A Good Time for Ice Wine

With snow falling here in Vancouver, I thought I’d talk a bit about Ice Wine. Ice wine’s origin is in Germany where it is called Eiswein. Eiswein production began in the late 1700s and more fully in the 1800s in Germany. The first Canadian ice wine was made in BC by Walter Hainle in 1973 at the Hainle Vineyards.

How is ice wine made? The short answer is the wine is made from frozen grapes, but of course there is more to it than that. The grapes are typically a white varietal, such as Riesling or Vidal, but you can now find some red ice wines, from Pinot Noir and other grapes. Riesling is the traditional grape for ice wine due to its high level of acidity. This high level of acidity is important to balance the high sugar content from the concentrated grape juice. The high acidity made the ice wine refreshing instead of cloyingly sweet (imagine drinking maple syrup).

There are rules for when a grape can be picked for ice wine. As I mentioned the grapes have to be frozen before being picked, but the temperature at the time of picking has to be at least -8 degrees Celsius. Any warmer and you legally cannot call the wine, ice wine. Grapes harvested at say -6 degrees Celsius can be called Late Harvest. Late Harvest wine tastes very much like ice wine, but is less aromatic and sweet. Some people prefer Late Harvest, plus the price of Late Harvest is usually half the price of the same size of Ice Wine.

Ice Wine and Late Harvest are more expensive than a traditional bottle of still wine, but it takes many more grapes to produce these wines. Whereas it could take one bunch of grapes for a bottle of wine, it may take 8-10 bunches of grapes for one bottle of ice wine or late harvest wine. Imagine how hard these grapes are when they are being pressed. As the water in the grape is frozen, just a small amount of concentrated grape syrup is left. I think of it like someone trying to squeeze water from marbles. Very hard!

Some wineries in the BC Okanagan that produce ice wine:
Mission Hill (their 2006 Reserve Riesling Ice Wine won the International Wine Challenge in London in Sept 08 as the Worlds Top Ice Wine)
Quail’s Gate (their 2006 Reisling Ice Wine won a Bronze Medal – Canadian Wine Awards 2007)
Gray Monk Estate Winery (Kerner ice wine – a white grape)
Summerhill Estate Winery (Pinot noir, zweigelt, chardonnay, and riesling ice wines)

And last but not least, every January, there is an Ice Wine Festival at Sun Peaks Resort in the Okanagan! The next festival will be January 13 – 18, 2009. You can try a wide range of ice wines, together with learning about ice wines, join in some wine dinners, and if you have any energy left, go skiing. You can contact Sun Peaks Resort at 1-800-807-3257 about the Ice Wine Festival, or go to the Ice Wine Festival website http://www.owfs.com/festivals/winter_festival.html

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

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