Ice Wine

The discovery of “Icewine” happened by chance in Germany over 200 years ago. But guess who is recognized as the best Icewine producer in the world today? That’s right; Canada, Eh!

To give you a brief history, we need to go back to 1775 in Franconia (Germany). In those days the grapes were generally harvested around the same time every year (regardless of the ripeness or sugar levels in the grapes). The monks were not allowed to pick the grapes until the Abbot of Fulda gave his permission. That year, the Abbot was away attending a meeting and the grapes were ripening early and had actually started to rot. The monks sent a courier to ask the Abbot for permission to pick the grapes. By the time the courier returned, the monks believed all was lost but decided to harvest and make the wine anyway, discovering the wine known today as Spätlese or “late harvest”. Due to this discovery, the grapes in Franconia were no longer harvested on the same date but were left longer on the vine, weather permitting, in order to increase the grapes’ sugar levels. In 1794, the region experienced a much earlier than expected winter. The monks again faced adversity, but again they made virtue of necessity by pressing juice from the frozen grapes. To the amazement of the producers, the wines had an unusually high concentration of sugars and acids. These new wines were called Eiswein (Icewine) and are nothing short of “Nectar from the Gods”.

Today, German producers leave a small portion of the vineyard unpicked during the harvest and hope that winters are cold enough to freeze the grapes solid. Often the winters do not get cold enough and no Eiswein is produced.

In order to produce a successful Icewine, the temperature most drop to at least -7°C. This temperature must last for several days to ensure the berries stay frozen during both the harvest and the pressing process. Since grapes are 80% water; and this water is frozen, when the grapes are pressed only the intensely concentrated sweet juice runs from the press while the frozen water remains behind.

In Canada, the consistently colder winter climate allows winemakers to produce Icewine every year. Walter Hainle of Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery in British Columbia produced the first Canadian Icewine in 1977. It was Icewine that ‘broke the ice’ of international acceptance for Canadian wines. A phenomenon that has led the country to become the world’s largest and most consistent producer of the winter nectar. Karl Kaiser of Inniskillin has produced Icewine since 1984, and has received international recognition for its quality, including the prized Grand Prix d’Honneur from Vinexpo, Bordeaux, France, in 1991. Last year, Stoney Ridge Cellars became the second Canadian winery to win this highest award for their ’97 Gewurztraminer Icewine. Today, most wineries in Ontario and British Columbia produce Icewine.

The majority of Canadian Icewines are made from two grape varieties; Vidal and Riesling, although some Gewurztraminer is also used and more recently a small amount of Cabernet Franc (for red icewine). The Vidal produces a wine with less acid and therefore more noticeable sweetness. Vidal Icewines also tend to be more viscous, almost syrupy like. Poor quality Icewines do not have enough acid to balance the sweetness, this makes them too heavy and cloying on the palate. Riesling Icewines have more acidity than the Vidal wines but in relation to the higher sugar are better balanced. These wines also offer a fresher, more lively palate with more complexity. This clearly shows why the Riesling grape is one of the four Noble grape varieties and the Vidal is not (the Germans predominately use this variety for their Eisweins). Icewine will typically offer the palate such flavours as; peach, apricot, tangerine and honey.

Generally speaking, Icewine would not be matched to a main course at dinner. Due to its high sweetness, it is more suited as a dessert wine either on its own or paired with a dessert course. A couple of rules to keep in mind are:

· The wine must always be sweeter than the dessert, otherwise the wine will taste bitter – be careful of chocolate desserts as they are usually very sweet. · Coffee or tea should be served after the Icewine, never before or during, as coffee/tea kills the palate and will lessen the appreciation and enjoyment of the wine.

If you like sweet, you must try Icewine. An excellent match is fresh strawberries (or any field berry) with fresh whipped cream and Icewine – it’s to die for! The price ranges from $28 – $70 per ½ bottle (375ml) but some wineries offer 200ml bottles or even 50ml (single serving) at prices that give you no excuse to at least try Canada’s liquid gold and be proud to drink Canadian, Eh! Cheers!

Niel Lindberg is the owner of Nordenta Inc., a specialized dental supply company. His after work passions are the three special women in his life (wife Jackie and daughters Erica and Alana), skiing and wine appreciation. Niel holds a level two certificate from the Independent Wine Education Guild and is working towards his diploma.

Albrecht Seeger from Seeger Vineyards harvesting grapes for Icewine.
(Photo courtesy of Inniskillin Wines)

Icewine – Canada’s liquid gold has received international acclaim.
(Photo courtesy of Inniskillin Wines)

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