Enthusiasts of sweet cherish icewine (Canadian spelling) despite its high cost. Generally, sweet wines must be produced different techniques such as picking grapes later than standard, after the fruit has been affected by botrytis, picking the grapes ripe and drying them on mats or specially designed racks, or picking grapes frozen on the vine.
Picking bunches of frozen grapes can be employed only if climatic conditions permit it.
Historians determined that icewine was accidentally discovered approximately 200 years ago in Germany. A vintner (in those days everyone grew his grapes) found his grapes frozen on
the vine by a severe and unexpected frost.
Determined not to sacrifice his livelihood, he harvested the crop, pressed it and proceeded to make wine. He was astounded to find that after a protracted and very slow fermentation, the wine was sweet with a pleasant acidity and unheard of concentration and intense flavour.
Since then winemakers in cool-climate regions have been making icewine in favourable vintages.
is made in Germany, where it was first discovered, Austria, New Zealand, the U S A, Slovenia, and Canada.
Canada, especially Ontario, is the largest producer in the world.
In Germany riesling is the preferred grape for icewine and yields fine and refined wines.
In Ontario, the preferred variety is vidal (a cross between ugni blanc and seyval blanc 4986) due to its thick skin and resistance to shatter when cold weather sets in.
Riesling, a variety with thin skin, shatters and generally costs more.
In Upper New York State, Finger Lakes, growers use vignole (AS 6905 x pinot de corton) and Ravat 51.
Of late, Ontario winemakers have also been using gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay successfully.
Walter Hainle in British Columbia in 1973, recalling the technique from his home in Palatinate made the first icewine in Canada.
The first commercial icewine in Ontario was made by Newark (no longer in business) by the owner Dr. J Pohorly, followed by Inniskillin. Eventually, an Inniskillin icewine won double gold award at the Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 1989. That put Ontario on the map not only for icewine, but for all high quality wines.
Well made icewines exude dried fruit (apricot, peach) aromas, may smell of rose petals, occasionally of toffee are sweet but never cloying, smooth, low in alcohol and well balanced.
Red grape icewines smell more like strawberries and berries with a slightly higher acidity that that makes them succulent, and mouth watering.
Growing and harvesting icewine grapes require substantially more labour. When the fruit is ripe, vines must be covered with nets to prevent hungry birds attacking the vineyard and devouring the whole crop. It has happened once, forcing all farmers to net their vines.
Then grapes must be harvested at – 8 C early in the morning and pressed in basket presses whiles till frozen. The yield is also very small. For regular wines, one ton of grapes yield 700 – 750 litres of wine, for icewine this quantity drops to 80 – 100 litres.
Sue-Ann Staff, the owner of her eponymous winery says: “Icewine production is another Canadian extreme sport fuelled by Tim Horton’s coffee and Timbits”.
Sparkling icewine is a strictly Canadian invention started by a happy accident and quick thinking wine maker at Magnotta winery. It has been popularized by other wineries.
contains high levels of acidity, and combines with high sugar content it becomes smooth and unctuous. It can be cellared for many years.
Icewine should be served at 12 – 14 C, and not colder, to best appreciate its aromas and falvour.
It can be substituted for dessert, or employed in cooking. At least one winery blends it with vodka, another with brandy, and one winery produces exclusively icewine.
Although icewine is produced annually in Ontario, in other countries the weather becomes cold enough for grapes to freeze, which occurs three to four times a decade, hence icewine in these countries is rare and very expensive.
China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand are very lucrative icewine markets and Pillitteri Winery exports substantial quantities.
Donald Ziraldo, co-founder of Inniskillin wines, now under the umbrella of Vincor, promoted icewine zealously and successfully both in Europe and Pacific Rim countries. After his resignation from the Vincor board of directors, Donald decided to produce his very own riesling icewine with the collaboration of Inniskillin co-founder Karl Kaiser, a long time winemaker at the winery.
A comparative ice wine tasting from British Columbia, Ontario, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, New York State is a realign experience, albeit very expensive.
NOTE: A least one New York State winery produces icewine from grapes frozen in a deep freezer, but it lacks the true characteristics of authentic icewine, but it is less expensive, and some unsuspecting consumers fall for it.