Here's How to Make Some of the Sweetest Ice Wine
Ice wine, also known as a dessert wine, is produced in some of the coldest vineyards on the planet. The frozen grapes are harvested in the middle of the night as it is during this time they are exploding with sugary, juicy, and fruity flavors. The aroma of the sweetest ice wines varies from flavored nectarines and lemon to ginger notes that immediately coat the tongue with a distinct juicy taste, which is exhilarating, to say the least.
WHAT IS ICE WINE?
Ice wines are juicy, light dessert wines that are made from frozen grapes. The tradition of making ice wine originated in Germany and Austria, where the beverage is still very popular to this day. In North America, the Pacific Northwest, Niagara area, and Finger Lakes regions have the ideal conditions to make ice wine.
Unlike the harvest of regular wine grapes in the fall, ice wine grapes are left on the vine until midwinter. To make the sweetest ice wine, the grapes must first freeze on the vine, which usually happens at around -7 degrees centigrade (or 20 F). At this point, the grapes are highly concentrated with sugary flavors and are about to explode.
HOW ICE WINES ARE MADE
The instructions for how to make ice wine follow rigid rules for harvesting and processing the grapes. After the grapes are harvested in the middle of the night, when the temperatures are coldest, the water crystals inside the grapes must be frozen solid before the grapes can be picked.
The answer to how to make ice wine must include the disclaimer that it is a time, and labor-intensive, process and, even then, can only be done in years when the environmental conditions are ideal. Not every year results in frozen grapes.
After transporting the grapes in ice-cool containers, the extraction of the highly concentrated juice is initiated. The grapes are usually overripe at this time, with exceptionally high levels of sugar. Much of the sugar will be digested by the yeast during fermentation, which is a long process that often lasts six months.
Bottled ice wine usually has a low ABV (alcohol by volume) ratio compared to most other wines, usually around 10 percent. However, the sweetest ice wine is second to none, ranging from 160-200 g/l of residual sugar. In comparison, most dry wines only have residual sugars between 0-10 g/l. It is for this reason that ice wines are often referred to as dessert wines that are best enjoyed while sipping small amounts.
Common grapes for other varietals can be made into the sweetest ice wine. These include Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Vidal Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and Chenin Blanc. Ice wine can also be made from red grapes.
The key feature of ice wine is the overreaching sweetness, plus the concentrated juicy notes of many fruits, including citrus and dried tropical fruits. In general, ice wine should be enjoyed within the first five years after production.
How to make ice wine culminates in the notion that this wine should be served chilled, between 7-10 degrees centigrade, a temperature which brings out the pleasant fruity notes and aromas.
Since ice wine is primarily a dessert wine, it is best consumed as a nightcap or after a meal. As far as food pairings go, stick to foods that aren’t too sweet, like cheese, salty crackers, and light veggies. Essentially you want to balance the sweetness of the ice wine with a food that is not sweet. But do not worry if you cannot find a matching food; ice wine is just as enjoyable when consumed solo. A good ice wine to try is the 2016 Hahn Hill Vineyard Ice Wine Riesling was hand-harvested and is a delicious wine to try as your first (or tenth) ice wine.