There used to be only one way of making Ice Wine (aka eiswein). Grapes were left on the vine months past the traditional harvest, until they were greatly reduced in number, frozen, and shriveled like little icy grape raisins. Only then, in the dark of the coldest winter night, could these grapes be picked and pressed and turned into delicious, delicious Ice Wine. Grapes used to make Ice Wine are chosen for their cold-hardiness: Riesling is quite common, as are Vidal Blanc and Vignoles, two hybrids that were developed to handle cold, northern winters.
There’s still only one real way to make Ice Wine. But I’ve recently learned about another way, a shortcut method that some producers are using to create this syrupy-sweet dessert wine without undertaking the risk and expense of the full Ice Wine process.
It’s called Iced Wine.
When making Iced Wine, grapes are harvested in the fall, along with all the other “regular” grapes. They’re then frozen in a commercial freezer to below zero temps and pressed when deemed ready.
With Iced Wine, there’s no risk of massive crop loss (unless the winery experiences something like a freak power outage!). At Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards on Seneca Lake in New York, it’s estimated that up to 2/3 of the crop is lost by the time their Vidal Blanc grapes are harvested in January. With Iced Wines, there’s no need to protect the grapes from the turkeys, crows, and raccoons looking to fatten up before winter. There’s no middle-of-the-night, moonlit harvest; no pickers outfitted in thick winter gear to protect their fingers from the frosty temps. The grapes just take up freezer space for a little while.
I’m a little torn, myself. Part of the wonder of wine is the process of its creation. Ice Wine is special because it’s hard to make, it’s risky, and it’s delicious. Because of this, it’s also really expensive, making it a rare treat. Iced Wine has one big thing going for it…it’s affordable. It’s more accessible, more open to developing a new audience for this type of wine. If the marketers are correct and as a general population we’re trending towards a preference for sweeter wines, then the creation of a more affordable, more accessible version of the sweetest kind of wine there is makes sense.
On the other hand, it feels like the magic is missing from Iced Wines. There’s a big difference between a sparkling wine that is made via the traditional méthode champenoise and one that is made via artificial carbonation, both in terms of flavor, price, and aging potential. Same thing with Iced Wine. There’s no chance for Iced Wine grapes to develop the complexity of flavors contributed by exposure to the elements. In an industry that is known for its fierce compliance with tradition, I’m surprised that this new method has become so prevalent. But business is business, and something that can reduce some of the risks inherent in winemaking must be tempting.
Check out the price differences between Ice Wines and Iced Wines from New York state:
- 2010 Lakewood Vineyards Glaciovinum — $13.99 / 375mL bottle (ships to DC, FL)
- 2009 Glenora – Block 4 Iced Vidal Blanc — $15.29 / 375 mL bottle (ships to all states except: AL, AR, DE, GA, IN, KS, KY, ME, MD, MA, MS, MT, NH, NJ, ND, OK, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX, UT, and WV)
- 2007 Hunt Country Vidal Blanc Ice Wine — $39.99 / 375 mL bottle (ships to CA, DC, FL, ID, IL, MD, NC, OR, WA, WY)
- 2008 Casa Larga-Fiori Delle Stelle Vidal Blanc Ice Wine — $45.00 / 375 mL bottle (ships to CA, DC, FL, IL)
- 2008 Casa Larga-Fiori Delle Stelle Cabernet Franc Ice Wine — $65.00 / 375 mL bottle (ships to CA, DC, FL, IL)
Want to read more about Ice Wine and Iced Wine? Check out this excellent article from Imbibe Magazine about ice and iced winemaking in New York state. There’s also this article from Forbes about the difficult 2011 Ice Wine harvest in Europe and why you should be suspicious of European Ice Wines from that vintage.