Ice wine (in German, Eiswein) is a dessert wine produced from grapes that have been left on the vine well into the cold months of winter. This allows the grapes to go through a process of freezing and thawing, it is during this process that the grapes undergo dehydration. This dehydration concentrates the sugars and acids, and intensifies the flavours of the product. In the freezing temperatures the water freezes but the sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze and since the grapes are pressed while still frozen there is a smaller amount of more concentrated juice released which results in a sweet wine.
The year was 1972 in Canada when ice wine was first produced, It happened in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and was created by Walter Hainle. Then, in 1984 in Ontario, Inniskillin a winery located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, produced Icewine made from Vidal grapes.
Since then, Canadian ice wine has quickly become popular with the everyday consumer as well as the connoisseurs and it is this demand that created an industry. The Canadian cold harsh winters may make it difficult for growing traditional wine grapes but they are perfect for Icewine production. Canadian ice wine was recognized on the world stage in 1991, when Inniskillin’s 1989 Vidal ice wine won the Grand Prize at Vinexpo and in early 2000 Canada established itself as the largest producer of ice wine in the world.
Genuine Icewine must follow VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) which through regulation holds Icewine producers to specific standards. This prohibits the artificial freezing of the grapes, in the past some producers were picking the fruit and then freezing them versus going through the arduous task of waiting for the freeze and picking grapes in the cold weather.
The ideal temperature for harvesting the grapes is between -10 to -13 degrees Celsius. Often time the harvesting happens during the night and the grapes are picked by hands (cold hard work :) ). After picking, the grapes are pressed and the juice fermented. As the frozen grapes do not yield a lot of juice Ice wines are usually more expensive than regular wines.
The wine however is intensely sweet and flavourful with tastes of tropical fruits.
How is Icewine best served?
Icewine is a drink best served chilled (between 10 – 12 degrees Celsius) . Although often recommended to serve Icewine in liqueur glasses it is better to actually go with larger glass so you can enjoy the bouquet and the enhanced flavours.