Ice Wine is a special style of sweet wine that can only be made in the coldest of climates. It isn’t a wine made from ice but rather from grapes that have been frozen and are now covered in ice. As you can possibly guess it is only made in regions such as Germany and Canada – here it is a true luxury and rarity that are highly treasured.
Ice Wines are purely grapes that have been left on their vines so long that they are left through autumn, the season wine is picked in, and through out winter till the point they are frozen on the vine. As the grapes have been on the vine so long they naturally qualify as Late Harvest wines as well – extremely late harvest wines, if you will. Thus the wines will have a range of flavours not found in normal dry wines. As the grapes are now frozen when they are pressed to make juice, all of the water (the part that is frozen) will go one way and the sugar and flavour compounds will go the other way. This separation of water and sugar is the key to Ice Wine production.
Now the winemakers are left with a very thick liquid that is made up primarily of sugar and very little water. It is this mixture that is fermented as far as they can go – though thanks to the high levels of sugar the yeasts often die half way through the fermentation process, overwhelmed by the amount of sugar, resulting in a sweet wine with a low alcohol content.
Ice Wines can sometimes have Botrytis development amongst the grape bunches as they have been left on the vine for so long. Though often Ice Wines were wines destined for Botrytis development but the conditions weren’t right leading to the winemakers leaving the grapes on for longer until they freeze.
The resulting wines are very sweet with pure fruit flavours. Ice Wines will often give you the purest form of a grape variety as it is almost purely flavour compounds and sugar that are fermented. Grapes with too much water in them will water-down the juice to be fermented and thus the resulting wines.
Unlike Botrytis or Passito wines, Ice Wines can be faked. Winemakers found that they could mimic real Ice Wines by putting ripe grapes into the deep freeze for a period of months – then ferment as you would usually. Many would argue that the fake Ice Wines are no where near as good as the real Ice Wines, I would agree. There is something you can’t fake in the real process – that extra level of ripeness that comes from the extended hang time. Too many winemakers will pick the grapes at the same time, or just after, they pick the rest of their grapes – then freeze them. Real Ice Wines need the extra few months on the vine to develop all the wonderful flavours that make them…wonderful.