Ice wine has come a long way and is worth savouring

Why not icewine?

Maybe you opened a sweeter wine of some kind over the holiday season as a special treat, perhaps a Port or Sauternes.

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ve had a taste of good Aszu from the Tokaji region of Hungary. But if you have a bottle of Canadian icewine on the shelf—better yet local B.C. one (no offense to our compatriots in other provinces)— it might be time to pull the cork as we wade into a murky 2022. Why let it continue to gather dust?

Icewine has been a coveted gift for wine lovers around the world who, up to now, have only heard of this sweet Canadian nectar. Sharing it means appreciating the somewhat intense process to get it in the bottle:

• The grapes must be left on the vine to freeze naturally

• Winemakers, vineyard managers and their friends head out to pick when the temperature is at -8 C or lower.

• These grape gems must be transported as quickly as possible from picking to the press so they remain frozen;

• The water in the grapes freezes, leaving the sugars and a much smaller amount of juice to “harvest.”

So, if you’re mostly camping out at home, buying a bottle at a local wine shop or tasting room (wineries may be on winter hours, check in advance) and hunker down for an evening.

Icewine has come a long way from sticky sweet to now elegantly balanced and intriguing bottles. It can be made from many different of grape varietals, and yes, it can be on the pricey side. But it’s worth savouring, so enjoy.

Ex Nihilo Vineyards 2018 Riesling: This varietal gives this wine an almost refreshing acidity, balanced with the sweetness you’d expect. Peach, pineapple and honey notes. Pair with a panna cotta of your choosing.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2015 Pinot Noir: A sip will take you back to summer flavours of strawberries and cherries, but as if they were put together in an exquisite jam. Contrast the sweetness with a selection of aged cheeses.

Grizzli Winery 2014 Sauvignon Blanc: A winner of multiple international awards, the colour is a surprising golden hue and this wine is definitely for dessert. Pair with an apple tart or, as the winery suggests, a fruit trifle.

Bench 1775 2017 Bliss: A blend of Viognier, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, it’s truly unique. Tropical fruit notes, lemon curd, and baked apple notes. A savoury pairing with soft Camembert, or a sweet pairing with cheesecake.

Gehringer Bothers 2019 Cabernet Franc: If you lean towards Port, give this a try. Flavours of blackberry freezer jam and chocolate covered cherries. Pair with a variety of dark chocolates and roasted nuts.

Soda sipping for New Year’s Eve

Time for soda sipping

Sparkling wine is the typical go-to for those who imbibe to ring in the New Year, and certainly there are many beautiful bottles of B.C. bubbly to select for any celebration, spontaneous occasion, or even a random Wednesday.

But making your own soda at home is trendy, and given the gift of a SodaStream this year, I’ve started researching recipes to explore. No soda maker? Club soda from the store is just fine for these creations too.

You can craft your own yummy infused syrups by first making a simple syrup. Put equal parts granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool and store in a glass jar with a tight lid.

Flavours to add to simple syrup while it’s on the stove, after the sugar is dissolved can include:

• A couple of cinnamon sticks

• A vanilla bean

• Sliced ginger

• Fresh herbs such as few sprigs of mint, basil, rosemary, or thyme, or a few bay leaves.

Add one of the above and simmer for a minute or two, then remove from the heat to steep for a half hour. Cool, remove the flavouring item, and strain.

For fruit flavoured syrups, add your favourite fresh fruit to the syrup, and simmer longer – for ten minutes – till the fruit is broken down, then cool and strain. Best to hunt the internet for a recipe for the fruit of your choice, as water and sugar proportions will need adjusting depending on the fruit.

Not into crafting your own? Find syrups or bitters at your favourite distillery or gourmet shop. Hint: The Okanagan Artisan has a delicious pear and ginger craft cocktail syrup that is addictive.

All of these syrups can be added to bubbly soda for some flavour, but how about a few soda-inspired drinks to give a try this New Years?

A vanilla and Earl Grey soda is made by adding a couple of bags of Earl Grey tea to vanilla simple syrup and letting it simmer together, but not for too long so the tea doesn’t make everything bitter. Pour a quarter cup of syrup into a tall glass, add soda and stir, then top with cream.

Use your simple syrup to make cranberry spritzers for the whole family. A litre from your soda making device, a cup of unsweetened cranberry juice, and a cup of syrup (or less if you don’t have a sweet tooth), mixed in a pitcher. Bonus? The adults can add a shot of vodka to theirs.

If you’re not past your holiday chocolate cravings, put two parts milk and one part cold club soda in a blender. Add a few (or more) squirts of chocolate syrup, fill with ice. Optional: add an ounce of cold brewed espresso or Frangelico. Blend till smooth, pour into glasses, and top with ice cream.

Gone are my days of only adding lemon juice to a can of club soda. Bring on 2022.

Holiday breads from around the world

Holiday bread

For many, one of the main discussions around the kitchen counter at Christmas dinner will be all about the bird. Fresh? Frozen? Brined? Deep-fried?

Or, this year, perhaps: “Where did you find a turkey?!”

Add to that a debate: Why must Brussels sprouts be included every year? Who makes the best gravy? What’s for dessert? And maybe, here in B.C. wine country, what bottles should be chilled or decanted and which ones should be served with what course?

There’s usually little talk about one staple on the table—or served for dessert—unless it’s particularly good or unusual.That staple is bread and it’s always present in some form or another.

This year, why not seek out a loaf, bag of buns or a holiday cake that you’ve never tried?

Hit up a local bakery or give one of these a go in your kitchen. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”

Stollen—A German creation that is the infinitely more buttery and sugar-dusted version of fruitcake, stollen has a vein of marzipan running through it, and traditionally is left for days or weeks before being served so the flavours can meld together. Pairs well with a fruit flavoured tea.

Bobalki—Slovakian in origin (or Czech, as history would have it), these are round poppyseed-glazed buns that are one or two bites of sweet, slightly nutty heaven. Bring these out at brunch for a quick bite next to your morning eggnog latte or a hazelnut infused hot chocolate.

Challah—Traditional Jewish bread shaped into a loaf, but can be transformed into a heart or another symbol of the season. A light, fluffy, buttery, golden melt-in-your mouth experience with just a hint of sweetness. One of the roots of the statement, “I shouldn’t have filled up on that bread!”

Krendel—Russian Christmas bread that takes the form of a large pretzel, after being rolled like a jellyroll as it is filled with dried fruits. It might be topped with a dusting of sugar or icing. The fruits inside are usually pears, apricots, prunes, and apples might that have been simmered in white wine (or water).

Panettone—Those large boxes contain a towering dome-shaped creation from Italy traditionally with raisins and almonds, plus candied citrus peel and fresh citrus zest. Best when fresh and lightly chewy, but it has a long shelf life. A suggestion from an internet chef? Spread a slice with Nutella and grill.

Fruitcake—Some argue that it’s been around since Roman times. Hopefully the one you find at the back of the pantry is not that old.

Happy holidays.

Try experimenting with flavours you're not familiar with

Experiment with ingredients

Surely, we’re getting tired of talking about supply chains.

Let’s face it, most of us probably did not consider this a major problem before the pandemic.

Then, in 2020, we hoarded household goods. On top of the toilet paper crisis, there were shortages of yeast as we had time to bake when we were locked in our homes. Gardening tools and seeds were also sometimes in short supply because we had time to plant and nurture when travel was an absolute no-go.

Now we’re back here again in the approaching winter of 2021, though supplies are starting to balance, thankfully.

But what if we look at this as a flavourful opportunity?

And how do we do that? In a word: experiment.

Ingredients we may not have thought of, or were afraid to try, might be more abundant these days and Google or Pinterest can provide oodles of odd recipes with whatever you may find. Better yet, pick up weathered cookbook from a used book store, the library or from an elderly family member’s shelf.

An old recipe book is how I first discovered Russian Vinegret (sic). Beets, pickles, potatoes, carrots, onions whirled into a bright pink salad.

Thanks to Chef Phil Tees, who oversees the kitchen at Liquidity Bistro and handles Sunday workshops at Road 13, I also discovered that finely diced beets and pickles can be turned into a delicious vegetarian vinegret-like tartare with garlic oil and the right spices.

Speaking of spices, head to a local market that specializes in a special cuisine to gather a few new ideas. There are plenty: Penticton’s Maharajah Grocerz or Global Grocers, Sun Asian Market or Mediterranean Market in Kelowna, Global Grocers or Oliver Eats in Oliver (of course); the latter for meats and cheeses. And that’s just to name just a few.

A couple of excellent online shops for nuts and seeds – that you can then roast with your newfound spices – if you’re patient with delivery schedules and can’t find what you’re looking for—Ayoub’s out of Vancouver or Rancho Vignola based here in the Interior. Rancho’s in-person harvest sales are wrapping up, but general online ordering begins today.

There is almost always a way to adjust when an item or ingredient is in short supply, and none of us can control the current circumstances we’re in.

But when there’s no cream for your morning coffee, you can grab a bag of Coffee Crisp Hot Chocolate mix and make yourself a “Coffee-Coffee Crisp Mocha” for a few days.

More Okanagan Taste articles

About the Author

A creative thinker with more than two decades of experience in communications, Allison is an early adopter of social and digital media, bringing years of work in traditional media to the new frontier of digital engagement marketing through her company, All She Wrote.

She is the winner of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association's 2011 and 2012 awards for Social Media Initiative, an International LERN award for marketing, and the 2014 Penticton Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for Hospitality/Tourism.

Allison has amassed a following on multiple social networks of more than 30,000, frequently writes and about social media, food and libations as well as travel and events, and through her networks, she led a successful bid to bring the Wine Bloggers Conference to Penticton in June 2013, one of the largest social media wine events in the world, generating 31 million social media impressions, $1 million in earned media, and an estimated ongoing economic impact of $2 million.

In 2014, she held the first Canadian Wine Tourism Summit to spark conversation about the potential for wine tourism in Canada as a year-round economic driver.

Allison contributes epicurean content to several publications, has been a judge for several wine and food competitions, and has earned her advanced certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

In her spare time, she has deep, meaningful conversations with her cats.

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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