Ice wine sounds like some fictional wine variety from the Game of Throne Series, made in the Kingdom of the North.
It may sound like that, but there is nothing fictional about it as it is as real as they come. Here’s a brief introduction to ice wine, its origins, how it’s made, how it tastes, and a few things in between that.
What is Ice Wine?
Ice wine is made from frozen grapes that are pressed while still frozen. When the frozen grapes are pressed, they release only a couple of concentrated ml juice per grape. As a result, the juice is quite sweet, often twice sweeter than in any typical dry wine. Plus, its acidity levels are a bit on the high end.
The harvest doesn’t begin until January and can even sometimes happen in February. Grapes are harvested while frozen, at night, and are instantly transported to the winery to be pressed. The grapes must be frozen before being pressed.
Once pressed, the concentrated juice is left for a day or two. That way, the sediment can settle. Afterward, it is warmed so that the fermentation process can start.
The final result is a rich, sweet dessert wine – similar to Muscat.
The Origins of Ice Wine
There are certain indications that ice wine dates from the Roman era. However, there aren’t any conclusive proofs. There are reliable documents and proof that ice wine was made in 1830 in Germany.
Therefore, Germany is considered the birth country of ice wine. To be more precise, the first frozen grapes were harvested at the Rheinhessen wine region in Germany during February in 1830. During that period, Germans used the term eiswein for ice wine.
A chance tasting led to the creation of ice wine. Once they found out that there is some juice in the frozen grapes, they’ve decided that they should try and make something out of it. The result was what we know today as ice wine.
Birds and other animals were once a major threat to winter grapes. That was a big issue until the development of the protective netting. Another invention that made easier ice wine production was the pneumatic grape press. The pneumatic press was invented by a German company called Willmes in 1951.
That was all good, but things took off for ice wine when Canadian winemakers started showing interest in its production. They did some experimental productions in the late 70s but without any notable success.
In 1984, a Canadian winery called Inniskillin used bird nets to protect their crops. The result was the first commercial-sized ice wine crop in Canada. Things took off from then on, and soon after, Canada turned into the biggest ice wine producer in the world.
Ice Wine Varieties
Ice wine producers mainly rely on varieties featuring high levels of acidity. That way, the wine is not too heavy and instead is very refreshing. Some of the most common ice wine grape varieties are Sylwaner, Vidal, Cabernet Frane, and Riesling.
At the same time, ice wine producers are not afraid to experiment with other varieties such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay.
Biggest Producers of Ice Wine
Canada and Germany are the biggest producers of ice wine in the world at the moment. It has been so for more than a decade. Other than Canada and Germany, ice wine is made in the United States, Japan, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, France, Croatia, Sweden, etc.
Ice wines are considered dessert wines and are often poured at the beginning of the meal. They go along perfectly with tropical fruit-based desserts. In the case of ice wine from a red variety, it can be paired nicely with a chocolate-based dessert.
A good pairing rule for ice wine is to consider pairings common with Muscat dessert wine. Since the two share similar flavor profiles, you will typically find that what pairs well with Muscat will also pair brilliantly with Ice Wine! Muscat can have a bit more of a mineral quality than some ice wine, but past this they can be fairly similar.
Furthermore, ice wine can be combined with cheese, most notably blue cheese.
Ice Wine Prices
Frozen grapes give four or five times less juice than unfrozen, regular grapes. Plus, that is hand-picked during severe cold makes the production cost quite high. As a result, an ice wine bottle (format 375ml) with good quality can cost between $30 and $50. The premium quality ice wines start at $50.