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Ice Wines: Delving into the World of Ice Wine
McKenzie Hagan |
For those who can’t get enough dessert wine, you have to try ice wine. Produced in a totally unique way, this indulgent wine is the perfect end for a celebratory meal.
But this sweet treat can be hard to come by. While there are plenty of wines on the market claiming to be ice wine, many of these are fraudulent. To be considered a genuine ice wine, winemakers must follow ancient, labor-intensive winemaking techniques.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about ice wine — from its humble beginnings and the chilly countries that produce it to how to serve it perfectly and what to expect when tasting it for the first time.
What Is Ice Wine?
Ice wine, or “Eiswein” as it's known in its native Germany, is a type of sweet wine made from frozen grapes.
Ice wine is a dessert wine through and through — it has some of the highest sugar levels of any wine on the planet. To create a balanced wine, ice wine grapes are chosen for their naturally high acidity and fragrant nature. The resulting wine is a delicious honey-like treat.
This deliciously sweet dessert wine is a grueling wine to produce. The frozen grapes are picked by hand in subzero temperatures, usually in the dead of night, and often while teetering on a steep vineyard slope.
Before the grapes have thawed they are crushed whole using a press. Because the grapes are frozen, the juice that comes from them is concentrated and incredibly sweet, resulting in a wine rivaling cola when it comes to sugar content.
Ice wine is made from a broad range of grape varietals, including Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Gewurztraminer. However, you cannot make ice wine from any old grape; only grapes that can stand up to the arctic temperatures are used to produce this delicious wine.
Ice wine is notoriously expensive. Due to the laborious winemaking methods used and the long fermentation process of 3-6 months, a bottle of ice wine will set you back $30 at the very least. Furthermore, while most wine is sold in 750-milliliter bottles, ice wine is sold in half bottles, which are around 375 milliliters. However, ice wine is such an incredible treat to experience, we think it’s worth every penny.
The Very First Ice Wine
The history of ice wine is fascinating. Legend states that the first ice wine was a happy accident.
As the story goes, during the 18th century, German winemakers left some grapes on the vine during a particularly cold winter. When the winemakers came to press the grapes, they were frozen solid, but they persevered with the sweet juice anyway. The resulting wine was a triumph, people loved the unique flavor of the frozen grapes, and the technique was popularized by the mid-1800s.
While the story has been disputed, we choose to believe this inspiring tale of turning misfortune into triumph. As the old saying goes: When life hands you frozen grapes, make ice wine!
Where Is Ice Wine Produced?
While ice wine is native to Germany, Canada is by far the top producer. Due to the icy cold temperatures of Eastern Canada, Ontario is the perfect place to produce ice wine. In fact, the majority of ice wine in Canada comes from Ontario-based wineries.
Ice wine is also produced in cold climates within Europe, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Luxembourg. However, the quantities these countries produce is tiny compared to Canada.
The United States also produces some high-quality ice wines. Cool climate wine regions, such as Northern Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York’s Finger Lakes, have successful ice wine wineries that are really worth a visit.
While many countries use artificial cooling techniques to freeze their grapes and create ice wine, German, Austrian, and Canadian ice wine must be produced naturally, i.e., frozen by Jack Frost himself. Only the wineries that use these traditional techniques are legally allowed to call their wine “ice wine” or “Eiswein,” the rest try to sidestep this rule by calling their wines “iced wines” or “Riesling Ice.”
What Does Ice Wine Taste Like?
Because you can produce ice wine with a range of different white grapes and red grapes, not all ice wines taste the same. However, there are some common qualities that all ice wines share. For example, all ice wine is incredibly sweet, with powerful fruit flavors.
Riesling ice wine has tasting notes of stewed apple and stone fruit, such as apricot and peach. Vidal Blanc ice wine has similar stone fruit flavors but also some tropical fruit notes.
While the majority of ice wines are white wines, there are some lovely reds on the market too. Cabernet Franc, which is a red ice wine, has a slightly different tasting profile due to the red grape skins left on during fermentation. This gloriously sweet red wine has notes of rhubarb, red currants, and even some spicy qualities.
How To Pair Ice Wine
Ice wine is an indulgent wine best served alongside something equally sweet and delicious.
To really bring out the wonderful flavors, pair your wine with something sweet and fruity. The more you lean into the wine’s tasting notes, the more pronounced they’ll seem. So if your ice wine boasts notes of stone fruit, drink it alongside a gorgeous plate of grilled apricot and ice cream.
The rich sweetness of cheesecake is a great pairing option for ice wine. While ice wine on its own can taste overwhelmingly sweet, when paired with something of equal sweetness, it balances perfectly.
Because ice wine is indulgent and a little pricey, it’s the perfect wine to save for a special occasion. Sharing a bottle of ice wine around the fire after eating Christmas dinner is a special kind of heaven.
How To Serve Ice Wine
Much like revenge, ice wine is best served cold. An hour or so in the fridge before serving should be enough to give your wine a much needed chill. The lower temperature keeps your wine from feeling too syrupy in the mouth.
Ice wine is a highly fragrant wine, so make sure you serve it in a glass with a wide mouth to fully appreciate the aromas. It’s also important not to pour too much into the glass. When it comes to ice wine, less is more, as the flavors can be quite intense. A quarter of a standard wine glass is plenty.
A Treat Worth Waiting For
If you’re anything like us, when you daydream of a glass of wine at the end of a long day, it’s usually a classic Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay. A tiny glass of something sweet and syrupy is rarely what we fancy. However, ice wine really is what dreams are made of.
Bursting with tropical fruit flavors, honey aromas, and delectable sweetness, this incredible dessert wine is a perfect treat or thoughtful gift for anyone with a sweet tooth. While it may be arduous to make and heavy on the wallet, ice wine is a wine worth waiting for.