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Voice of the Vine: A Honey of a Wine
Friday, 03 February 2012 17:22
By Lou Campoli
What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to sip a wine that exhibits a honeyed sweetness like no other – ice wine (known as
This sweet, white dessert wine is made from grapes that have frozen while still on the vine.
Water in the grape freezes and crystallizes, leaving very concentrated sugar droplets in the berry. These grapes are handpicked in the cold of night and immediately pressed. Gentle pressing coaxes those ever so tiny sugar droplets out of the grape. The “juice” is then fermented, and the resulting sweet wine is simply luscious.
Riesling, vidal blanc, seyval blanc, grüner veltliner, gewürztraminer, and pinot blanc are the most common grapes used.
While there is some indication that wine from frozen grapes was made during Roman times, it is generally accepted that the first ice wine was made in Germany in 1794. A vineyard owner accidentally left grapes unpicked until they froze. The wine made from those grapes was called winter wine.
Ice wines are rare and expensive, which is understandable when you consider the immense amount of labor involved and the tiny production. In addition, if the grapes do not freeze, the grower is left with raisins, thereby losing the entire vintage.
They typically exhibit a golden color. Ice wines have concentrated aromas and flavors of peach, pear, dried apricot, citrus, pineapple, mango, honey, fig, and caramel. Serve well chilled. It pairs well with blue cheese or fruit desserts such as apple strudel and peach pie.
Canada is currently the largest producer because, year by year, it has the most favorable weather conditions in which to produce it. The first ice wine was produced from riesling in 1972 by Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery in British Columbia. Inniskillin, in the Niagara region of Ontario, produced its first from vidal blanc in 1984. It also produces ice wine from riesling and cabernet franc, a red grape that produces a rosé-colored result. In addition, Inniskillin produces a sparkling variety from vidal blanc. In British Columbia, Jackson-Triggs makes it from vidal blanc.
New York’s Finger Lakes region is rich in production —Wagner, Sheldrake, Standing Stone, Heron Hill, Peller Estates, and Cave Spring. On Long Island, Duck Walk produces it from vidal blanc. In New Jersey, Tomasello Winery makes it from partially frozen vidal blanc grapes.
In Germany and Austria, a wine cannot be called Eiswein unless the grapes are ripe and remain on the vine until the temperature has reached -7° C (19° F). German riesling producers include Dexheimer Doktor, Schmitt Sohne, Heinz Eifel and Leonard Kreusch. In Austria, Alois Kracher Cuvée is made from grüner veltliner and chardonnay, and Weingut PMC Estate makes it from grüner veltliner and weissburgunder (pinot blanc).
If natural freezing conditions do not exist, cryoextraction (freezing by refrigeration) can be used to make an ersatz variety. Selaks Ice Wine from New Zealand is made from a blend of gewürztraminer and riesling. Pacific Rim in Washington makes Vin de Glacière from riesling. Covey Run in Washington uses sémillon. In Oregon, King Estate Vin Glace is produced from pinot gris. These wines are a fraction of the price of real ice wines, and their flavors are not nearly as deep or concentrated. To give you an idea of the price difference, Inniskillin Icewines are $50 and up for a half-bottle, while Selaks Ice Wine sells for $19 a half-bottle.
If you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day on a truly sweet note, serve up a bottle of ice wine — and don’t forget her gift.