Welcome to the wonderful world of ice wine, one of the sweetest mistakes nature has ever made.
It’s hard to know how anyone would ever purposefully make ice wine. It might not look like it, but true ice wine is one of the hardest, most misery-stricken wines to produce. Just imagine yourself outside in sub-zero temperatures, in the dark, in the middle of a mid-west winter (or on a steep hill in Germany), trying to harvest grapes.
There is no doubt that ice wine is one of the wine treasures of the world.
Ice wine is an ultra-rich, super sweet dessert wine made from the intense liquid of naturally frozen grapes. The tradition of making ice wine is well-rooted in Austria and Germany (locally known as "eiswein"); however, Canada has got the current claim to ice wine-making fame, with the majority of the market's ice wine offerings coming from British Columbia and Ontario.
A Lil’ History
Legend has it that ice wine was discovered by a German winemaker who was away from his vineyard during harvest (never a good idea), and when he returned all of his grapes had been frozen on the vine. Undeterred he carried out the unorthodox harvest as usual and proceeded to press his frozen grapes for fermentation. The result, the first eiswein.
Making Ice Wine
The secret to ice wine is processing frozen grapes at around 20 ºF (-7º C). The frozen grapes are brought into the winery where they are transferred–thousands of hard, icy marbles–into a grape crusher and then into a grape press. Many heritage grape presses have broken under the pressure of attempting to press the concentrated grape sugar syrup out of frozen grapes. Only about 10–20% of the liquid in these frozen grapes is used for ice wine and because the juice is so sweet, it can take anywhere from 3–6 months–a long, slow, finicky fermentation–to make ice wine. When it’s all done, wines have around 10% ABV and a range of sweetness from around 160–220 g/L of RS.
Grapes Used To Produce Ice Wine
The most common grapes utilized in the making of ice wine are Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, and Vidal Blanc - grapes with higher levels of acidity to render the final wine refreshing and not heavy or overly "sticky."