Ice wine: The frozen secret
Ice wine is a dessert wine made from frozen grapes still on the vine. It is known as Eiswein in Germany. Since the grapes must be frozen on the vine, there are only a few places in the world where this wine can be produced. Besides Germany, the best ice wines are also made in Canada. The lesser quality ice wines can be found in Australia, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United States (and other countries).
Natural ice wines require a hard freeze some time after the grape has ripened. In Canada and Germany, the hard freeze must reach a certain temperature, -8 C in Canada and -7 C in Germany. Since Canada has the most consistent winters, Canada has become the largest producer of ice wines. The reason ice wines are so expensive is that if the hard freeze does not come before the grapes rot, an entire crop may be lost. Germany has been known to go through several years without producing an ice wine. Simple supply and demand can drive the price to $80 USD or more for a single 375 ml bottle. The Royal DeMaria 2000 Chardonnay produced by an Ontario winemaker resulted in only 5 cases of wine (60 bottles). Each bottle of the Chardonnay sold for $30,000 USD.
Ice wine has a higher concentration of sugar in the wine, which gives the wine its sweet profile. The reason for the sweetness comes from the freezing of the grapes. The water in the grape freezes, but the sugars and other solubles do not. When the grapes are pressed, a more concentrated must is produced. Only healthy grapes with a brix level (a measure of sugar in the grape) of 35 or higher can be used for ice wine. Grapes with a lower brix level are usually given the designation “select late harvest”. The high sugar levels are balanced with high acidity, producing a crisp flavor.
Some winemakers have tried mechanically freezing the grapes to produce ice wine. This process is called cryoextraction. In Austria, Canada and Germany, the grapes must freeze naturally to be called ice wine. These wines are often called “icebox” wines. There are also several “ice wine style” kits that one can make at home. These kits reproduce the conditions for ice wine, but are not true ice wines. They are however a very good approximation, and are a very popular wine kit to make.
The most common grape traditionally used for ice wine is Riesling. This may be from the ice wine’s origins in Germany. Now ice wines are made from a large variety of grapes from Chardonnay to even red grapes such as Shiraz (Syrah). There are even a few sparkling ice wines from Canada.
The ice wine has a very fruity, crisp taste when consumed young. When the ice wine is aged, the wine flavors change to jam, honey, and Carmel. This has created some debate on when an ice wine is best opened. Either way, the taste is a very unique experience.
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I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!