Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. One of my favorite days – it’s the sweetest day of the year. I am a person that likes sweets. Chocolate is of course my favorite but I’m not fond of chocolate wine. Yes, I’ve seen it. Chocolate and wine mixed and sold in a bottle. It isn’t bad for one sip but nothing that I would purchase. Now Ice Wine is another story.
Ice wine is a dessert wine. It is very sweet and dense. Sweeter than a sauterne (or Sauternes if it’s from the Sauternais region of the Graves section in Bordeaux), but because of the high acidity, ice wine is usually not cloying. The flavors you get from the wine will depend on grape variety your wine is made from. With a Riesling you’ll will typically taste peaches, apples, honey and pears. It is a very unique type of wine that can only be produced in a climate that has temperatures that are cold enough (below freezing) with some regularity. Canada and Germany are the world’s largest producers of ice wines. The Finger Lake region of upstate New York, Vermont and Michigan also produce ice wine. This type of wine is difficult to produce because the grapes must reach a naturally frozen state, no cryoextraction (that is, mechanical freezing) allowed.
The grapes need to hang on the vine until fully ripened, almost over ripe. A freeze must occur before the grapes rot or fall off the vine. As soon as the freeze comes and the grapes become frozen, a labor force is called into action (this is usually in the very early hours of the day (3:00 am is typical). The frozen grapes must be picked within a few hours, otherwise damage will set in and the grapes are lost. The frozen grapes are then pressed while frozen. The working conditions are difficult at best. This results in a small amount of production which is why ice wine usually comes in a 375 ml or 200 ml bottle. It can be expensive, but you can usually find it for less than a dozen roses from a florist.
The grape variety typically used to make ice wine is riesling. However, some growers are producing ice wine made from other varieties: whites such as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, or reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, and even Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Pillitteri Estates Winery from the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario claim to be the first winery in the world producing Shiraz (Syrah) ice wine with the 2004 vintage, Semillion, and Sangiovese in 2007. I’ve not tried any of the reds, but the Pinot Noir looks tasty!
I like to pair ice wine with a slice of pound cake and some fresh fruit such as raspberries, peaches or strawberries. This will bring out the fruit flavors in the wine. If the fresh fruit is not available, then I’ll pair it with sliced apples or a simple, not-to-sweet cookie. Ice wine is so good, you don’t really need to pair it with anything but the fruit does bring out the different flavors in the wine. Chocolate would go well with any of the red ice wine. A cheese board would be nice, with some nuts, but I would use more of the mild cheeses.
Ice wine is the perfect ending to a meal. It does not leave you feeling heavy and overstuffed as many desserts can, it’s just a bit of sweetness to finish your meal with. It can also be served at Tea Time (instead of Tea) for a bit of a break. Serve it in smaller wine glass with a narrow bowl or you can use a white wine glass to enhance the color and aroma of the wine. It should be chilled but not overly so – about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). As the wine warms the flavors will become more pronounced. As your wine warms up, perhaps your evening will too.