Ice wine is an ultra-rich, super sweet dessert wine made from the intense liquid of naturally frozen grapes. The tradition of making ice wine is well-rooted in Austria and Germany (locally known as "eiswein"); however, Canada has got the current claim to ice wine-making fame, with the majority of the market's ice wine offerings coming from British Columbia and Ontario.
The Legend of Ice Wine
Legend has it that ice wine was discovered by a German winemaker who was away from his vineyard during harvest (never a good idea), and when he returned all of his grapes had been frozen on the vine. Undeterred he carried out the unorthodox harvest as usual and proceeded to press his frozen grapes for fermentation. The result, the first eiswein.
How Is Ice Wine Made?
In short, ice wine is a 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. These frozen grapes are then pressed, squeezing out the drops of juice (must) before running through the fermentation process. Many people mistakingly, confuse the process of vinification for ice wine with botrytis, or noble rot, associated with making the world's most sought-after dessert wines. Ice wine should not be affected by botrytis prior to freezing.
What Grapes Are Used in Ice Wine?
The most common grapes utilized in the making of ice wine are Riesling, Vidal, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc - grapes with higher levels of acidity to render the final wine refreshing and not heavy or overly "sticky." However, as is common in the wine industry there are plenty of winemakers experimenting with a variety of grapes in a variety of regions to stretch the limits and discover new twists on this famous form of wine.
Styles and Flavors of Ice Wine
Most ice wines are made in a medium to full-bodied style. The most common aromas tend towards the stone fruits, with apricot and peach being the top components of aromatic character in the ice wines made from white grape varietals. On the palate, sweet, honey-like nuances shine brightly along with the replay of stone fruit and rich, exotic flavors of tropical mango. Red wines tend towards strawberry and candied red fruit profiles with sweet spicy aromas woven into the mix.
Alcohol Levels in Ice Wine
Like many dessert wines, the alcohol levels in ice wine tends to be on the lower end of the spectrum. Average levels of alcohol range from 7-12%, with German eisweins coming in lower than that of their Canadian counterparts as a whole.
Ice Wine Pricing
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, generally in the neighborhood of 10-12%. As the supply and demand principles dictate, true ice wines will typically be pricier than your average table wine. In fact, it is not uncommon to pay $50-100+ for a 375 mL bottle for the best Ice wines from Canada.
Ice Wine Producers
Inniskillin is perhaps the most well-known producer of Ice wine, and for good reason. As Canada's premier producer of ice wine, they have created quite a reputation of quality-driven and surprisingly accessible Ice wines. There are up and coming producers of ice wines in many regions of the world. In the U.S., the Pacific Northwest, New York, and Michigan are maximizing their climate zones to put their grapes to use in making ice wines when the seasons cooperate. Others 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.
Keep an eye out for the following ice wine producers:
Riverview Cellars Estate
Pillitteri Estates Winery
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Pelee Island Winery