through.

Note: Untreated cedar planks are sold at most supermarkets.


This rich, warm dessert will bring a light and dreamy end to dinner.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/3 cup icewine

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp grated orange zest

– wafer cookies or lady fingers, and fresh fruit slices for dipping

Place the egg yolks, icewine, sugar and orange zest in a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Beat with a thin wire whisk or electric mixer until very light and foamy. Place the bowl over, not in, simmering water. Continue beating until the mixture greatly increases in volume, becomes almost as thick as whipped cream, and begins to feel warm. It should not feel hot. You may need to remove it from the heat occasionally to reach the correct thickness and temperature. Do not overcook it or you will curdle the eggs. Divide and spoon the sabayon into decorative glasses and set on a dessert plate. Garnish and surround glass with cookies and fruit for dipping. Serve immediately.

Eric Akis’s columns appear in the Victoria times-Colonist’s Life Section Wednesdays and Sundays. The author of the best-selling Everyone Can Cook (Whitecap Books) can be reached at [email protected]

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