Dry Is the New Sweet

If you think you don’t like sweet wines, I urge you to think again.

Believe me, I get where you’re coming from – they’re not typically among my favourites either. Over the last two years though, I have fully embraced the winter party that is the Niagara Icewine Festival. Not so much to drink Icewine, but to have some fun and avoid the January blahs. One of the side effects of going to these festivities is that I actually did try more Icewine.

Some have been quite good – smooth, rich, but not overly sweet. Some – well….not so much. When I saw that Stratus was hosting a tutored tasting called “Dry Is the New Sweet” I was intrigued. I love the wines at Stratus. I honestly don’t think I have had a wine there that I didn’t like. Truly. I’ll give you an example.


I don’t like Gamay Noir. To me, the ones I have tried so far tasted just like red coloured water. They have been kind of “meh”, bland, and well – watery. Now, hold back the hue and cry Gamay fans, I said “so far”. On one of my recent visits to Stratus, I got to chatting with the chap serving me. He asked me what I didn’t like about it. After I told him, he gently suggested that I give theirs a try. What did I have to lose? It’s Stratus. If anyone could get me to like Gamay, their chances were probably good.

Well, I’m sure you can guess what happened. I came home with some Gamay for the first time ever.

I tell you this in the hopes that if you don’t like Icewine you will open your mind a bit and sample the beautiful ones at Stratus. However, if you DO like sweet wine, you are in for a treat.

Stratus has done it again.


Our tasting started with a chat about Icewine and how it is made. Some technical wine talk follows here for a bit.


First of all, grapes are naturally frozen on the vine, and picked while the temperature is -8 degrees celsius or lower. That’s some pretty chilly grape-picking, but hey, we’re used to this in Ontario – our winter temperatures can get even lower than that. This picking is usually done at night too. Brave souls, these grape pickers are.

Second, the juice from the pressed grapes must have an average of 35 degrees Brix. Third, the residual sugar in the Icewine needs to come wholly from the natural sugar in the grape. Nothing else can be added to sweeten the wine. Lastly, the amount of final sugar must be over 100g per liter.


So you may be thinking “Hang on, I thought this was called DRY is the new sweet. Why all this talk about sweetness? Where’s the dry part?”. Well to start off with, a good Icewine is a balanced Icewine. There still is some sweetness, but it is balanced by acidity. This prevents that syrupy goopyness that we don’t like very much. Stratus is primarily using three techniques to create a drier version of a sweet wine.

First, they pick the grapes right at the cusp of 35 degrees Brix. Some of the wines I tasted that day were lower than that. Second, there is a longer fermentation process. This can increase the alcohol content, but decrease the sweetness. I, for one, have never been known to complain about a higher alcohol content, so that’s alright by me. Lastly, they do what they do so brilliantly –  blend.


Ken is enthralled by the wine business, so had lots of questions for our host, Ben. It was a fascinating discussion.

Then it was time to get to tasting.


There were foods matched to go with the sweet wines, and they all went very well together. I must admit, that generous piece of SOMA chocolate was probably the best chocolate I’ve ever eaten.


The order of our tasting goes from right to left in the photo above.  We started with the 2012 Stratus Botrytis Sémillon, matched with a Blue Cheese and Fig Shortbread. Next to it, the 2013 Stratus Special Select Late Harvest Cabernet, with a Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Shortbread. Right in the middle there is the 2013 Stratus Icewine Red matched with the gorgeous SOMA chocolate. Next came the 2013 Stratus Icewine White, and we finished off with the 2008 Stratus Sémillon Icewine, matched with the blue cheese.

It was incredibly hard for me to pick a favourite, as they really all were delectable in their own way. I am more partial to red sweet wines, though. So for me, the two reds were the stars.


I really liked the 2013 Stratus Icewine White too.


You still have three weekends left to enjoy this tasting, and all the details are here. It’s a great way to introduce non-sweet wine-lovers to its dryness and deliciousness. I know I’m convinced. I just might have to start adding sweet wines to my cellar.

They will have a place of honour – right beside the Gamay.


***Disclaimer – My tasting was very generously provided by Stratus, but all opinions are my own. As you know, I have written about my Stratus love many times before.