Ice Wines From Around the Globe
It’s been months since the traditional grape harvest has ended, but in ice-wine country, row upon row of pristinely ripened grapes dangle precariously on the vines.
Through December—and sometimes into January or February—the grapes will shrivel and freeze, concentrating their sugars, acids and fruit essences. Shrouded under nets that shield from hungry birds and weather, they hang perilously, waiting for Mother Nature to bless them with her icy touch.
Ice wine (eiswein in Austria and Germany, or the single-word icewine in Canada) is the liquid gold from these jewels—the pressings of frozen harvests around the world.
Germany and Canada are the leading producers of traditional ice wines, but Austria, Switzerland and the United States, particularly Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York, also produce offerings.
Traditional ice wines are made by leaving grapes—usually highly aromatic, high-acid varieties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Vidal Blanc, Sylvaner and even Cabernet Franc—on the vines until temperatures drop to extreme lows (by law, at least 19.4˚F in Germany, 17.6˚F in Canada).
It’s a game against Mother Nature that often results in painstakingly low, and sometimes nonexistent, yields.
Birds are known to destroy entire crops. And even when netting is installed, the grapes can fall prey to a host of other dangers—wild boar, disease, mold, rain, wind or hail. Unseasonably warm winter weather can thwart an ice wine harvest completely.
Under ideal conditions, the grapes dehydrate and concentrate through the winter. Once a deep frost hits, they freeze into icy pellets that are painstakingly harvested, usually in the dead of night while temperatures remain frigid.
Battling frostbite and lack of sleep, pickers race against time and temperature to pick, select and press the icy fruit while still frozen. Under intense hydraulic pressure, the grapes eject a miniscule amount of concentrated, sugary essence, while the water content remains behind as ice.
Even after fermentation, the finished wines remain intensely sweet, with pristine fruit profiles and focused acidities that balance the sugar on the palate. At their best, the wines are silky, and they ripple unctuously with flavor and texture.
Amongst the finest dessert wines in the world, ice wines are ideal pairings with cheese, foie gras and other luscious delicacies. Here’s a look at the world’s major producing countries.
—Anna Lee C. Iijima, Sean Sullivan and Roger Voss