Recently the weather got a little chilly going into December. We even received our first snowfall at Mount Charleston. This got me thinking about snow-covered grapes. You may or may not have heard of Ice Wine. Is this frozen wine? Is it a wine popsicle? Do you simply just put ice in your wine (like my mother!)? None of these are actually correct. We are going to talk about a style of wine that is made from frozen grapes. We need to figure out what this wine is and what it tastes like, where it is produced, and when you should drink it!
Ice wine or Eiswein (we will discuss the difference in the next paragraph) is sweet wine that is produced from frozen grapes. In areas where it is cold enough, healthy grapes will freeze when it gets below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. Most wine regions have a minimum temperature to make the wine which is much colder, usually around -8 Celsius. The water inside the grape is actually what freezes. These grapes are then picked either overnight or very early morning so they do not begin to thaw. The grapes are then pressed while frozen separating the rest of the grape contents from the water. This is going to concentrate the sugar in the grape but also limits the overall yield and amount of wine you can make. That’s one of the reasons this style of wine is made into smaller bottles and still is more expensive than a regular sized bottle of wine. This wine is usually made with Riesling because it has naturally high acidity that allows this grape to ripen late into the winter months, much later than when other grapes are harvested. Another grape very common, especially in Canada is Vidal, however not as aromatic or acidic as Riesling. Other grapes can be used as well, including Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, and Gewurztraminer.
These wines will usually show flavors of stone fruit like peach, apricot, and nectarine. As they age, the tertiary flavors of dried fruits, marmalade, honey, and petrol (especially on the Rieslings) will emerge. This wine is usually a very viscous almost syrupy wine because of the high levels of sugar that can have an alcohol range of 6% - 13% roughly, depending on the region and climate. Typically there is an indirect correlation between sugar and alcohol. The sugar is usually not indicated on the bottle but alcohol percentage always Is by law. The level of sweetness in this wine can usually be detected by the percentage of alcohol on the label. The higher the alcohol percentage, the less sweetness there is. The lower the alcohol, the sweeter it is. This is because sugar turns into alcohol during fermentation.
Ice wine is produced in a few places around the world and is also known as Eiswein in Germany and Austria, where it originates. In Canada, It thrives in Ontario. The most important of the 3 DVA’s (Designated Viticultural Area’s) is the Niagara Peninsula just south of Lake Ontario. British Columbia is also seeing an increase in production. Okanagan Valley is the name to know here. Inniskilin is an excellent Ice Wine from the Niagara Peninsula. You can find this wine in the United States in colder areas such as the Finger Lakes AVA. Eiswein is produced all over Germany in regions such as Mosel, Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Rheingau. You can even find it popping up in countries like France, Italy, Australia, Japan, and China.
These are usually high quality wines with many of the attributes for long term aging. This doesn’t mean they cannot be consumed young. They can be delicious consumed young, with age, or anywhere in between. Ice Wine is usually consumed either with dessert or by itself as a liquid dessert at the end of the meal. It goes great with many desserts including cheese and Crème Brûlée, and of course anything with a matching fruit component. If you enjoy this wine, there is never really a wrong time to enjoy it. Don’t let so called pairing “rules” stop you from enjoying this style of wine whenever you shall please. Especially as climate change occurs, some of these regions may be to warm to produce Ice wine in the future so drink up!!