Thursday, November 23, 2006

What Is True Ice Wine?

How does ice wine comes about?

One would expect the ice wine to have a long history in winemaking, however, it does not. Well, the fact is that ice wine has only been around for about 200 years. The theory of its “birth” centers on a German winemaker who was surprised by an early frost decided to press the frozen grapes but separated them from the rest of his vintage so as to avoid ruining everything. To his surprise, the resulting wine was pure and sweet.

Ever since, ice wine has been produced in all wine producing countries of the Northern hemisphere, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and some other countries.

So, how different is the ice wine as compared to other dessert wines?

The key difference between ice wine and other dessert wines is that ice wines show a much clearer fruit and varietal character. This is because other sweet wines are made from botrytis (“noble rot”) affected grapes or with grapes that have been laid out and dried. As for ice wine, the grapes used are healthy at harvest, hence, a good amount of acidity remains and this gives the wine a raciness that other dessert wines generally have to a far lesser degree.

For true ice wine, the wine is made from grapes that are kept on the vine until the temperature sinks below -19.4 Fahrenheit or -7 degree Celsius. In the U.S., New Zealand and some other regions, winemakers have started producing simulated ice wine by tossing the grapes into a commercial freezer. These simulated ice wines are considered to be of lesser quality and will typically sell at half the price of ice wine made in the traditional way.

Both methods do employ the same basic idea - a grape is made up mostly of water and since only the water will freeze at these low temperatures, the sweet grape nectar can be pressed from the grapes while the frozen water remains trapped in the skins.

It is essential to harvest on the first freezing night of the year because grapes left on the vine to go through a freeze-thaw-refreeze cycle can pick up unwanted flavors. Winemakers are often nervous wrecks by harvest time as they will have spent night after night waking up repeatedly to check the temperature.

The best ice wines are clear and vibrant in their flavors and aromas. The aromatic Scheurebe grape has properties that make it a popular choice for use in crafting great ice wine. The stunning 2002 Eiswein by the famous Austrian Gsellmann and Gsellmann winery exemplifies this perfectly. Traminer is another aromatic varietal that results in great ice wines.

Finding great ice wines can be almost as difficult as making them. As the production method suggests, quantities are very limited and the amount exported out limits availability even more. Add to that the fact that every year around the holidays, most major food and wine publications will run stories about ice wines, thus ice wines found on any retailers' shelf are quickly being snapped up.

Finding a great, true ice wine is certainly worth the effort since there is nothing else quite like this spectacular dessert wine specialty.

No comments: