Ice Wines—Nature’s winter nectar

February 2012 View more

NMAG0212_FoodAndDrinkWhen it’s icy outside, why not snuggle up inside with some “ice” that will melt your heart.  In this case, the “ice” is ice wine, an ultra-sweet and silky dessert wine that is a wonderful sipper at the end of a meal, or enjoyed while relaxing in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night.

While winemaking can be traced back thousands of years, ice wines are fairly new to the wine scene. A German winemaker produced the first-recorded ice wine about 200 years ago. The story goes that this winemaker was surprised by an early frost, ruining the grapes for conventional winemaking. He decided to press these frozen grapes and was pleasantly surprised to learn that this yielded a sweet and pure wine. Ice wines were born! As ice wines rely on frozen grapes, they are produced in the colder Northern hemisphere wineries.

Classic ice wine is produced from grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine, then hand harvested when the temperature reaches approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit when—ideally—the grapes’ sugar levels have reached 45 percent. The frozen grape juice crystals are then extracted through a gentle pressing process, to yield nectar with an intense concentration of sugars, aromas, and acidity. This labor-intensive process typically produces small batches of dessert wine, which makes true ice wines challenging to make and expensive to buy.

Ice wine is Canada’s wine claim to fame, and they are very protective of these wines. The Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) was formed to govern the production and quality of all Canadian ice wine. The VQA insists that only frozen grapes that are hand harvested on the vine can be used to produce Canadian ice wine. The Provence of Ontario produces 75 percent of Canadian ice wines. Other countries skirt this challenging process by harvesting the grapes and then freezing them later, to produce frozen grapes; this obviously allows for larger harvests and lower labor costs, resulting in a lower production costs.

The Riesling grape is commonly used in ice wines and imparts good acidity and mineral notes. Another commonly used varietal is the Vidal grape, which imparts flavors of honey, apricot, and tropical fruits. Quality ice wines also have good acidity levels, which make them ideal to be enjoyed as a sipper after a meal or paired with food. The general rule of thumb is to pair a dessert that is less sweet than the dessert wine. If you wish to end a meal with something less sweet, cheese can make a wonderful pairing. Rich and slightly salty cheeses can balance an ice wine’s natural acidity. Some good examples include aged Gouda, Gruyère, Asiago, and blue cheese.

A couple of notable Canadian ice wines include Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine (about $20 for a 187 ml bottle) Inniskillin Riesling Icewine (about $70 for a 375 ml bottle), and Inniskillin Vidal Icewine (about $45 for a 375 ml bottle). Quality non-Canadian ice wines include Austria’s Nigl Grüner Veltliner Eiswein (about $35 for a 375 ml bottle) and Germany’s Nachtgold Eiswein (about $25 for a 500 ml bottle).

Fortunately, these luscious dessert wines are easier to find than they are to make. In canvassing local Naperville wine merchants, there are two to four different ice wines are available at Binny’s, Wine Discount Center, Wine Styles, Tasting deVine Cellars, and Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant (see sidebar for details).

Some of the best things in life are pleasant surprises. Try a glass of ice wine and make a toast to the German winemaker for his discovery of Mother Nature’s winter nectar. Prost! – ein Toast!

Naperville Ice Wine Merchants

Binny’s Beverage Depot
790 Royal Saint George Drive

Wine Discount Center
2827 Aurora Avenue

2775 Showplace Drive

Tasting deVine Cellars
21 West Jefferson

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant
1740 Freedom Drive

Photo courtesy of My Chef Catering