For the most part, we quite rightly associate wine grape production with fairly temperate climates, whether in Europe, North America, Africa, Australia, or wherever. But those few wine-growing regions which can still count on freezing temperatures every winter can produce a very special kind of delicious dessert wines that require cold: ice wine.
First of all, what exactly is ice wine? OK, so the deal is that it comes from grapes that freeze on the vine, yielding a sweeter, more concentrated flavour akin to a distilled wine. Typical varieties including reds such as Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc, though in recent years producers have also experimented with Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even whites like Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, Chenin Blanc, and Pinot Blanc. In addition to serving with sweets, it also pairs particularly well with blue cheese.
Ice wine is very much a boutique subset of winemaking, thanks in no small part to the extremely short annual window in which its grapes can be harvested. And it’s concentrated mostly in Canada and Germany. The pioneer was the latter, where Eiswein has been documented as far back at the late 18th century but did not start to become commercially viable till the 1960s. In Canada, it was not commercially produced till the late 1970s.
In Germany, wine producers in regions such as the Moselle, Franconia, and the Rheingau leave a significant portion of their vines unharvested in the fall in the hopes that conditions (at least -7° Celsius/19.4° Fahrenheit) will allow it to be harvested in January or February for ice wine (warmer winters mean no harvest, so global warming is obviously an issue).
These days, by far most of the ice wine action is in Canada, and especially in the province of Ontario, though there is also some excellent production in places like Quebec and British Columbia, which is where Canadian ice wine was pioneered back in the late 1970s.
Ice wine is produced in a number of other countries of the northern hemisphere, as well, such as Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the United States, and even here in Spain (concretely, in Catalonia). But as climate change marches on, it is expected to become even rarer than it is today. So enjoy while you can! 🙂
image | Dominic Rivard