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Made from grapes that freeze on the vine, ice wine is the extreme sports version of winemaking. After freezing, the grapes are harvested only when the temperature reaches -10ºC, which is often during the nighttime hours. The frozen grapes are picked and pressed in the extreme cold to extract the fruit nectar. During this process, the water content of the grapes, which is about 80 percent, remains frozen as ice crystals. The crystals remain inside the grape during pressing, where they puncture the skin for added flavors. The resulting juice is highly concentrated and rich. The juice is then slowly fermented to create ice wine.

According to winemaker Bruce Nicholson, who is responsible for the ice wine – and more – at Ontario, Canada’s Inniskillin Vineyard, ice wine yields are just 10-15 percent of an average table wine harvest, showcasing how unique and luxurious this type of wine actually is.

“This rich and concentrated wine is internationally renowned, and although it is recognized as a dessert wine, it is in fact highly versatile, used in a variety of ways that will enhance meals from start to finish,” explained Nicholson.

Different from other dessert wines like port and sherry, ice wine is has a lower alcohol content due to the freezing of the grape. A typical German ice wine will find itself around 6 to 8 percent in alcohol content, with a higher residual sugar content than the normal range of dessert wines, which can start at 13 percent alcohol content and go all the way to 20 percent, with less residual sugar. The wine, too, is usually a pure expression of a grape varietal, as others may be blended options.

Ice wine, however, is more than just a dessert wine said Jon McDaniel, owner of Chicago, Illinois-based Second City Soil, a consulting company that concentrates on the wine sector. McDaniel said that, while ice wine is known for being sweet, there are also other layers of flavor and texture that make it perfect to pair with cheeses, salty or spicy dishes, Szechuan cuisine or even popcorn.

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“Ice wine is different than most [sweet] wines because for how intensely sweet it is. It is actually pretty high in acid and very refreshing. Ice wine is a very intellectual wine that, as it warms up in the glass a bit, like cognac, takes on layers and changing flavors. Each sip of an ice wine can bring very unique flavors from a variety of stone fruits like very ripe pear, all the way to Grammy’s peach cobbler. It is a wine that begs for you to have another taste,” he said.

Nicholson, too, said that ice wine has the ability to add flavor when paired with food, but also in food as well. He has seen the wine used in everything from sauces and marinades to compotes and chutneys. Additionally, he said, the wine itself has the tendency to pair nicely with cuts of meat, charcuterie boards and more. 

“Ice wine works beautifully in a glaze for caramelized grilled pork roast or as an accompaniment to holiday appetizers and desserts such as fine, blue-veined and cream-based cheeses, rich pâté, or raspberry mousse,” he said.

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However, while spotting the wine on a menu may be one way to spark interest in ice wine, it’s not always an easy sell. A bit pricier because of the process, McDaniel explained that those who may enjoy ice wine may not even know it. The fact that the wine falls into a sweet category may deter those who would typically end up enjoying the wine, since they are unaware of the layers of flavor that await them in the glass.

“The profile of the ice wine drinker is a palate that loves intensity, that loves the opportunity to sit, savor and ponder the tastes of an ice wine. It is a wine to be methodically enjoyed,” he said.

And, added Nicholson, the complex scope of flavors may have the power to sway even the most discerning palate. Nicholson said that for those who aren’t keen on extra sweet, starting with a Riesling-based ice wine would be ideal. But, once the door opens, he said that other varietals won’t be too far behind.    

“The concentration of flavor and lovely balance between sweetness and natural acidity is incomparable. The natural balance of sugar and acidity creates a unique sensation on the palate of a surprisingly dry finish. Ice wine is renowned for its layers of tropical and citrus fruit flavors and fragrant aromas. It is a truly natural wonder and extreme winemaking at its best. There is no other wine like it in the world,” he said.

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