Passion Project: Making Ice Wine


[Photograph: Inniskillin]

Here's the thing: making icewine is a crazy project. It's insane to leave your grapes on the vine deep into the winter. You have to shield them from birds and from mold and hope the weather is right for a hard freeze. It's crazy to not pick your grapes when they're plump and full of juice, and instead to wait as the temperature drops.


[Photograph: Inniskillin]

It's crazy to get up (often in the middle of the night) when it's minus-10 degrees to pick the frozen grapes, which will each yield just drops of juice. Literally drops: the yield is often just 10 percent of a regular cluster of wine grapes, which is part of why icewine can be so pricey.

Why do it, then? For the love of the luscious, concentrated flavor, to carry on a tradition of cool-climate winemakers, and because crafting this wine is fun and a bit daring. And the reward is great: one sip of icewine paired with something decadent, whether that's molten foie gras, gooey cheese, or some kind of dessert, and you might start to realize why winemakers go to such lengths to make these bottles.


[Photograph: Inniskillin]

The history of German Eiswein goes back at least as far as the 1800s, and Canada and Germany are the largest producers of icewine today, though it's also produced in smaller quantities in a number of other areas including Austria and New York State.

Want to explore these sweet wines with your sweetheart this Valentine's day? Plan a rich meal, and don't pigeonhole this wine as a dessert offering. Try it with toasted nuts, cheese, or pate, mushrooms and caramelized onions, duck or goose, even lobster or scallops in creamy preparations. And if you don't think you can finish a whole bottle, keep in mind: it keeps well in the fridge, so you can savor it over a series of evenings.

We love the icewines from Canada's Inniskillin. Their 2007 Niagara Vidal Gold offers a burst of intense lychee fragrance. This burnished gold wine balances tartness and honey in a way that leaves your mouth watering. There's a hint of candied ginger and tangerine, but loads of that lychee-in-syrup flavor—drink a little glass of this luscious wine with cheesecake or creme brulee, or pair it with seriously creamy cheeses like Taleggio.

Inniskillin's 2008 Niagara Riesling Icewine has a livelier high end, with ribbons of acidity that brighten the musky peach flavors and hints of mango nectar. This wine is floral and rich and fresh and sweet, perfect for pouring with cheeses and nuts, seared duck breast or foie gras if you're really going to get indulgent. (It's also totally delicious on its own.) If you want to go sweet, stick with biscotti or simple puff pastry desserts, nothing that will outshine the rich clove-spiked fruit flavors of this expensive elixir.

We also have tried a few from upstate New York. Sheldrake Point's riesling icewine has an intense, warming spice. Though it lacks some of the bright acidity and minerality of the Inniskillin, it offers a layer of maple-like flavor that would be right at home with gingerbread or spice cake. You can also find quite a few Cabernet Franc based icewines from the Finger Lakes area. Fulkerson's version has a rich, fruity sweetness, like strawberry jam left to dry in the sun. Serve it with brownies or gooey cheeses.

Have you ever tried icewine? What dishes do you like with it?