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Monday, February 18, 2013

Ice Wine Basics

Ice Wine Grapes
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have never seen an ice wine or eiswein as it’s known in Germany. Bottles aren’t easy to come by, due to the difficulty in producing this sweet and fruity wine. Ice wines are produced in cold areas, and ice wine crops are highly difficult to harvest and seem to come right down to good timing. Ice wine grapes are frozen while still on the vine and then harvested at just the right time. A labor force must be on standby on the first perfectly cold morning to gather in the entire crop in just a few hours. Then the grapes must be immediately pressed in freezing temperatures by workers.

A Touchy Process
Different rules and regulations set in place by each producing country also make it difficult to classify just any frozen grape as ice wine material! Temperature, sugar content (brix or must) and other guidelines must be adhered to in order for a wine to be labeled as an ice wine. The freeze must be just right as well. Grapes sit on the vine waiting for the season’s first freeze, and if a freeze doesn’t occur in time, the grapes rot and the crop is lost. If the freeze is too severe, there will be no juice left to press out. The conditions for making this sweet dessert wine are touchy at best.

Production
The process, though seemingly long and arduous, results in very small amounts of wine. Frozen grapes are picked and pressed. Water on the grapes is frozen and much remains in the press, but sugars don’t freeze, so the result is a small amount of highly concentrated, very sweet juice. The high levels of sugar make fermentation a very long process, taking up to months to complete. Normal table wines ferment within days or weeks.

Pricing
Due to low yields, difficult production and selective production regions, ice wines are rare and expensive. It is usually bottled in half-sized bottles or smaller at prices that can hurt the wallet. Even a very small bottle can range from $50 to $100!

Producers
The main producer, thanks to its notably cold temperatures, is Canada. It’s the top producer world-wide, and Inniskillin Wines in Ontario, Canada is probably the most well-known maker of ice wine. Germany produces some of the world’s most famous and expensive ice wines. Production in the U.S. is limited mainly to Michigan, Colorado, Virginia and Washington. Production occurs in some other countries throughout the world, but these are the main producers.

Cryoextraction
In Austria, Germany, the U.S. and Canada, it is stipulated that a natural freeze must occur for a wine to be classified as an ice wine. In other countries, however, a process called cryoextraction is used to produce ice wines. Basically, grapes are mechanically frozen and then pressed. Ice wines produced through cryoextraction do not have as good a reputation as real ice wines, however, and do not boast the same quality of flavor and aroma.

Grape Varieties
The typical ice wine grape varieties include Riesling, Vidal and Cabernet Franc. These grape varieties are high in acidity, and acidity is a trademark of ice wine, lending it a fresh taste that is unique and refreshing. White grape ice wines are typically pale yellow to light gold in color, while red grape ice wines are light burgundy or pink. The reds are light rather than deep in color because the skins are not given time to steep with the juice, as with normal red wines.
Ice wine from the Niagara region
Icewine from the Niagara region (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flavors and Aromas
A typical ice wine exhibits the aromas of exotic fruits and tastes of tropical mango and honey. Red ice wines can taste of strawberry and candied fruit with spicy and sweet aromas. They are typically medium to full bodied wines. A good ice wine has a long, lingering finish. The alcohol content of an ice wine, as in many dessert wines, is quite low, usually ranging from 7 to 13 percent.

Pairings
The strong flavors of ice wine pair well with strong cheeses and flavor-rich Thai foods. It can also compliment seafood and salad well with bold flavors that soften the bitterness in some salads and the “fishy” taste of seafood. When pairing with a dessert, make sure that the dessert is not sweeter than the wine! Fruit-based desserts are a favorite with ice wine.

This finishes of my exploration of ice wine. Join me next time for a discussion about Cabernet Sauvignon.


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