Rolling into January brings to mind ice wines. This is the time of the year when grapes, left on the vine to freeze, are usually harvested. The freezing process concentrates sugar levels and flavors, and resulting wines are rich, concentrated and syrupy sweet. These wines are often enjoyed in lieu of dessert or paired with desserts and cheese.
Ice wine was first made in 1794 in Franconia, Germany. Today there is an ice wine festival held for three weeks in January in Ontario.
The two main producers of ice wine are Germany and Canada. Canada actually produces about 75 percent of the world’s ice wine, most of which hails from the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine-growing region. Ice wines are also produced in Australia, Austria, Croatia, France, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Hong Kong and the United States.
Ice wine production is a balance, or luck-filled challenge, of leaving the grapes hanging on the vine after harvest to ripen and hopefully freeze before they rot, are eaten by birds or rodents, or drop to the ground. In Germany, Austria and Canada, winemakers require a natural hard freeze at temperatures below 17 to 19 degrees Fahrenheit.
Frozen grapes are harvested in the wee hours of the morning, while temperatures are lowest, and taken frozen into the winery to be pressed. Grapes are pressed frozen, and fermentation takes place as usual, though the process is much slower due to the higher sugar levels.
In places such as the United States where freezes don’t normally occur in wine-growing regions, winemakers use a process called cryoextraction to freeze the grapes. The grapes are then pressed frozen.
The most popular grapes varieties for ice wine are riesling, vidal and cabernet franc, but there are recent experiments with chardonnay, gewuerztramin er, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot and a few others. Ice wines can be white, red or sparkling.
Ice wines can be somewhat pricey due to the extra cost of production and the inherent risk in making them. But they are worth a try.
Some ice wines I recommend are Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Ice Wine from Ontario; Nachtgold Eiswein, a blend of silvaner, kerner, scheurebe and morio-muskat from Rheinhessen, Germany; Kracher Cuvee Eiswein, a blend of gruner veltliner, welshriesling and chardonnay from Austria; and Jackson Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietors’ Reserve Reisling Ice Wine from British Columbia.
A few wines made by the cryoextraction process, which tend to be more affordable, are Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glaciere from Central Coast California and Pacific Rim "Vin de Glaciere" Washington Late Harvest Riesling.
Todd Ashline, former manager/sommelier at Chef Mavro, has moved to the mainland, and this is his last column.