In 1794, a wine producer in Germany found himself in a tough situation: his grapes had frozen on the vine and he was forced to press juice from frozen fruit. The result of this happy accident was ice wine (eiswein in German), a sweet wine that was being produced intentionally by the mid-1800s in the Rheingau region of Germany. Over 100 years later, the first Canadian ice wine was made, launching an industry that has grown exponentially since the 1990s. Canada is now the world’s largest producer of ice wine.
Ice wine is a dessert wine, known for its full body and fruity taste and aroma. But unlike others in this category, it has a refreshing dry finish that is achieved through its balance of sweetness and acidity. A variety of grapes are used to produce ice wine, with Riesling, Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Franc among the most common.
Ice Wine Production
Ice wine is prized for its unique taste and is especially popular in Asia. But indulging in this wine will cost you: prices of about $45 for 375 mL in Canada and up to $300 a bottle in Asia are standard. Why so expensive? A look at how this delicacy is produced answers that question.
As the name implies, the grapes used for ice wine must be frozen. Although some wine producers use artificial freezing, in Canada and Germany grapes must freeze naturally in order for the end product to be called ice wine. The grapes must ripen before freezing, meaning that they must stay on the vine for several months after the regular harvest.
There is considerable risk involved in producing grapes for ice wine. If the freezing comes too late, the fruit can start to rot on the vine. Late harvests can also result in reduced yields, as animals and birds have the chance to consume more. And, if the freezing is too intense, the grapes will not produce any juice.
Once the ideal conditions have been met, the harvest must be done quickly. The grapes have to be pressed while frozen, so workers typically work late at night and into the wee hours of the morning. Frozen grapes generate about one-fifth the amount of juice that non-frozen grapes do, so far more grapes are required to create even a small bottle of ice wine. A table wine can be fermented in a matter of days or weeks, but because of the high sugar content of frozen grapes, the fermentation process for ice wine takes months.
To earn the “ice wine” appellation, the final product must have a sufficient Brix degree (mass ratio of dissolved sucrose to water in a liquid. If it does not, the wine is sold as a “select late harvest” at a much lower price than ice wine.
Serving and Storing Ice Wine
Ice wine is best served chilled, but not cold. Stemware with a large bowl is ideal for ice wine, as it intensifies the flavour. It can be enjoyed on its own or with fresh fruit. Once opened, ice wine will last 3 to 5 days if it is re-corked and stored in the refrigerator. There is some debate about the value of aging ice wine. Successful aging depends on the grape used. Riesling is considered the best for cellaring, although some wineries have had great results from their cellared Vidal ice wines.