Literally and figuratively, ice wines are some of the coolest dessert wines on the market today.
By Michael Schachner
Literally and figuratively speaking, ice wines are some of the coolest dessert wines on the market today. An emerging source for these increasingly popular wines, made from grapes left on the vines until the first serious freeze of winter, is the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada.
Among the top ice wines from Okanagan (pronounce oak-uh-noggin) are the new releases from Mission Hill Family Estate, a property founded 25 years ago by Vancouver-born but European raised Anthony von Mandl. With such roots, it should come as no surprise that von Mandl is trying to capture the German-Austrian style in his three new ice wines, all made exclusively from Riesling grapes.
Hailing from the mid-Okanagan Valley, which sits at the northerly latitude of 49.5 degrees, these wines benefit from a dry, sun-drenched climate in which rot is not a threat. Approximately eight in ten vintages yield a hard freeze, usually in December but sometimes not until the latter part of January. By that time, grape sugars exceed 40 percent and the fruit, or should we say raisins, are hand-picked and crushed to produce a rich, sweet elixir.
The end result at Mission Hill, which just began exporting its wines to the United States this year, is a basic Five Vineyards ice wine that comes in a 187ml bottle and sells for about $20. Higher up the quality ladder is the Reserve 375ml bottling ($60), which is made from estate grapes as well as fruit from neighboring farms. The ultimate product is the Select Lot Collection, which comes entirely from Mission Hill's vineyards, with each lot vinified separately before blending ($85; 375ml). These wines, all 2004 vintage, are made by John Simes, with von Mandl consulting.