Harvested in the bitter cold of night, a sweet, succulent delight
In select vineyards, when temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere have plunged into the single digits, clusters of grapes deliberately left hanging on the vines shrivel up and freeze into ice-sheathed pellets, concentrating the berries’ sugars and flavor profiles. In the bitter cold of night harvesters handpick the frigid fruit before rushing the yield to hydraulic presses to be crushed while still frozen. The result is ice wine, an intensely sweet, highly prized and gloriously expensive dessert wine sought by collectors the world over.
Although the ancient Romans may have made a form of ice wine, its production was first documented in 1830 when, during a particularly harsh harvest season, winegrowers in Dromersheim, Germany, used grapes that had failed to ripen as livestock feed. When it was discovered that the animals liked the sweetness of the fruit, the winemakers pressed the berries and ice wine was born. Because of the vagaries of weather, the production of ice wines remained rare in Germany until the end of the 1960s when modern winemaking techniques were employed. In the next decade, Canada entered the global ice wine market and is today the largest producer, followed by the United States — notably Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
Amber-gold in the glass, ice wines are a sensory delight — full-bodied and lusciously rich, thick and sweet, but at the same time exhibiting a silky mouthfeel balanced by a dynamic, refreshing acidity (from typically higher-acid grapes like Riesling, Gewürtztraminer and Vidal Blanc) and a dry finish. Flavor and aroma profiles include stone fruits, pears, mangoes, melons, honey and lychee nuts. Alcohol levels are generally lower than those of most table wines.
Because the production of ice wines is still so dependent on weather conditions — too warm or excessively frigid winters — and because labor costs are so high and yields so low, these wines are quite expensive and are typically sold in 375 ml bottles. They are best served chilled and paired with dessert delights.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• Julie Balsamo
Downers Grove Wine Shop
-2014 Ironstone Cabernet (California) $12. Aromas of cherries, charred oak and spices mingle with flavors of currants, plums and raspberries. Touches of chocolate and mocha on the finish. Supple
-2014 Hey Mambo Sultry Red (California) $11. Zinfandel-blend with a nose of vanilla bean, cherries, citrus, spice and herbs. Palate exploding with notes of black fruits, currants and plums. Jammy with lots of depth and texture, while the finish is long and lingering.
• Tarik Zayed
Leo’s Wines & Spirits, Woodridge
-2015 Elouan Pinot Noir (Oregon) $24.From top Oregon vineyards, an opulent, complex Pinot flaunts a bouquet of cranberries, cherries, spice and a hint of earth. A vibrant acidity lends backbone to harmonious flavors of plums, cherries and minerality.
-2013 Catena Malbec (Argentina) $20. Expansive flavors of ripe plums, blueberries, blackberries, pepper and sweet spices join a perfumed nose of black cherries and violet. Acidity is
bright, and good minerality shows on the finish.