Ice Wine – An Extraordinary Choice of a Drink

When it comes to wine – particularly investment level wines, there is a lot of choice. Whether you fancy a first-growth Bordeaux, feel like a delicious Burgundy with your dinner, or want to splash out on an American classic for the portfolio, we’ve got the perfect wine investment app for all those things. 

Most people who are even just mildly interested in wine know about the main types and regions. They know the difference between a Medoc and a Margaux, a St. Julien and a St. Estephe and the right and left bank. The more serious connoisseurs probably even know the difference between Napa and Sonoma. And if they don’t, well there is lots of documentation to help them find out.

But there is one wine that even the most devoted collectors are still woefully unaware of. Let us introduce you to the German beauty ice wine. Even if you have heard of it, you might not be quite sure what it is, or how it is made. If that’s the case, don’t worry. Read on – the time is ripe to discover the little known Ice Wine. 

What Is Ice Wine?

Ice Wine or Eiswein – to give it its German name is a type of sweet, dessert wine, produced from grapes that have from frozen on the vine. The wine is originally from Germany and Austria, but certain Canadian and even Chinese producers have been trying their hand at it.

The wine is a lesson in what sweet wine should taste like. The wines tend to have flavours that lean towards citrus and tropical fruit along with honey and marmalade. The beauty of Ice Wine is that it is created to have intense fruit tastes, so expect powerful, multi-layered, complex aromas.

Consistency wise it’s fairly syrupy and is lovely and full-bodied. Colourwise it’s a beautiful canary gold. Think of a later afternoon Tuscan sun and you pretty much have it. Because of its seductive colour and ultra-sweet taste, people tend to think of Ice Wine as being an indulgent, occasion wine, similar to its French cousin Sauternes. However, Ice Wine’s alcohol content is far lower than that of Sauternes – 10% compared to 13 % for the French wine. 

Brief History of Ice Wine

While Italy likes to appropriate Ice Wine as being original to their shores, we’re not so sure. Certainly, the Roman poet Martial and celebrated philosopher Pliny the Elder suggested that wine harvesting took place after “the first frosts have fallen”, but there is little evidence to support a great Italian production, even in Roman times. 

What we do know however is Ice Wine proper was born during a particularly cold winter in Franken, Germany in 1794. There is even greater evidence that the first “official” ice wine harvest was on the 11th of February 1830, after a harsh winter froze the grapes on the vine in Dromersheim close to Bingen in Rheinhessen. Upon realisation that the grapes had frozen, the winegrowers did not harvest, deciding instead to leave these as fodder for farm animals. One enterprising producer noted that the frozen grapes when crushed were remarkably high in sugar, and had a tasty juice with a high must weight. He pressed the grapes, and gave the world Ice Wine. 

The 19th century was Ice Wine’s golden era. Wines from the Mosel and the Rhine were favourites among royalty and fetched eye-watering sums, often beating Champagne and Bordeaux in price. 

How Is Ice Wine Made?

Ice wine is a bit of a mystery and relies heavily on nature’s blessing – in fact, it beggars belief that even a single producer would decide to make it. It requires time, patience and quite a lot of money. First of all conditional have to be optimal, snow is ideal and frost is even better. An early Ice Wine harvest would be in November, but some producers like to leave their fruit on the vine well in the new year, harvesting only in late January or early February. 

The process is as follows. Grapes are left on the vine during the first winter frosts. As the grapes freeze, so too does the water inside the grapefruit. The sugar, however, does not. As temperatures fluctuate between the end of summer and the depths of winter, the grape pulp freezes and thaws again, many times, dehydrating the grape leading to further sugar concentration. The frozen grapes are quickly picked with extreme care as they must remain frozen throughout the whole process – from picking to pressing. When the berries are pressed, the frozen water remains in the press along with the seeds and skins, thus only a highly flavoured grape juice is extracted. The residual sugar content is very high, giving way for a luscious and sweet wine. 

As the rest of the northern hemisphere hunkers down and tries to keep warm during winter, Ice wine producers rejoice when the temperature dips below -7°C or -8°C. This is considered an optimal temperature for harvesting, which is often done at night. Harvesting is done quickly, often in the snow, as typically no more than six hours can elapse before the grape is too thawed to count. In order for a wine to carry the “Ice Wine” moniker, it must have been produced not only from grapes that have been exclusively harvested and naturally frozen on the vine, but pressed in a continuous process while the air temperature is a constant -8° Celsius. Because of this incredibly delicate and expensive process, Ice Wines tend to be slightly higher priced than traditional wine, and, similar to Sauternes, they are characteristically sold in half bottles.

It should be noted that making Ice Wine is a dying art, and thus inverstment opportunities are ripe. Once a chance for farmers to save their crops after an unforeseen frost, fewer winemakers are leaving grapes on the vine after harvest, as the desired cold temperatures are no longer as certain as they once were. Germany’s 2019 warm winter is a case in point: All but one harvest failed. “Due to global warming, the chance of harvesting ice wine grapes at the right temperature has drastically decreased over the past 10 years,” says Ernst Büscher, a spokesperson for the German Wine Institute.

What Grapes Are Used For Ice Wine?

Because of Ice Wine’s notorious fickleness, only grapes that grow well in cooler climates are used. Riesling and Vidal Blanc are the main ones, but some producers add other varietals including: Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc. Canadian producers will often include a certain percentage of Cabernet Franc but this varietal would be hard to find in a European Ice Wine. 

How to Store & Serve Ice Wine?

Ice Wine Food Pairings

Ice Wine’s very sweet, fruit forward flavour and medium to full body make it an ideal dessert wine. Perfect pairings would be puddings that are less sweet (the sugar in the wine itself benign very high) but creamy options such as cheesecake, ice cream, panna cotta, creme brulee and anything with coconut, and vanilla work well. Ice Wine also marries particularly well with soft cheeses. But really – Ice Wine is so good that it is a stand alone dessert itself!

Ageing Ice Wine

Like most dessert wines, Ice Wines tend to store well because of their residual sugars and lively acidity. So, assuming that you are keeping your bottle of Ice Wine in perfect conditions – cool, dark with low humidity, with the bottle laid on its side so the cork doesn’t dry out and allow air to enter and oxidize the wine, your bottle can last for up to 30 years. However, the ageing potential is greatly influenced by the initial quality, so if you are looking for an investment bottle of Ice Wine, make sure you do your homework first and don’t be afraid to splash the cash in order to see an effective ROI. 

Time will of course affect the taste and colour of your investment. As the years go by, the acidity will diminish and give way to a mellower, darker coloured wine tasting. Flavours will evolve from the strong fruit tastes of the younger wine to softer, mature flavours of molasses, maple, and hazelnut.

Now that you know about late harvest wine, maybe you should explore another extravagant drink – old wine!

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