Having discovered ice wine in the last 10 or so years, I’ve become a big fan. It’s hard not to love such a deliciously sweet wine. I learned early on that ice wine is very difficult to make. But my recent reading of a novel made me realize that ice wine isn’t just difficult to make. It’s almost impossible to make. Read on!
Steven Lane’s Novel “Root Cause”
I was lucky enough to get an uncorrected proof copy of Steven Lane’s novel Root Cause, a “who-dun-it globe-trotting mystery” about phylloxera. In one part of the book, we end up at a picking of ice-wine grapes in Ontario, Canada. The description of how grueling the process is is unbelievable. For starters, for grapes to become ice wine, they need to be picked by hand after they’ve been frozen on the vine at a minimum of minus eight degrees for at least 72 hours. The guy in the book instructed the pickers as follows: “’No matter how cold your fingers get, do not, I repeat, do not cover them with any kind of material to get warm… The warmth generated will thaw the grapes you pick, and this will increase the yield of juice from each grape. Each grape is meant to yield only a small amount of juice to make the best possible ice wine. One bottle per bunch of grapes. Any more than that and the wine’s sweetness, and therefore its quality, will be compromised… The grapes will be pressed on-site as fast as possible, as soon as you get them to the end of the row, so they don’t thaw.” The pickers were given kneepads, since the ground was frozen. They also were told to go quickly, so they wouldn’t lose the truck light. Of course, this was all done in the middle of the night. No, thank you!
The History of Ice Wine
According to Wine Folly, “It’s been supposed that in Franken, Germany, during a particularly cold winter in 1794, winemakers were forced to create a product from the grapes available for harvest. The resulting wines from that vintage had an amazingly high sugar content, along with great flavor. Thus, the technique became popularized in Germany. By the mid-1800s, the Rheingau region was making what the Germans called eiswein.”
Making Ice Wine
Beyond the grueling grape-picking experience I described earlier, the making of ice wine has a couple of other challenges:
- The frozen grapes are so hard that they sometimes break the grape crushers.
- Because the juice is so sweet, the fermentation can take 3 to 6 months, which is a very long time.
The grapes used to make ice wine are cool climate varieties, including Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, and Vidal Blanc.
Since ice wine is a very sweet, fruity wine, Wine Folly recommends pairing it with “subtle desserts containing enough fat to balance the taste profile. If you prefer more savory, late night snacks, a great pairing option with ice wine would be softer cheeses. A few desserts that pair well with ice wine: cheesecake, vanilla pound cake, ice cream, coconut ice cream, fresh fruit panna cotta and white chocolate mousse.”
You Pay a Price for This Wonderful Wine
Given this wine’s high cost of production, you almost always pay a premium for it. I don’t think I’ve seen any ice wines for under about $50—and that’s usually for a half bottle. If you see ice wine for much less than that, you can assume that it’s low quality or, heaven forbid, commercially frozen grapes, which technically aren’t ice wine.
Aging Ice Wine
Wine Folly says that ice wines with high sugar content and high acidity can age for 30 to 50 years! Wow! Would you ever have the ability to wait that long? I know I wouldn’t.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with ice wine. Please share them with us here. Thanks.
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