In honor of the frigid temperatures we have experienced so far in 2016 (and will soon experience again this weekend), I thought it would be a good time to discuss "ice wine." This is something I did not know existed until very recently, and I'm guessing that many of you have not heard of this style of wine before.
The whole process of ice wine is very interesting, and I'll admit I'm intrigued. Yet it's something that I will personally have to taste and experiment with myself before possibly bringing anything of this style into the restaurant.
Ice wine is a style of wine making that allows for grapes to ripen during the warm summer months before allowing them to naturally freeze on the vines in the colder winter months. Once the fall season approaches the end, the vines must be netted so as to not be vultured by birds or other animals.
The grapes are then left on the vine until they reach a sustained temperature of around 17 degrees. Between the end of the fall harvest and the time they are ready to be picked for ice wine, the grapes dehydrate. This process concentrates the juices and reveals the characteristics that lend an ice wine to be characterized as such.
The grapes for ice wine are usually harvested at night and need to be watched closely, because if they are frozen too quickly - or not frozen enough - the optimal window for harvest can be missed. (The short video shown here helps to further explain the whole process.)
Ice wine grapes are then pressed, and only a very small amount of juice is harvested from these grapes... about 15% of the harvested juice one might expect from a traditional table wine harvest. Their juices are very sweet and can be difficult to ferment. The high sugars create a difficult environment for the yeast which stops the fermentation process early. This creates a wine with low alcohol and a high sugar content.
A bottle of ice wine is meant to be a dessert wine. They are intensely flavored and boast rich aromas of tropical fruits. All varietals are sweet and have a high acidity. They can be drank simply as an after dinner wine, or they can be mixed with other sparkling wines or cocktails.
So if you see the term "ice wine" this winter, don't be turned off... it's not as uncommon as you might think. Weather (pun intended) or not you see it on our menu in the future is something we have to look into first.