Though there are only a few regions world-wide that Ice Wine is made in the traditional fashion, faux Ice Wine, or “Icebox Wine”, can be made anywhere and is a great way to utilize small batches of grapes left over from harvest. Although the process of making Ice Wine isn’t that different from the process of making a traditional wine, the history behind it is as unique as the results it yields.
Ice Wine is an extremely rich and sweet and dessert wine made from the intense liquid of frozen grapes. Although it originated in Austria and Germany (known as “Eiswein”); in recent years, Canada has become the dominant Ice Wine producer, with the majority of the market’s offerings coming from Ontario and British Columbia. Some argue that the process of making Ice Wine can be dated back to the Romans, others claim that it began in the late 1700’s when German Winemaker was away from his vineyard during harvest and returned to find his grapes frozen; regardless, Ice Wine making was a rarity until the Twentieth Century, with only six documented vintages in the 1800’s.
Traditionally, Ice Wine is made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine, concentrating the sugar in the grape and intensifying the flavor and pressed immediately; whereas Icebox Wine is made from grapes that are frozen immediately after they’ve been harvested then pressed. Because the grapes are pressed while frozen, the water that would typically be released with the juice when pressed remains with the grape skins and discarded. This produces less liquid, overall, but yields a much higher concentration of pure grape juice. Many people mistakenly, confuse the process of vinification for ice wine with botrytis, or noble rot, associated with making the world's most sought after dessert wines. Ice wine should not be affected by botrytis prior to freezing.
Just as Ice Wine, in itself, is rooted in experimentation (whether it be the Romans trying something new or a German Winemaker trying to salvage his harvest), so are the varietals used to make Ice Wine. Traditionally, grapes with higher acidity have been used, as they render a lighter and crisper final product. German winemakers consider Riesling to be the noblest varietal for Ice Wine; however, Ice Wine from Canada is often made from Vidal or Cabernet Franc. Pinot Grigio grapes from Oregon are also a common varietal for Icebox Wine.
Ice Wine usually has a medium to full body, with a long lingering finish, and is often described as “fresh” or “crisp” do to its high acidity. Like most dessert wines, it has a high level of residual sugar (usually between 180 g/L & 320 g/L), and is sweet. White Ice Wines have sweet, honey-like aromas with rich, exotic flavors of tropical mango and stone fruit. Red Ice Wines tend to have strawberry and candied red fruit profiles with sweet spicy aromas.