Karen King, who co-owns The Ice House in Niagara with her husband Jamie Macfarlane.
In the video above, she chats about how they’re literally shaking it up with icewine, from slushies to pairings with chili snacks and wasabi peas.
Click on the arrow to play the video.
You did research that revealed surprising insights about icewine in terms of who’s drinking it and when?
What kind of sensory food and wine research were you doing?
Icewine is probably Canada’s most iconic wine, but you’re shaking up that perception: how is your style different?
Tell me about being on CBC TV’s The Big Decision and The Designer Guys?
Here’s part two of our conversation about pairing icewine and chocolate.
See all wine video chats here.
The Ice House
14778 Niagara Parkway Road
Canada L0S 1J0
Video: Icewine Cocktails and Pairing with Chili Chips
Natalie: Karen King and her husband Jamie MacFarlane owned The Ice House in Niagara. She does the marketing, he makes the wine. Their approach to ice wine however is radically different from most wineries in terms of the style of the wine they make and how they serve it … from slushies to pairings with chili snacks and wasabi peas. Karen joins me today to talk about that and whole lot more. Welcome, Karen!
Karen: Thank you. Its great to be here.
Natalie: Before we dive into those aspects of your wine and those interesting pairings, let’s talk about some of the research you did recently about ice wine in general … in terms of who’s drinking it and when?
Karen: We wanted to have an understanding of who our target was. We wanted to know how young people might think differently about ice wine versus the baby boomers, which is our generation. We found out that the young people are really open to all kinds of different ways of using ice wine. With other people, who had been taught that ice wine was a dessert wine, it was a little tougher to change that perspective. So then we had a challenge. “What can we do to make those younger people really enjoy ice wine?”
Natalie: I was remembering a little bit from the research. It was the 20/80 rule. What was that?
Karen: Well with the 20/80 rule, the idea was 20% of people drank dessert wine. That’s not a lot of our population. 80% were interested in ice wine as cocktails. We thought, “Oh! Here’s a great opportunity. What can we do to make people really enjoy the ice wine?”
Natalie: Absolutely. I’ve always thought of ice wine as our iconic wine in Canada but we keep saving it for special occasions or a gift. I think you’re onto something with trying to make ice wine more than just a special occasion wine.
Karen: The thing that started to click for me was how, as Canadians, we are seen as more approachable and we are willing to bend the rules a little bit and not follow tradition in quite the same way. I love the Olympics when the Canadians came out in their jean jackets … that’s who we are. We are a little more laid back and a little more casual about the rules of drinking. So this is what we’re looking at.
Natalie: Awesome! Okay so you’re breaking the rules in a couple of different ways. Let’s first talk about the style of your ice wine and what Jamie has develop there in terms of how the ice wine itself is a bit different from others.
Karen: We both have a background in sensory research so we started off by doing a competitive set of evaluation to map out different ice wines to see where they were. Most of them had a real sweet top note and then they had different fruit flavours. We knew it was part of the terroir and the grape that we give the different fruit flavours but Jamie was quite fascinated by the whole concept of making his ice wine crisper and refreshing by increasing the acidity. That was his challenge.
Natalie: Is there actually lower sugar content in your ice wine or is it just that the acidity is a bit more pronounced?
Karen: That’s it exactly. The sugar content has to be a certain level to be an ice wine but it’s the crispiness of the acidity that really made the difference in the way it delivers in your mouth. We got really interested in the whole concept of beginning, middle and end of tasting. The whole taste profile made the difference in the after taste, the lingering taste that left the mouth feeling refresh.
Natalie: Okay, that’s great! And what you bring to the table Karen is a background in food sensory research and consulting. Tell me a little bit about that because it’s quite different from you know the wine field, you’re more in the food area.
Natalie: What did you do and how did that help with what you’re doing today?
Karen: I worked in every food category you can imagine. I did a lot of work for Craft Canada and in the US and then smaller food companies. It was always about trying to get a balanced flavour that would appeal to more people to more of the time. So when you start thinking about that in the wine region, most wine makers were not necessarily open to that concept of hearing what consumers wanted. Jamie was the first winemaker, I met, who is interested in really understanding what consumers wanted. He had a different slant on how he want to make his wine. I loved the artisan concept of winemakers who wanted to make a wine that they think is perfect. We’re really working on this concept of developing wines that people would like based on where they are and perhaps where they want to go.
Natalie: Now, you’re breaking the rules, and I love it, with how you serve ice wine. One of your signature drinks/cocktails is your Ice House Slushy, right?
Natalie: Tell me about that?
Karen: The thing that really got me excited about focusing on one product like this, is with the overall intensity of ice wine there’s an 11 point scale we can rate it on to say whether it’s low, moderate or high. Ice wine is actually high in overall intensity. When we compared it to other beverages whether it was wine or coke, that’s more of a moderate overall intensity that will again be familiar to people and an intensity that they like. With the Slushy, we said, “Okay, right now it’s high intensity, what can we do to make it less high in overall impact?” I know you are familiar with the late harvest wines, which people have said, “Oh! I liked those wines because they’re not quite as sweet.” Now you add the ‘not quite as high in overall intensity’, you still have the sweetness, the acidity and the complex fruit. But now with the ice in it, it does become moderate in overall intensity. People loved it. Like we’re blown away. We got this great big slushy machine and we said, “We’re going to make cocktail and Jamie had to add more water in order to freeze the ice wine. And then I tasted and I said, “It’s perfect! We don’t have to do anything else.” Then we develop recipe card so that everyone can make it at home in a blender.
Natalie: That’s so cool. We’re going to do a little demo today.
Natalie: I hope my ice hasn’t melted too much; You have ice there too?
Karen: I’ve got ice here too; I’m just going to slush it up a bit more.
Natalie: Okay, great. I’m draining off my melted water. What proportions are supposed to be here Karen.
Karen: I put ice cubes in the blender and then I cover it with enough ice wine that it will slush up. Then I usually add more ice.
Natalie: Which of your ice wines should we be putting in?
Karen: We tried all of them and the Vidal, which is called the classic ice wine is really the best ice wine for making a very refreshing ice wine slushy. It’s something that you drink right away . It’s hot today so my ice wine slushy is getting watery, too.
Natalie: … more ice than wine.
Karen: I’m going to ask you to taste it anyway because the whole concept is overall intensity.
Natalie: Yes, right.
Karen: I’m going to taste it too. I haven’t tried it this watered down. We’re creating something new right here, Natalie.
Natalie: Absolutely, I’m going to taste the ice wine on its own and as a slushy.
Karen: Good thinking.
Natalie: I like to be thorough and hedonistic in my research.
Karen: Okay, well that’s good. Then you’ll get an idea of the difference of…
Karen: … moderate and intense.
Natalie: That’s so refreshing and just off dry is how it comes across.
Karen: Yes, isn’t it that fun?
Natalie: It’s nice. It’s really nice.
Karen: Natalie, I think it is better when it’s a slushy and I usually do this Martini glass thing.
Natalie: Very Cosmo…
Natalie: … or something.
Karen: Now, mine is not frozen anymore. It just got too hot. It’s a nice elegant drink. I loved the juxtaposition of classy ice wine as a slushy.
Karen: You know it makes it more approachable for people.
Natalie: It does.
Natalie: It does and it is simple to do … just ice cubes in the blender.
Natalie: Yes. Go ahead.
Karen: We did put it on a recipe card because I would have people calling up and say, “What was that recipe again?” So we do give that out when anybody comes to visit us at the winery. They have their little card to make their ice wine … Ice House Slushies.
Natalie: Yes, it’s dramatically different. The ice wine, on its own, is beautiful. It’s a lovely after dinner drink. I would change this, with the ice, to the beginning of the meal as a lighter aperitif that’s not too heavy, not too sweet, good to whet your appetite.
Karen: While You have that Vidal, do you want to try it with the wasabi peas?
Karen: I’ll give you the story behind that.
Natalie: I went into my local grocery store and they said, “What?” I’ve found them as per your suggestion in the Bulk Barn.
Natalie: Covered with wasabi.
Karen: Usually in the nut section, Sobeys or Lablaws have wasabi peas. No Frills sells wasabi peas. I
Karen: Yes, everywhere.
Natalie: Yes and it’s just Japanese horseradish or mustard seed kind of flavour, it’s hot, right?
Karen: Yes. When we had people coming into the winery, we really wanted to demonstrate the idea of breaking the rules that Ice wine is only for dessert. So we went back to the pure ice wine.
Karen: We’re still serving it in small glasses with appetizers at the beginning of the meal. Our thought was, ‘This is big flavour and you’re hungry. Appetizers have big flavour and you’re hungry.’ The Ice wine and the wasabi pea really does create a party in your mouth with its sweetness and acidity and then the heat and the salt. I want you to taste it. I hope you haven’t taste it before. I’ll join you.
Natalie: This is a new sensation for me but I have heard the concept of sweet meets heat and there is something that happens. That’s a good thing, there.
Karen: And a little bit of heat on that wasabi.
Karen: Now take it with the ice wine.
Natalie: That’s nice. They really even each other out.
Karen: Once you’ve experienced that, I think that gives you an incentive to play with ice wine and it takes it out of the box of being a dessert wine. I don’t drink dessert wine. I find it’s too much with the dessert but maybe as a dessert. I like it at the beginning of the meal. That’s when my taste buds are really opened to intense and complex flavours.
Natalie: Did you ever think of bottling the ice wines slushy as a slushy?
Karen: We can’t actually because…
Karen: … of all of the legalities around the ice wine. We can’t call it an ice wine slushy. It would have to be called something else. We think the versatility of the ice wine is the interesting piece. But what I’ve done with this Vidal … Jamie makes a very simple white wine that doesn’t have the kind of fruit forward I like … I add about 20% of the ice wine to his simple white wine.
Natalie: I’ve got a Pinot Grigio here that needs a little help.
Karen: Perfect, okay. Really, try it.
Natalie: So what’s the proportion?
Karen: Well you’re the wine maker. Jamie says encourage people to be the wine maker. Put about 25%. Tell me what’s wrong with it?
Natalie: What’s wrong with it?
Natalie: There’s supposed to be something wrong with it?
Karen: I’m talking about the Pinot Grigio that needs help.
Natalie: It’s just boring.
Karen: Okay, yes. it’s boring.
Karen: Try about 25%.
Natalie: The Pinot Grigio had the acidity…
Natalie: … more acidity. It tasted beige and now we have something that came from a designer guide palate.
Karen: I love it and I think the trick is to add enough ice wine that there’s a threshold with just detectable change. You don’t want to make it into an ice wine, you’re just playing.
Natalie: Right. This is a richly flavoured white wine almost dry.
Karen: Wow! Love it!
Natalie: Love it too! Karen we’re going to continue this discussion because this is amazing. I’m loving all this.