Ice Ice Baby!

The other night I came home from work late. I had a light meal, but wanted something sweet after dinner.  It was a warm evening  so ice cream came to mind, but I had ice cream the night before and wanted to avoid the fat.  I decided to have a little ice wine –  2008 Alois Kracher Cuvée Eiswein from Austria.

Because it was chilled, it was refreshing.  It definitely satisfied my sweet tooth.  What I like about ice wines is that even though they are sweet, they tend not to be cloyingly sweet, as other dessert wines such as late harvest, or ports can be.  That’s because they have more acidity than other dessert wines.  And acidity tends to refresh the palate rather than cling to it.

To make ice wine, like late harvest wines, the grapes are left on the vine to ripen and raisin quite a while after the grapes are picked for the non-dessert wines.  Then the winemaker waits for a frost to come and cover the grapes.  For this reason ice wine is primarily made in limited geographies – places that frost over between November, and January (Germany, where ice wine has been made since the 1700s, and Canada make the most ice wine).

The grapes are pressed frozen. The freezing point of grapes is lower than that of pure water, because the sugar in them lowers the freezing point. Most of the water in the grape doesn’t come out in the pressing, because it’s ice crystals, so the yield of liquid is only 10 to 20 percent of what you would get from grapes that weren’t frozen, but, the liquid that does come out is very concentrated in flavors, acidity and sugars.  As you can imagine, it takes a lot more  grapes to get the juice needed to make the wine.  between the limited geography, and the larger amount of grapes required to make the wine, the ice wine is expensive to make.

Since pure grape nectar is used to make the wines, the wines are very sweet, and pour like syrup. Ice wines are generally made with Vidal and Riesling grapes.  But they may be made from other grape varietals, as was the case with the ice wine I had, which was made from Gruner Vetliner, and Chardonnay grapes.

I tend to like ice wines on their own rather than pairing with desserts because of the sweetness of the wines.  But if you want to pair with a dessert, remember you generally want the wine to be sweeter than the dessert. With that in mind, I suggest using ice wine as an accompaniment to fresh summer berries with cream, chocolate biscuits, a pear tart, raspberry mousse, or a meringue.  Depending on the grape varietal, it might even be poured over ice cream. And don’t forget about pairing ice wine with cheese if you like a cheese plate after dinner.  Because of the natural acidity of ice wines, they can work with a variety of cheeses, including blue cheese.

Ice wine should ideally be served chilled in a chilled regular wine glass – about 2 ounces a serving. Take a walk on the wild side and try some!