Love and eiswein have surprisingly much in common: Both are fraught with risk, depend on luck and require decisive action at the exact right moment. But when the stars magically align, the result is heady and sweet.
Eiswein (or icewine) is made from grapes that are harvested when frozen, and eastern Austria’s winemakers were lucky this year. Winemakers leave their frost-prone vineyards unharvested in fall, then pray for chilly weather. When temperatures drop to 19.4°F or below, grapes will freeze. Primed by the weather forecast, warmly wrapped picking teams are sent into the frosty night.
The frozen grapes are taken straight to the winery to be pressed. Since most of the water inside the grapes is frozen, the resulting juice is an intensely sweet concentrate of sugars, acids and thrillingly pure flavor.
The resulting wine, like true love, is rare, precious and sweet.
Here, four winemakers share their favorite romantic eiswein food pairings with Wine Enthusiast.
Markus Huber, from the Traisental region south of the Danube, spent New Year’s Eve in the vineyard, harvesting frozen Riesling at 19°F. While he usually pairs his eiswein with either crème brûlée or rhubarb tart, he has fond memories of savoring his eiswein with very salty East Coast oysters at Manhattan’s Grand Central Oyster Bar. “That was a spectacular taste experience,” he says. If your loved one prefers a savory end to the meal, Markus also suggests pairing eiswein with mature Bergkäse (hard cheese).
In Kamptal, the night of January 5 finally proved cold enough for the team at Schloss Gobelsburg to harvest its Grüner Veltliner. Winemaker Michael Moosbrugger loves to pair Grüner-based eiswein with tarte tatin, the classic French upside-down apple tart. “Usually our eiswein shows some hints of caramel as well as pronounced apple and pear fruit,” he says, calling the pairing with tarte tatin, “a fitting dessert for Valentine’s Day.”
Hans und Christine Nitthaus
Luck struck twice for the Nittnaus family, who were able to harvest Grüner Veltliner, Blaufränkisch and Welschriesling on New Year’s Eve and January 4. While these new treasures ferment away, it’s a good time to savor previous bottlings. For Junior Winemaker Andreas Nittnaus, the preferred food combo depends on the grape variety. For eiswein made from Welschriesling, he suggests aromatic soft cheeses and mature hard cheeses. “But you must have walnuts alongside to make for a really great combination,” he says. With his Grüner-based Exquisit bottling, he loves marillenpalatschinken, the ubiquitous Austrian dessert of warm pancakes filled with apricot jam and served with whipped cream. But seduction need not be so heavy—Andreas says that refreshing fruit sorbets with fresh berries also work beautifully.
Stefan Tscheppe, managing director of Burgenland’s Schloss Esterházy, harvested Grüner Veltliner with his team at 4 am on January 14 as temps dipped to 17.6°F. “For eiswein, and love, you just have to hope for the best and trust that things will work out,” he says. “We do all we can to protect the grapes from birds with netting, but in the end, nature decides.” In 2012, his team harvested a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc eiswein which matches perfectly with Lekvártascherl, a local dessert speciality made from potato pastry and plum jam. However, Stefan personally prefers his eiswein with fine, creamy chocolate in front of an open fire.