Written by: Tim Edison

Updated on: August 24, 2022

Ice Wine: The Background Of A Fine Beverage

Why Is Ice Wine Expensive? The Background Of A Fine Beverage

Ice wine is an exquisite beverage reserved for a few. Rare and expensive, this goodness fascinates wine aficionados around the world. But what’s all the fuss about it? What makes this wine so special after all?

To begin with, ice wine isn’t a wine with ice cubes, as some beginners may believe. Ice wine, also called Eiswein, vin du glace or vino di ghiacchio, is a rare fine wine produced in the coldest wine regions from grapes that have been exposed to frost.

A peculiar winemaking process and the rarity of this beverage make it a niche product that only a few understand and appreciate.

What Is Ice Wine?

Ice wine identifies a category of wines obtained from the vinification of grapes that have been exposed to frost for at least three consecutive days. To achieve this, the grapes are not harvested on time but left to mature on the plant until December or January. In this way, frost and thaw dehydrate the grapes in a natural way, concentrating the sugars, acids, and grape extracts, intensifying the aromas and complexity of the beverage.

Harvest is carried out by hand-picking the grapes and is conducted during nighttime when outdoor temperatures are below 14°F. From the harvested grapes are then selected only those that have rock-frozen fruits; the grapes are pressed immediately under extreme cold. In this way, the water in the grapes remains frozen and only a few drops of concentrated juice are collected.

This peculiar process explains why ice wine is so expensive. Not only it takes a whole host of grapes to make a bottle, but winemakers have to work in extreme environmental conditions to obtain this goodness.

A Brief History Of Ice Wine

Produced mainly in Germany, Austria, and Canada, ice wine has unclear origins. It seems that it has been invented in Germany due to a sudden frost that froze all grapes. In an attempt to save what was left of their crops, the winemakers in  Würzburg used the frozen fruit to obtain an extremely concentrated must, which produced the first Eiswein.

According to another hypothesis, the first ice wine in the history was produced in the same way by in Dromersheim. The legend narrates that winemakers in the area decided to feed livestock with the damaged grapes but noticed the sweetness of the juice. This determined them to press those frozen grapes and from the little juice obtained they produced the most exquisite sweet, the Eiswein.

Legends apart, dr. Hans Georg Ambrosi, the father of Eiswein, improved and perfected the winemaking technique towards the end of 1960. In fact, he began experimenting on ice wine in 1955 while he was studying in South Africa. Returning to Germany to improve his knowledge about the wine, Ambrosi founded a winery and started producing the first batches.

Soon enough, other winemakers in Germany and Austria started to produce their own versions of Eiswein, that became an emblem wine of both countries. However, the climatic conditions in both European countries couldn’t guarantee an annual production of ice wine. Instead, Canada’s harsh winter climate could.

Due to an excellent climate that promotes full grape maturation during summer and with very cold winters, Canada quickly became the world’s leading producer of ice wine. The country officially entered the history of this wine in 1973 thanks to Walter Hainle, a German winemaker who brought the technique to Canada in 1970.

Since then, the country has produced ice wine every year, experimenting and improving the production technique.

Ice Wine Tasting Notes

Ice wine is one of the most sought-after sweet wines. Mistakenly considered a dessert wine, this beverage is easy to pair with sweet, but also with savory dishes. Often, the overall production of Eiswein is not enough to satisfy all market demand, and this explains the price.

The main area of production of this wine is Niagara Peninsula, in Ontario, where the wine is mainly produced from Vidal, a hybrid grape of French origins.

In Germany and Austria, ice wine is mainly produced from Riesling grapes, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc. Cabernet Franc and Rosé Muscat are also used, although on a smaller scale.

Regardless of the type of grapes used, all Eisweins are very sweet but very well balanced, with a defined acidity and sapidity. From a visual point of view, Eiswein is bright and luminous, with a beautiful amber color. Viscous, the wine forms dense arches on the walls of the glass.

The aromatic bouquet has fruity hints of peach, apricot, tropical fruits, caramel, and honey. Vidal wine also presents pleasant hints of currant and berries.

Ideal to consume as a meditation wine, ice wine displays its best characteristics at temperatures between 57° and 64°F. This temperature enhances the complexity of the aromas, adding a characteristic versatility to savory dishes. When paired with spicy foods, the serving temperature drops to about 50-57°F to mitigate sweetness and promote freshness.

Pairing Ice Wine And Food

Extremely sweet, intense, and elegant, ice wine inebriates with its aromatic spectrum that goes from honey and apricot notes to citrus and exotic fruits. Mineral notes and hints of vanilla and freshly baked bread define the character of this wine.

The sweetness of this wine is beautifully counterbalanced by a marked acidity, that makes each sip deep and fresh.

This versatile wine is suitable to serve in any season, combined with greasy winter foods or savory summer dishes. Its best matches are cheeses, both strong and aged or creamy and fresh varieties. Ice wine pairs wonderfully with blue cheese, pecorino, parmesan, and mature cheddar. Sweet and savory cheesecakes are enhanced by the iced sweetness of this wine.

In summer, Eiswein accompanies almost all fresh fruit but also fruit salads. Blue-veined tapas ,foie gras, and Asian fusion finger foods pair wonderfully with Riesling ice wine.

Roasts, stuffed turkey, glazed pork shank, salmon, pies, blueberry cakes, and many other winter foods pair better with Vidal ice wine, but also with ice wine made from Muscat or Cabernet Franc.

About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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