Ice Wine 101 in 6 Simple Steps.
“No matter what part of the globe they’re from, ice wines are treasures to be savored”.
-Anna Lee C. Iijima, Roger Voss and Sean Sullivan
1. WHAT IS ICE WINE?
Ice wine is a rich, sweet dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine and pressed while still frozen.
The tradition of making this kind of wine started in Austria and Germany. It is known there as “Eiswein”. Nevertheless, Canada made its fame, with the majority of the market’s ice wine offerings coming from 3 of its provinces: Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario.
The story tells that Eiswein appeared during the 19th century.
Some winemakers have had to leave their vineyards during harvest in order to feed livestock. When they came back in winter they found their grapes frozen on the vines. They proceeded with the harvest and pressed the frozen grapes for fermentation.
This is how Eiswein came alive!
Most of the production began in the 1960s, when the equipment needed such as protective netting and grape presses able to efficiently handle frozen grapes were available on the market.
TRUE vs FAKE ICE WINE
Be careful of wines labeled “iced wine” or “dessert wine.” Read the labels or look up the production information, many fake ones do exist on the market. The grapes must freeze naturally to be legally called ice wine.
2. HOW IS IT MADE?
This is a wine made from grapes that have been left on the vine to freeze. This allows significantly the grape’s sugars to concentrate and increase the flavor in the must.
The frozen grapes are then harvested and pressed, squeezing out the juice before going through the fermentation process.
Ice wines made in the traditional way (true ice wine) are made by leaving grapes on the vines until temperatures drop to extreme lows (by law, in Canada at least -8ºC (17º F) and in Germany at least -7ºC (19ºF)).
Fake ice wine uses the process of cryoextraction. This allows the grapes to be frozen with refrigeration and then pressed.
The most common grapes used in the making of ice wine are Riesling, Vidal, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner and sometimes Cabernet Franc.
These are varieties with high levels of acidity to allows the wine to be refreshing and not too heavy or “sticky.”
However, it is common across the world to discover winemakers experimenting with making ice wine from other varieties such as Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot noir and Merlot.
Ice wines can age amazingly well usually it takes about 10 years, but some varieties like Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, have demonstrated to age much longer than that.
This has everything to do with the acidity level. Wines with high sugar content and high acidity are likely to age easily for about 30 to 50 years. Of course, long aging will have an impact in their taste and flavor. They will become darker, sweeter, and get aging flavors of maple and hazelnut.
3. WHERE IS IT FROM?
Germany and Canada are the biggest producers, but it can be found in many countries:
Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Luxembourg, Sweden, ect.
United States with especially Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Canada (Ontario, Quebec, Bristish Colombia)
This is a desert wine full of fruit flavors that will explode in your palate with a high-sweet finale.
Subtle creamy desserts containing enough fat like cheesecake, panna cotta in order to find the balance between them will work wonderfully well.
I personally favor the delicious pairing with soft cheeses.
It also works well with foie gras.
5. HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
As you can expect, the cost of making this kind of wine along with the fact that the grapes are frozen explains why they are expensive and sold in half bottles (format 375 ml).
Frozen grapes give less than 4 or 5 times juice that the unfrozen grapes do!
You will pay usually between 30 or 50 $ for a good bottle of ice wine and above 50$ for a very good one. Prices are generally lower in Austria and more expensive in Canada.
Below these prices, they will likely be of poor quality and commercially frozen.
6. SOME SUGGESTIONS TO START
The Canadian producer Inniskillin is the most famous producer of ice wine. There are up and coming producers of ice wines in many regions of the world.
GOOD NAMES TO BE EXPLORED
Inniskillin, Ontario, Canada.
Riverview Cellars Estate, Ontario, Canada.
Gsellmann and Gsellmann Burgenland, Austria.
Dr. Loosen Mosel, Germany.
Standing Stones, New York, US.
CALL TO ACTION
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