Story by Manos Angelakis
Nectar of the Gods
Icewine or vin de glace is produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The frozen grapes are picked and immediately pressed but because the ice crystals remain in the press, the resulting liquid becomes very concentrated; sweet but with characteristically high acidity. The grapes used for Icewine are those that handle cold well, are very aromatic, and keep their acidity when left on the vine longer. Normally, those are Riesling and sometimes in North America, Vidal Blanc, and Seyval Blanc as well as Cabernet Franc that is used for red Icewine. However, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay have been also used to create Icewine in other areas. The resulting sweet wine is lower in alcohol than a dry wine, much sweeter (as high as 290 grams of sugar/liter in some cases), but with ample acidity (often over 10 grams of titratable acid/liter), which makes the wine feel refreshing and balanced on the palate. Icewines made from white grapes are viscous, fruity, and aromatic, with white flower and stone fruit aromas, and have apple, pear, tropical, stone fruit, and spice flavors.
Icewine production is risky and requires the availability of a large workforce to pick the whole crop within a few hours. This result in a small amount of wine being produced, making Icewines generally considerably expensive. Icewine is normally sold in half-bottles (375 ml), with the average price around $55 per bottle depending on country of origin, country of sale and producer.
Please note the labeling. The correct name should be Icewine or Ice Wine or vin de glace or in German, Eiswein. If the label is Iced Wine, this is not a true Icewine; yes, it is sweet but not as sweet or as aromatic as a true Icewine and that product should be of a much lower price. To make Iced Wine, overripe grapes are thrown in a freezer and then pressed; this practice is used mostly in Israel and sometimes is allowed in Austria, California and New York State’s Finger Lakes district.
The official temperature for Icewine production in the United States and Canada as well as Germany is -8° C (17.6° F) or lower and the grapes must freeze naturally on the vine to be called Icewine.
Small quantities of Icewine are made all over northern Europe, including Denmark, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. The most famous producer is Germany, where Eiswein has been a regulated wine category for a very long time. German law even specifies the grape ripeness as well as temperatures at which Eiswein grapes can be harvested. In terms of grapes, Riesling is the undisputed star of Germany’s Eiswein.
Canada is the largest and most consistent producer of Icewines. Two Canadian regions, the Niagara Escarpment in the East Coast and the Okanagan Valley in the West Coast, produce the most Canadian Icewine because the winters are cold enough for the grapes to freeze on the vine.
Inniskillin, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, is perhaps the most well known Icewine Canadian producer. They make 3 styles of Ice Wine depending on the grapes used; a Riesling and a Vidal Blanc (a hybrid cultivar) from white grapes and a Cabernet Franc from red.
I’ve been cellaring bottles of Inniskillin Riesling from the 2007 vintage to see how long the wine will last (sweet wines are supposed to last for a very long time, as long as 75 years before they become too old to be enjoyable) but I have noticed that older than 25 year German Rieslings are starting to develop too much of what the Germans call “petrol nose” which makes these wines, as far as I’m concerned, not very desirable because they don’t pair as well with food and especially desserts, as when they are younger.
I recently received 2 bottles of Icewine, a bottle of 2017 Vidal and a bottle of 2017 Cabernet Franc.
I decided to go to my local specialty grocer and get a foie gras with truffles (D’Artagnan foie gras mousse with black truffles) and a piece of Farmhouse Stilton. I then added a crispy baguette bread and first uncorked the 2007 Riesling which was kept cold, for a decadent summer brunch.
The wine had darkened a bit from a light golden hew to a very pale brownish tint with gold highlights. Unfortunately, the cork had started deteriorating and I had to use both a twin pronged cork puller (a.k.a. Ah-So Cork Extractor) and a corkscrew, because the cork broke apart as I tried to pull it. Thankfully, no cork bits fell into the wine, so we enjoyed the entire half-bottle without having to discard any of God’s Nectar!
On the nose there were heady aromatics of peach, pear, and lime. On the palate honey, white peach, apricot and mango with a hint of lemon. I had tasted another of the 2007 Rieslings two years ago and this time I did not perceive any difference in either the aromatics or mouthfeel. More importantly there was no perceptible “petrol nose” yet. So this 2007 Riesling is aging very well.
The second bottle I opened was the 2017 Vidal Icewine. It was the unoaked version that has lots of tropical aromas; the oaked has more of the vanilla nose that is associated with wines fermented and aged in oak. This is truly an iconic Canadian Icewine - tropical fruit i.e. pineapple, lychee, tangerine and mango with a hint of lime as well as stone fruit on both the nose and palate. Not as sweet as the Riesling but with a little more acidity; it was the perfect foil for both the foie gras mousse and the Stilton.
We enjoyed both bottles very much.
While doing some pricing research I noticed that the Vidal ranges from $29.99 to $ 84.99 per 375ml bottle. The highest and lowest prices were both from retailers in New Jersey (one of them very near me). So, Caveat Emptor!
A vôtre santé!
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