If you put the two words, ‘ice’ and ‘wine’ together what strikes you as most odd? Wine on Ice! Well, if you enjoy it that way, why not!? But digressions aside, Icewines, as opposed to iced wines, are not that controversial a subject. This is a popular style of wine yet seldom talked about, at least in this part of the globe. Icewines (single word) are mostly made in Canada, where they are quite the rage but originally they are a result of traditional German winemaking endeavour.
Icewine or Eiswein (in German) is a wine made from frozen grapes. For history buffs, evidence shows that wines were made from frozen grapes even in the post-Roman era. The style is also made in colder parts of other European nations and a few New World countries. However, the local governing laws, region, and grape varieties used contribute to the quality parameters. If the laws are not abided to, the wines generally (and technically) cannot be classified or sold as Icewine.
Producing Icewine requires a great deal of patience and is an expensive process strictly governed by local legislations. The grapes are left for two to three months longer on the vines after the prime harvest time. This is only possible in regions where the harvest is followed immediately by frost. The grapes are covered with nets to save them from becoming the early birds’ breakfast. In this period, the grapes shrivel and the water in the grapes turns to ice. Once the temperature (-8 Degree Celsius in Canada) and natural sugar level reaches a given limit, the grapes are handpicked. Leaving grapes on vines longer is always risky. If frost joins the party late, the crop goes to waste. Also, should the required temperature to pick the frozen crop delays, the fruits fall already, which then cannot be used, or, the balance and/or yield would suffer immensely.
The grapes are then brought to the winery and pressed leaving behind the water in the form of ice (which pops out of the grape like a little frozen granule) and taking away the thick juice. Many have lost their beloved machines pressing these grapes. Just to give you an idea, try and crush a raisin at home and see what is the yield. The resulting liquid with Icewine-ready grapes is only a few drops per grape and about one-seventh of the regular yield, thus highly precious. A special type of yeast is utilised to ferment this sugar-rich liquid which takes (way) longer than normal to produce this wine. Once the wine is ready, the residual sugar ranges between 180 to 330 grams/ litre. It is then bottled in 375ml (regular), 200ml (small) and 50ml (gift aka ‘affordable’) bottles and released. Ageing them is still a debatable topic.
Another way of producing Icewine is by the method called ‘cryoextraction’. Here, the grapes are gathered at regular harvest time and are frozen artificially followed by the regular Icewine making process. They lack the quality and elegance of naturally frozen grape used Icewines, but is a cheaper and easily approachable version of the same.
Canada (http://wi-not.biz/2010/01/canadian-icewines-tasting-in-delhi/), amongst Icewine making regions will surely reserve the top spot. The laws are made, implemented, and controlled by Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), local governing body. They are have higher levels to adhere to and are stricter thanthe rest of the countries. These laws have restricted production areas, minimum harvesting temperature (-8⁰C instead of -7⁰C elsewhere), minimum Oechsle level when grapes are picked (almost equal to sugar level in percentage, 35 degree), restricted grape varieties, and other similar controls. Main grape varieties used are Riesling, Vidal, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat, Semillon, and Gewurztraminer in whites, and Tempranillo, Cabernets, Merlot, Syrah, and few other local ones amongst the reds. The biggest, also debated as the first, commercial producer of Icewines is Karl Kaiser who headed Inniskillin. No chapter would be complete without mentioning their 1989 Vidal Icewine, winner of Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo 1991, highest award a wine can get. It today stands as the only sweet to have won this accolade. They are also responsible for introducing sparkling style Icewines. To add to the respect, VQA claims to have trademarked usage of the term ‘Icewines’. Vidal and Riesling have won maximum recognition to the country for its produce.
Germany makes ice wines and calls them Eiswein. They are assigned the highest quality level and are generally sourced from region of Rheinhessen. They use Muller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Sylvaner in whites, and Cabernets, and local grapes under reds. These wines sit on the top-tier (under QmP) of the quality wine classification. Unlike the Canadians, the winemakers here look for grapes that are totally healthy and are not infected by Noble Rot. Thus the wines are fruitier, fresh, and made to be consumed young. When paired with Mediterranean desserts, the wines seem to be over powering too.
Austria contributes a small yet considerable amount to the market. Gruner Veltliner is an important grape to produce its fairer style, while they reserve their local varieties to produce the red style.
Luxembourg makes a small contribution to this segment. There wines are called Vin de Glace, term derived from their French counterpart.
Eiswein, in France, was a style introduced by the Germans to the region, like to Canada. The segment is now shrinking in production and importance. They use only the local ‘Noble’ varieties to produce this style of wines (http://wi-not.biz/2010/03/alsace-the-french-white-wine-gem/).
These wines are served super chilled at 4⁰C-6⁰C. This helps the wine express its true calibre and prevents wine from appearing sticky or overly thick on the palate. The best way to enjoy Icewine is to pair it with aged soft and blue cheese or with desserts. Depending on the grape variety, the wine generally throws notes of sweet white fruits (pear, peaches, pineapples, and apricots), exotic and tropical fruits (mango, lychees, and passion fruit), sweet dried fruits and nuts (figs, prunes, raisins, almond, and hazelnut), caramel and honey. The reds show very light tannins, almost negligible, and are constantly showcase notes of berries, cherry, orange marmalade, fruit jam, pomegranate juice, and likes.
Pheww!! With all that said and done, the wine really deserves a place on one’s wish list. Here’s raising a toast to people who make the wine possible, to those working in the frosted vineyards through the long snow-covered nights, to the cellar-master in unheated underground dig-outs, to the patient winemakers, and to all the other hidden crafters contributing to this gem.