This supersweet dessert wine can only be made in a few regions of the world, where it gets cold enough for grapes to freeze on the vine. Luckily, we Eastsiders aren’t far from the vineyards of Okanogan County, British Columbia or central Washington. Visit your local wine seller to add ice wine to your cellar this autumn.
As the story goes, in the late 18th century, a German winemaker neglected to harvest his grapes before the frost came. When he discovered his grapes were frozen, he decided to try to make wine anyway, and the sweet eiswein was born.
How It’s Made
By the time ice-wine grapes are harvested from mid-December to early February, they are frozen on the vine, unlike grapes used in other dessert wines. The grapes reach the ideal temperature of –8 degrees Celsius (17 degrees Fahrenheit) when their water content is frozen and the intensified sugars and aromas can take center stage. It takes an average of 30 pounds of grapes to make a half bottle (375 ml) of ice wine—nearly 10 times the amount of grapes needed for the average table wine.
Because of the precision of the ice-wine-making process, authentic ice wine is rare, especially in the States. Matthews Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, is one of the few wineries able to produce the wine naturally. “True ice wines are rare. I say ‘true’ because there are shameful producers that will pick ripe fruit and then freeze it in a large-scale freezer to produce an ‘ice wine’ from it,” says Aryn Morell, winemaker at Matthews. “We only produce ice wine when the fruit is frozen on the vine, which happens every two to three years on our vineyards.” When looking for authentic ice wines, buyers can look into the vineyards where the grapes were grown. When buying Canadian ice wines, look for the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) logo on the bottle, which indicates the wine was made naturally without artificial refrigeration or added sugar.
Ice wine should be served chilled, in two-ounce glasses. Avoid pairing ice wine with foods that will compete with its sweetness, like cakes and chocolates. Instead, opt for strong cheeses, fruit and nuts.
For more information on Matthews Winery and their tasting room in Woodinville, visit matthewswinery.com.