As we are all busy digging ourselves out from under the holiday present Mother Nature kindly left for us last week, it got me to thinking about some wines that are very appropriate for this time of year. Ice wines (or Eisweins in German) are some of the world’s rarest and most highly sought-after wines. These sticky-sweet nectarlike dessert wines originated in Germany in the late 1700s. It is said that the whole ice wine phenomenon probably occurred by accident, when an early freeze affected an unpicked vineyard in the most surprisingly delicious of ways. If you have never enjoyed one of these, I suggest you do not deny yourself any longer. They can be served with dessert or be dessert.
The grapes are left on the vine an extra long time so as to achieve a sort of raisin-like quality; then only picked once it is cold enough for ice to form on the fruit. When the grapes are covered in frost, the winemaker then covers the grapes. At this time, before fermentation occurs, water molecules are frozen inside of the grape, and what is left is a pure nectar concentrate. It is only then that the grapes can be harvested.
This whole process occurs very early in the morning (or late at night), when the grapes are handpicked, which sounds a little chilly to me and something we can all relate to right about now. At this point they are immediately pressed. The goal is to achieve perfect amounts of sweetness balanced by perfectly crisp acidity. This is not only labor intensive, but also takes a lot of grapes in order to get enough of the highly concentrated juice. Because of this, these sweet syrupy wines are often referred to as “liquid gold” due to not only the golden color but also the cost. Ice wines can only be made in places that frost over November through January. While Germany and Canada are known to be the biggest producers of ice wine, there are also some outstanding examples, when the climate cooperates, coming out of the United States.
If you are a beginner with the ice wine drinkin’ and don’t want to spend a ton before you decide whether this is your cup of tea (I mean wine), Nachtgold Eiswein is a great introduction to this style. Made from Riesling grapes, this wine comes from the Rheinhessen region of Germany, with Nachtgold referring to the fact that the wines are picked at night when they are fully frozen. With signature flavors of apricots and honey, this can be found for around $20 for a half bottle (375ML). Before you scoff at the price though, you should be warned that this really is considered quite inexpensive for an ice wine!
Currently, the ice wines coming out of the Niagara region of Canada are the most widely respected examples out there. In particular, the Inniskillin Winery has singlehandedly created an international market for Canadian ice wine. I thought the website described the essence of these wines nicely; “extreme winemaking at its best, yielding the impressions of tropical tastes wrought from the extremes of icy Canadian winterscape.” If you really find yourself enjoying these wines, the Inniskillin Vidal Pearl Ice wine is pretty much as good as it gets. With a $50 to $60 price tag for a half bottle, I do admit I haven’t had the pleasure yet of trying this total indulgence.
The year 2005 is the current vintage of the Covey Run Semillon Ice wine, which was the last time Eastern Washington had frigid enough temperatures to produce it. Covey Run in the Yakima Valley has 23 years of ice wine making experience under its belt so these wines are tasty and well made. When the temperatures reached around 5 degrees Celsius, the grapes were handpicked in the bitter cold to create this masterpiece smelling of pineapple and vanilla. There were only 920 cases
produced which once again attests to the great amounts of TLC that go into these wines. One of only a few Washington ice wines made from the Semillon grape, this wine can be found for around $28 a bottle.
I admit, I’ve got chocolate and wine on the mind. Specifically I am still lusting after the amazing Renwood Amador Ice Wine from the wine dinner a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s the new incredibly beautiful engagement ring on my finger that’s causing me to daydream about the two most romantic foods on the planet. Whatever it is, if you want to enjoy extravagance in the new year and it is time to sign that new gym contract, why not try this amazing wine with some nice dark chocolate on the side. This incredibly unique and complex ice wine is made with mainly Zinfandel grapes, producing a sort of Zinfandel syrup. I couldn’t describe this wine better than the wine maker who calls it “cotton candy and a Shirley Temple drink.” Yummy deliciousness sums up my experience! Again, not an inexpensive bottle at around $33, so really make sure this is your thing before you splurge.
These highly prized wines come in half bottles (375ML) due to the small quantities produced in any given yield. A typical pour consists of about 2 ounces and there are even special glasses (Riedel makes some really nice ones) made specifically for ice wine consumption. They should be served chilled either with a dessert or as the dessert course itself. Once opened, they can be properly stored for up to four weeks in the refrigerator which is nice since it would be a travesty to have to dump any of this down the sink! The alcohol content is low, and given the copious amounts of booze many of us have probably consumed over this holiday season, consider this a present to your liver, if not to your waistline! Happy New Year, everyone!
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