Icewine is made from grapes which have been left on the vine and allowed to freeze. The grapes are left on the vines for a long time, sometime between December and March in Canada.
The frozen grapes don’t release as much water as unfrozen grapes, leading to a higher sugar content similar to Sauternes. The secret to icewine is balancing the sweetness and acidity.
Most icewine comes from Germany (eiswein) or Canada, primarily the Ontario area, where freezing is fairly consistent from year to year.
Typical grapes used for icewine include highly acidic grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Vidal, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
Vidal is popular for icewine for many reasons, not least of which is its winter hardiness and high acid. These grapes have thicker skins which help to prevent rot and mold formation. Because Vidal has floral notes, it is best consumed young.
Riesling has thinner skins, so the weather dictates how well these grape do. Because Riesling is riskier to make into icewine, the Rieslings can be harder to find and more expensive but may be more age worthy than Vidal.
What makes icewine so expensive?
- Grapes are typically harvested by hand (brrr … ) and must be processed quickly after picking – just picture picking grapes at night in the whipping cold wind!
- Each grape only yields about one fifth what an unfrozen grape would give when pressed.
- Vineyards take an enormous risk by leaving their grapes out so long – these grapes can be decimated before they can be harvested. Birds and other animals eat the still hanging grapes from the vine. If a freeze doesn’t come, the grapes can rot, and if a hard freeze comes too quickly, the juice can be impossible to extract from the grapes.
- Because of the very high sugar level, fermentation can take a very long time – even months – to complete. Because of the high sugar levels and cold must, special yeast is required.
Does icewine age well?
The sugar in icewine acts as a preservative so these wines do age, but lose their fruitiness over time. If you prefer a fruitier wine, drink young. If you like to see what happens with age, I bet you’ll find some interesting flavors develop. According to our great winechat guests, a smoky caramel flavor develops.
Icewine can hold in the refrigerator for days after opening.
Icewine can be enjoyed on its own, as a sweet dessert by itself or with some fresh fruit to bring out the fruit flavors in the wine.
Recommendations for drinking included an “icewine martini” which has a 2:1 icewine:vodka ratio. Also popular is making “icewine popsicles” – think of how refreshing.
A few last words …
Remember it’s “icewine” not “ice wine!” Fake icewines are common, especially in certain parts of the world (such as China) so make sure to look for the one word label.
Love Ice Wine? Maybe a trip to Niagara’s Ice Wine Festival is in order!
A special thanks to Tyler Philp for gathering all of our Canadian friends to a wonderful discussion! I learned so much and am having such a great time introducing friends and family to icewine!
Let me know if I missed anything or if you’ve had a great icewine experience!