Ice wine—not just for dessert
Photos by Ivy Knight
Reif Estates started producing icewine in 1984, making them one of the first Ontario wineries to do so. Ursa is a buzzworthy Toronto restaurant that only just opened its doors this year. Here’s what happens when a young, hip Canadian restaurant meets a venerable, iconic Canadian product.
While winemaker Klaus W. Reif enjoys his icewine paired with blue cheese, Ursa chef Jacob Sharkey-Pearce decide to do something a little different. Sharkey-Pearce uses a lot of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and foraged products on his menu and has five acres outside of the city where a farmer grows produce specifically for his restaurant. “Icewine is not something you get to use often in the kitchen because it’s expensive,” he explains, adding that one doesn’t want to cook the alcohol out because the juice is so concentrated already. “For this dish, we wanted to do something that’s easy to understand and accessible.”
The Ursa crew used a plate already on the menu and introduced it to the Reif Estates Vidal Icewine. “We have fresh burratta with grilled and poached apricots on the menu,” Sharkey-Pearce notes. “We were poaching apricots in red wine, but then we tried it with a little bit of icewine—delicious. Icewine is really sweet so we added some sour yellow plum gelee, sorrel leaves, and sumac to balance.” Sharkey-Pearce also made a grape coulis—simply grapes reduced with some ice wine. “We’re getting seven different kinds of basil from our farm—lemon basil, anise basil—so we put some of that on the plate as well.”
He has other ideas for this luxe ingredient in the kitchen: “You could use icewine to cure fish, in a vinaigrette for salad dressing, or it would also be really incredible as a pickle, just with a bit of acid added to it. It would also be fantastic to deglaze with it or finish a sauce with it.” Sharkey-Pearce then describes an elegant way to prepare roast chicken. “I often put fruit in with my roasts to add body to the sauce, so I think this would be great if you roasted a chicken over some grapes, then made a sauce with the drippings and the roasted grapes and finished it with icewine.” What do you think of that, Klaus?
While Reif enjoys mixing his icewine into a martini, Ursa’s mixologist, Christina Kuypers, decided to create a drink using some of the same garnishes as the chef. Her cocktail, made with Tanqueray gin, icewine, elderflower liqueur, and lemon juice, is garnished with currants, tiny champagne grapes, and fresh basil leaves.
“The beauty of culinary collaboration with craft cocktails is reinforcing the same characteristics on the plate as in the glass,” Kuypers explains. “A balance must be struck so that when you actually have the dish and the drink together, they complement each other but they’re not exactly the same representation.”
This incredible product deserves a chance to be enjoyed in different ways and the crew at Ursa has shown us how to do just that. The next time a friend comes back from Canada with a souvenir bottle of icewine, you’ll know just what to do—crack open the Tanqueray and throw some grapes under your roasting chicken.
1 oz. gin—Tanqueray, or any clean, refreshing gin with some nice citrus notes, not too heavy on the juniper ½ oz. Chase Elderflower Liqueur
½ oz. icewine
¾ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 large basil leaves
Serve shaken, poured over ice in a Collins glass, garnished with champagne grapes, and red currants to add acidity and texture to the drink. Add a few more basil leaves for aroma.
Toronto-based writer Ivy Knight writes on food and drink for the Toronto Star, the Standard, and other publications; she also hosts 86’d Mondays at the Drake Hotel. Watch for more contributions from Knight in future issues of Buffalo Spree.