Ice wine, or Eiswein, originated in Franconia, Germany in 1794. Grapes were left on the vines until the first deep frost, and the freeze/thaw cycles that occurred concentrated both the sugars and flavors of the grapes. The process was refined and now ice wines are highly prized produced in Germany, Austria and Canada. The Niagara region of Ontario, Canada is currently the most widely respected producer of ice wines in the world.
Temperature ~ Sugar Content
- -6°C 29%
- -7°C 33%
- -8°C 36%
- -9°C 39%
- -10°C 43%
- -11°C 46%
- -12°C 49%
- -13°C 52%
- -14°C 56%
Ice wine is typically made of Vidal and Riesling grapes. After this long harvest process, the grapes go through weeks of fermentation, followed by a few months of barrel aging. The wine ends up a golden color, or a deep, rich amber and has a very sweet taste. The flavor is a combination of apricot, peach, mango, melon or other sweet fruits with a nutty aroma. It is usually enjoyed as a dessert wine, chilled for one or two hours and served in small cordial glasses.
Ice Wine HistoryThere are indications that frozen grapes were used to make wine as early as Roman times. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - 79) wrote about certain grape varieties that they were not harvested before frost had occurred. The poet Martial (AD 40 - 102) recommended that grapes should be left on the vine until November or until they were stiff with frost.
|Pliny the Elder|
Pliny the ElderDetails as to the wine-making and description of these wines are unknown. It can not be completely ruled out that the descriptions refer to dried grape wines, a common style of wine in Roman times, where the raisin-like grapes were harvested late enough for the first frost to have fallen. In either case, the method seems later to have been forgotten.
It is believed that the first post-Roman ice wine was made in Franconia in Germany in 1794. Better documentation exists for an ice wine harvest in Dromersheim close to Bingen in Rheinhessen on February 11, 1830. The grapes were of the 1829 vintage. That winter was harsh and some wine-growers had the idea to leave grapes hanging on the vine for use as animal fodder. When it was noticed that these grapes yielded very sweet must, they were pressed and an ice wine was produced. It should be noted that sweet wines produced from late harvested grapes were well-established as the most valued German wine style by the early 19th century, following the discovery of Spätlese at Schloss Johannisberg in Rheingau in 1775, and the subsequent introduction of the Auslese designation. These wines would usually be produced from grapes affected by noble rot. Thus, Eiswein is a more recent German wine style than the botrytised wines.
In Germany in the early 2000s, good ice wine vintages have been more rare than throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Many wine-growers cite climate change as a cause and this received support from a study by the Geisenheim Institute.
Typical grapes used for ice wine production are Riesling, considered to be the most noble variety by German winemakers; Vidal, highly popular in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada; and, interestingly, the red grape Cabernet Franc. Many vintners, especially from the New World, are experimenting with making ice wine from other varieties: whites such as Seyval Blanc, Chardonnay, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Ehrenfelser; or reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, and even Cabernet Sauvignon. Pillitteri Estates Winery from the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario claim to be the first winery in the world producing Shiraz (Syrah) ice wine with the 2004 vintage. Ice wines from white varieties tend to be pale
Ice Wine Production
Natural ice wines require a hard freeze (by law in Canada 17 °F or colder, and in Germany 19 °F or colder), to occur sometime after the grapes are ripe, which means that the grapes may hang on the vine for several months following the normal harvest. If a freeze does not come quickly enough, the grapes may rot and the crop will be lost. If the freeze is too severe, no juice can be extracted. Vineland Winery in Ontario once broke their pneumatic press in the 1990s while pressing the frozen grapes because they were too hard. The longer the harvest is delayed, the more fruit will be lost to wild animals and dropped fruit. Since the fruit must be pressed while it is still frozen, pickers often must work at night or very early in the morning, harvesting thegrapes within a few hours, while cellar workers must work in unheated spaces.
In Austria, Germany, and Canada, the grapes must freeze naturally to be called ice wine. In other countries, some winemakers use cryoextraction (that is, mechanical freezing) to simulate the effect of a frost and typically do not leave the grapes to hang for extended periods as is done with natural ice wines. These non-traditional ice wines are sometimes referred to as "icebox wines". An example is Bonny Doon's Vin de Glacière. The high sugar level in the must leads to a slower-than-normal fermentation. It may take months to complete the fermentation (compared to days or weeks for regular wines) and special strains of yeasts should be used.
Egon Muller, Riesling, Eiswein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Scharzhofberger, 1996: Deep golden colored, this full bodied Eiswine has a nearly ideal combination between hyper-sweetness and refreshing acidity, along with lemon-lime, citrus peel and minerals. A long spicy finish that cannot help but enchant. One meant for early drinking or medium term cellaring, the wine should cellar comfortably until 2020.
Krebs-Grode, Eiswein, Auxerrois, Eiswein Rheinhessen, 1998: Medium bodied, with abundant spices on a deliciously sweet background of pineapples, lime and apricots and with generous hints of sweet cream and minerals, this superbly balanced and remarkably elegant wine has flavors that linger seemingly without end. Best drinking now - 2012.
Inniskillin, Ice Wine, 2001: Traditional ice wine, easily comparable to the best of Germany, this deeply sweet, but remarkably well balanced and elegant wine almost attacks you with luxurious flavors of peaches, lychees, pears in the way of fruits and then honey, cinnamon and candied fruits on the long finish. Full bodied, with just the right amount of natural acidity, the wine is drinking nicely even now.
Inniskillin, Ice Wine, Vidal, 1999: This full bodied, bronzed orange wine is showing smooth and rich with honey and apple sweetness, together with aromas and flavors of dried apricots, yellow peaches and mangoes, Which overlay comfortably by light cinnamon-ginger flavors. Long and mouth-filling, the wine is drinking beautifully now and promises to cellar well until 2010 - 2012.
Columbia Crest, Semillon Ice Wine, Reserve, 1998: Full bodied, with intense honeyed sweetness and with delicious fig and summer fruits matched nicely by mocha and spiced roasted nut flavors and aromas. Excellent balance between fruits, sweetness and acidity and a very long finish add enormously to the charm of the wine. Drink 2002 - 2012 or longer.
Ice wine usually has a slightly lower alcohol content than regular table wine with some Riesling ice wines from Germany having an alcohol content as low as 6%. Ice wines produced in Canada usually have higher alcohol content, between eight and 13 percent. In most years, ice wines from Canada generally have higher brix degree (must weight) compared to those from Germany. This is largely due to the more consistent winters in Canada. Must with insufficient brix level cannot be made into ice wine, and is thus often sold as "special select late harvest" or "select late harvest" at a fraction of the price that true ice wine commands.
Connoisseurs argue about whether ice wine improves with age or is meant to be drunk young. Those who support aging claim that ice wine's very high sugar level (which is often much higher than that of Sauternes) and high acidity preserve the content for many years after bottling. Those who disagree contend that as ice wine ages, it loses its distinctive acidity, fruitiness, aroma, and freshness.
Since I'm just a simple lover of ice wines, I'll concentrate on the drinking and leave the arguing to the so called 'experts.' What I am hopeful of is that once you try a quality ice wine, especially if it's after reading this article, you raise a toast to me.
edenwine.co.uk, longviewwinery.com, trentobike.org, spicetrader.net, Wolfgang Shultz, inniskillin, gvstudios.com, wineandpassionaccessories.com, lancette-arts.journal.ca, cookinglight.com, wikipedia.org