What Is Ice Wine?

A Dessert Wine Made From Frozen Grapes

Frozen grapes on the vine for ice wine

Kevin Miller / E+ / Getty Images

In This Article

Ice wine is an ultra-rich, super sweet dessert wine made from the intense liquid of grapes frozen on the vine. The tradition of making ice wine is well-rooted in Austria and Germany (locally known as eiswein), but Canada is one of the world's leading regions. The specialty wine is notoriously hard to produce and is sold in half-size bottles for a premium. Like many dessert varieties, it's lower in alcohol than most wines, and displays notes of sweet fruits and honey.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Canada, Germany, Austria, U.S. (Finger Lakes, Upper Midwest), China
  • Origin: Germany
  • Sweetness: Very sweet
  • Color: Light gold to pink
  • ABV: 7–12% 

Taste and Flavor Profile

Ice wine is a sweet dessert wine. In fact, it's one of the sweetest wines you can find, but the intense sweetness is balanced by plenty of bright acidity. With strong flavors of honey, citrus, stone fruit like peach and dried apricot, and juicy tropical fruits like mango, ice wine made from white grapes still retains a freshness on the palate. Red grape ice wine has notes of berries like strawberry and some light spice. Both can exhibit a floral nose and a lingering, silky sweet finish and tend to be low in tannins.

The exact characteristics of ice wine will vary greatly depending on the grape varietals used and the treatment. Some ice wines are aged in oak barrels, adding a layer of complexity.

How to Taste Wine

Follow a few steps when tasting wine to ensure you have the best experience:

  1. Look: Take a good look at the wine, examining the color and opacity through the glass.
  2. Smell: Swirl your glass for 10 seconds and take a quick whiff. Then stick your nose into the wine glass for a deep inhale, taking in your first impressions of the wine.
  3. Taste: Take a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. Note the acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to tasting notes (berries, spice, wood) and finally the finish.

Grapes and Wine Regions

Ice wine is a completely unique wine that is made from grapes that have been allowed to literally freeze on the vine, significantly concentrating the grape's sugars and intensifying the flavor profile. The fruit is typically harvested in the middle of the night in December or January when the temperatures are icy cold. The frozen grapes are then pressed, squeezing out the drops of juice before running through the fermentation process.

The most common grapes utilized in the making of ice wine are Riesling, Vidal blanc, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, and Cabernet Franc⁠—grapes with higher levels of acidity to render the final wine refreshing and not heavy or overly "sticky." The growing conditions vary depending on the wine grapes used, but because the grapes are harvested frozen, the vines must be able to withstand freezing cold temperatures. Most ice wines are made in white wine style but light red varieties can be found.

Food Pairings

Ice wine is delicious served as a sweet sip on its own, and can even be paired with certain foods that you'd typically enjoy at the end of a meal. Try pairing with a soft cheese like brie or mild goat cheese, or with simple vanilla desserts like yogurt panna cotta, sour cream pound cake, or ice cream.

Serve ice wine as two-ounce pours (rather than the standard wine pour of four ounces) in a small white wine glass or tumbler. Lightly chilled is best, 50 to 55 F—stick the bottle in the fridge about an hour before serving.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

Because the frozen grapes yield such small quantities of liquid, the overall production numbers of ice wines are considerably lower than that of table wines. In fact, some years a region won't produce any ice wine at all because of a warm winter. Because of this, it is not uncommon to pay over $100 for a 375 mL bottle of quality ice wines from Canada.

Ice wine can't typically be found in supermarkets or liquor stores, but you may spot a bottle or two at a good wine shop. It can certainly be ordered from a shop, an online purveyor, or directly from the winery. It's worth noting that some winemakers are artificially freezing grapes post-harvest to emulate the process of making ice wines, though the results are not as stunning as those made from naturally frozen grapes. These wines are typically labeled as "iced wine" rather than ice wine or eiswein. If you can't find ice wine, try another high-quality white dessert wine.

When shopping for ice wine, these brands produce high-quality options and are widely available:

  • Inniskillin
  • Weingut Markus Huber
  • Peller Estates
  • Hunt County Vineyards
  • Matteo
  • Kiona
  • Riverview Cellars Estate
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle
  • Dr. Loosen
  • Casa Larga