Of the five sensations of taste, sweetness may be the most sought after. From the fields of the Caribbean that produce fine cane sugar to dessert tables in our own homes, our desire to taste sweet foods and drinks is a constant pursuit. Ice wine is a super sweet wine, known by previous generations as a rare delicacy. There are very specific conditions needed to make this liquid confection, so it will never be as common as an everyday Cabernet or Riesling. As with many other foods, technology has made it easier to produce ice wine, but it is still rare in most parts of the world. So what is ice wine? It’s the best thing you’re not drinking.
The Frozen Grape Wine
When you see ice wine, icewine, or Eiswein on the label, you are looking at a bottle of frozen grape wine. To be labeled with one of these names, the winery must allow the grapes to freeze on the vine. As the cold temperatures persist, the fruit begins to shrivel more and more, which intensifies the sugars inside and concentrates the sweetness to maximum levels. Depending on the region, vines must be shielded under nets to prevent birds from eating the grapes. Since long months of cold weather are essential for this process, wine regions in Canada, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are the most notable producers. In Canada, by law, temperatures must drop to levels below 17.6 degrees Farenheight.
Making Ice Wine
The frozen grapes are harvested during the deepest, coldest part of the winter–sometimes in the middle of the night. The still-frozen grapes are pressed using immense hydraulic pressure. Because only 10% to 20% of the liquid is used, each of the frozen wine grapes produces one single drop of icewine. Most of the water remains frozen within the fruit. Next, the juice, a/k/a the must, goes through the fermentation process. Because the must is so concentrated, the resulting wine is incredibly sweet with intensely specific fruit and acidity profiles, as well.
Typical varieties of ice wine grapes include Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Chenin Blanc. You’ll see other varieties on the shelf today, as more and more wineries attempt to push the boundaries of traditional winemaking. But if you are purchasing icewine for the first time, go for one of the tried-and-true favorites.
Where Can I Buy Ice Wine?
In the United States, unless you live in a very cold northern region, you aren’t likely to find icewines at a local winery. The dessert wine section of most liquor stores will carry one or two styles, but you may need to ask them to special order it. During November and December, many supermarkets will bring a few cases in as a seasonal product, so look for it as you do your holiday grocery shopping.
How to Drink Ice Wine
Ice wine can be served chilled to around 55 degrees, or at a “room” temperature of 70 degrees. If serving during the winter months or at a holiday table, some people will warm it up like hot cider. Being a super sweet wine, it’s best paired with foods that have high-fat content. Rich cheeses are a popular companion, along with cured pork sausages and salty roast beef. Traditionally, Eiswein is served with dessert because of the sweetness. When saving a bottle for the end of the meal, make sure your dessert selection edges on the buttery side to balance with the ice wine.
The Best Ice Wine Glasses
Most ice wines are full-bodied with fruit aromas. White varieties will lean towards honey and apricot flavors. Red varieties will occasionally have a little spice, but almost always carry notes of red fruits such as apple and strawberry. When serving the sweetest wine known to man, you’ll want to use small glasses. You don’t need to go as tiny as a cordial glass, but that is an option if you only have a small amount to taste. We suggest using stemless wine glasses with a maximum capacity of 9 ounces to 11 ounces. Using this size for ice wine glasses will make a 2-3 ounce pour appear generous, and most guests won’t want more than that. The best ice wine is so rich and sweet that a little goes a long way.