Timing is Everything
After an early freeze more than 200 years ago, what might have been a disaster resulted in a delicious natural wonder. Luckily for sweet wine lovers, the outcome was ice wine (also known as Eiswein).
A winemaker in Germany pressed the frozen grapes and produced delicious, pure sweet juice. Eiswein is from Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Switzerland; ice wine is from Canada (British Columbia and Niagara Peninsula), the Finger Lakes in New York, northern New England, and the Northwest region of the United States, where the climate is cool.
Timing is everything in the production of true ice wine. The fruit stays on the vine until temperatures fall well below 20°F (usually in December and January). The grapes must be picked by hand in the dark so that cold air can keep them frozen. Then the ice crystals are carefully pressed to yield a concentrated juice with a delicate flavor. Often an entire vine yields only a small amount of liquid (about 5 to 10 percent of the grape juice), and thus the price tends to be expensive. This is why most ice wines are sold in half bottles (375 ml).
Canada is the largest producer of ice wine—Canada's gift to wine lovers—and has very strict laws. Ice wines must follow Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) regulations that prohibit artificial freezing of the grape. In the United States (and perhaps other countries) some producers have found a way to make what they refer to as an ice wine without all the harvesting hassles. All they do is put grapes into a freezer. It can be difficult to distinguish ice wine made of grapes harvested on frozen vines from those frozen in a freezer. When tasted side by side, however, the wines from frozen vineyards stand out for taste, as well as pricing.
Most ice wines are made from Riesling or Vidal Blanc grapes, but you can find many other varietals such as Pinot Gris, Muscat, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Franc. You can also find "sparkling" ice wines made from these varietals.
Ice wines are well balanced with floral notes, fresh tropical citrus flavors, and other fruit flavors ranging from mango to peach to lychee nuts. They are well respected, always appreciated, and a perfect completion to your menu. Enjoy a small amount chilled in a wine or cordial glass. Cheers!
Ice wines are hard to find but worth the search. Visit your favorite local wine retailer, or purchase from the winery directly.
Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Eiswein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
A classic German Eiswein—extremely rich, golden in color, full-bodied with honeysuckle, vanilla, caramel, and tropical fruit flavors. A great choice with foie gras and paté, along with strong cheeses, or on its own.
Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine, Okanagan Valley, Canada
Winner of Le Grand Prix d'Honneur at the Vins de Bordeaux competition, France. Golden in color with hints of mango and peach, the wine exudes delicate nectar and exquisite fruit flavors combined with invigorating acidity.
Peller Estates, Riesling Ice Wine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada
A deep gold color with aromas of lemon, peach, and fresh tropical fruits, leading to flavors of apricot, honey, and oranges, with a hint of oak and spice on the finish.
Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Ice Wine, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
An alluring burnt apricot color, with aromas of apricot, peach, mango, and caramel with citrus flavors. Serve on top of creamy vanilla ice cream.
Casa Larga, Vidal Fiori Delle Steele Ice Wine,Fing er Lakes, New York
An American beauty. Deep gold color that spins out honey and orange blossoms reminiscent of nectar. Pairs perfectly with New York cheesecake.
Lamoreaux Landing Vidal Ice Wine, Finger Lakes, New York
A great introduction to ice wine. Plenty of pear, pineapple, honey, and citrus aromas, with flavors of apple, pear, and maple. Enjoy as a dessert by itself, or serve with soft cheeses and fresh fruit.
Newport Vineyards Vidal Ice Wine, Rhode Island
After the third frost, the grapes were harvested, producing a wine with aromas and tastes of smoky apricot, peach, and apple. Enjoy with fruit tarts.
King Estate Vin Glacé Pinot Gris, Oregon
Made from certified organic estate-grown grapes, frozen after harvest, this vin glacé (also known as ice wine) shows a light straw color with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, with good acidity. Delicious alongside strawberry shortcake.