A Canadian vineyard references ice wine as the nectar of Gods. As with the mythical nectar for the Gods, ice wine is very sweet. It is also priced as though it is the actual nectar for the Gods.
What is Ice Wine?
“Icewine”, a single word, is a trademark held by Vintners Quality Alliance Ontario, how incredible is that? Ice wine is produced mainly in Canada and Germany. Did you know, Canada produces more than 75% of global ice wine production. Talk about supply and demand under control!
Ice wine is produced from grapes that are still fresh and un-plucked on the vine. The grapes used for producing ice wine are NOT allowed to have noble rot and fall off the vine. The frozen grapes will have a very low content of water. This means all the sugar in the fruit will be condensed in very little juice extracted. This high concentration of sugar is what separates ice wine from ordinary table wine.
History of Ice Wine
The first recorded history of ice wine is from Franconia, Germany in 1794. Almost all the instances of producing ice wine, until the 1970s, were to salvage frozen grapes due to early onset of winters.
First, commercially prepared ice wine was a Riesling from British Colombia, Canada. It was made by Walter Hainle in the late 1970s. Canada was the ideal place for producing ice wine since it has hot, dry summers and freezing cold winters.
It would take more than a decade for ice wine to be mainstream. In 1991, an ice wine made by Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo, the co-founder of Inniskillin Wines, beat more than 4,000 competitors to win the prestigious Grand Prix D’Honneur at VinExpo in Bordeaux, France. This put ice wine, and Canada, on the wine map of the world.
Then ice wine became a luxury item and got very popular all over the world especially Asian countries.
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How is Ice Wine made?
As mentioned earlier, grapes frozen on the vine are used for making ice wine. The grapes have to be plucked at the right temperature. If the temperature during harvest is high, the grapes will have too much water. If the temperature during harvest to too low, the grapes will become as hard as marbles, which in turn produces yield right next to zero. Change from ideal temperature also varies the sweetness of the produced wine.
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Machinery is not tailored for the harvesting of frozen grapes from the vine. So it has to be plucked by manual laborers. An arsenal of laborers has to be kept on call so that they can be called in when the temperature is just right and the whole vineyard will be harvested in a couple of hours. It is then pressed in the open air to extract the juice, which is then fermented to form wine. The fermentation procedure of ice wine takes at least twice the time of fermentation required for table wines like merlot or chardonnay.
Precise Standards for Ice Wine
The ice wine produced has to meet the standards, procedures and should also pass the taste test to be able to use the trademark “icewine”. Some major specifications are:
- The grapes must be left on the vine and can’t be picked until the air temperature drops to a minimum of –8 degrees Celsius (17 degrees Fahrenheit).
- They have to be pressed immediately in a continuous process while still frozen.
- There cannot be any artificial refrigeration at any point during the manufacturing process, prior to fermentation.
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How Much Does Ice Wine Yield?
The yield of ice wine from the same quantity of grape is very low, as there is very little water left in the frozen grapes. For comparison, one ton of (non frozen) grapes yields near about 720 liters (190 gallons) of table wine, whereas, one ton of frozen grapes yield only about 120 liters (31 gallons) of ice wine. This extremely low yield, difficult harvesting and production, high-quality standards make the ice wine so expensive. Due to the high content, ice wine is sold in half-bottles! Only 375 ml (12 ounces) of wine!
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Ice Wine Knock-Offs
Due to the high price of ice wine, there are numerous knock-offs available in the market. Some Chinese producers make knock-offs by adding sugar to table wine. Tsk tsk.
In New Zealand, harvested grapes are frozen in freezers and pressed. It does not have the same flavor and intensity of wine created from grapes frozen on the vines. These knock-offs are sold with similar-sounding names like “iced wine”. Certification from Vintners Quality Alliance is present on every authentic ice wine.
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Are your car keys in-hand, ready to go find a bottle of ice wine? Don’t forget to look for that Vinters Quality Allines seal-of-approval before your purchase your new authentic ice wine!
Be sure to brush up your wine knowledge and check out our article How to Hold a Wine Glass. Yes… there sure is a correct way to hold them!
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