What Is Ice Wine? | Frozen Fruit Makes The Sweetest Juice

Harry Lambourne
19th February 2024

You may have asked yourself ‘What is Ice Wine?’. It may conjure up ideas of ‘frose’, but in fact it is a far more labour intensive, risky and delicious product. Ice Wine produces some of the world’s greatest dessert wines, but it is an increasingly rare treat. So, we’re going to help to answer the question ‘What is Ice Wine’?

Over the course of this article, we will introduce you to the methods of production behind this wonderful drink as well as the common tasting notes and regions in which you could expect to find it. By the end of this, if someone asks ‘What is Ice Wine?’ – you will know!

What Is Ice Wine?

Let’s start with the most basic explanation of Ice Wine. Ice Wine is simply a style of dessert wine which is produced from grapes which have been frozen on the vine.

It can come from a number of different grapes varieties. The most common is Riesling. However, you can also find it produced from Vidal, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. You will also find red ice wine which is generally produced from Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

It is often crucial that the grapes are naturally high in acidity to allow for the longer hang time and to help balance the high sugar content of the final product.

Riesling Grapes
Riesling Grapes

The grapes are left on the vines well into winter with the hope that the optimal temperatures emerge to create Ice Wine which is generally below -7 and -8 degrees centigrade.

Here in lies the risk. There is no guarantee that these conditions will occur. So, you run the very real risk of leaving your grapes on the vine until they simply rot and die. Then, they’re no good for anything. This is why the global production of Ice Wine is so small. Winemakers don’t want to risk losing a huge amount of their crops. So, even in the years where conditions are perfect, only a small amount of grapes will be turned into Ice Wine.

What IS Ice Wine? – Method of Production

So, ‘what is Ice Wine?’. It is wine made from frozen grapes. However, this leaves another question ‘why is Ice Wine sweet?’. As we’ve mentioned, it is a dessert wine. This means that there must be a reason for such a concentration of sugar.

In dry wine production, once the grapes are picked, they would be crushed and pressed which would release the juice and sugars of the grapes, but also the water from the grapes.

With Ice Wine production, the grapes as crushed and pressed while they’re still frozen. Therefore, you get the grape juice and sugars, but rather than water you have ice. This ice is separated out and you’re left with sweeter, concentrated juice from the grapes. To help ensure the grapes don’t thaw, they will often be picked in the dead of night. Spare a thought for those cold fingers of the dedicated winemakers churning out this unique elixir.

What is Ice Wine?
What is Ice Wine? Frozen Grapes!
What is Ice Wine? – Common Tasting Notes

Now, you can answer the question ‘what is ice wine?’. But, you also will want to know what it tastes like. Obviously, this will vary depending on the grape variety and the region in which it is grown. Yet, there are certainly common themes across different forms of Ice Wine which can help to inform your decision as to whether you’d like to pick up a bottle of the stuff.

We’ll begin by discussing the fruit flavours. Generally, with white grapes you can expect to find a mix of notes like citrus, stone and tropical fruit. These include notes like lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, apricot, nectarine, peach, pineapple and passionfruit. With red grapes, expect to find juicy ripe berry flavours such as strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry, boysenberry and blueberry.

Then, expect to find rivers of honey and caramel, (after all it has twice as much sugar as a coca-cola), and really subtle spiced notes, particularly of ginger.

What IS Ice Wine And Where IS Ice Wine Made?

We’re now clear on ‘What is Ice Wine’, as well as the method of production and taste. Now, we move onto where in the world it can be found. Unsurprisingly, the answer is where there are cold winters. So, the most common places in which you will find Ice Wine, (which we will discuss), are Germany, Canada and the USA.

German Ice Wine

Germany produces some of the world’s finest Ice Wine, where you’ll see it called ‘Eiswein’. The finest examples will come from the beautiful Mosel wine region. Here, ludicrously steep hills ascend from the banks of the Mosel river and these sun drenched slopes give life to some of the world’s finest wines. From these wines, few are as desired and rare as fine Eiswein.

We highly recommend checking out the world-famous Dr.Loosen who have been producing wine in the Mosel region for over 200 years. They produce classic Riesling Eiswein that will go down a treat.

Steep Vineyards in Mosel
Steep Vineyards in the Mosel Wine Region
Canadian Ice Wine

Canada doesn’t have the same reputation for dry wine as Germany. Yet, they have garnered particular acclaim for Ice Wine. This is thanks to their consistently freezing winters. They actually produce Ice Wine every year and are the world’s leading producer of this libation, (MacNeil 815). Typically, you’ll find Ice Wine made from Riesling, Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

The Inniskillin Winery in Niagara and the Okanagan Valley have become real specialists in the production of Ice Wine and you can find examples from all of the grape varieties which are mentioned above.

American Ice Wine

We aren’t heading to California here, or even the much cooler Pacific North-West. Instead, we are looking at the east coast and the wines of New York State. While the words of New York conjure up images of the famous bustling metropolis that Sinatra sang about, in reality the New York State area is far broader and often very rural.

It is in these rural pockets and the area surrounding the famous Finger Lakes that Ice Wine has begun to thrive. The Finger Lakes AVA, (American Viticultural Area), in particular should be where you seek out Ice Wine. They are chiefly produced from Riesling, Cabernet Franc, as well as the hybrid grapes of Vidal and Ravat Vignoles.

There is actually an Ice Wine festival in New York state to celebrate this wonderful drink, so if you’re ever in the area and you’ve developed a taste for the stuff, then this is a must. Learn more here.

We hope we’ve thoroughly answered the question ‘What is Ice Wine?’. Now, if you’re ever faced with someone asking you that, you can be the person with all the answers. However, seeing is believing and we think to truly be able to answer the question ‘What is Ice Wine’, then you should pick up a bottle and see what the fuss is about!

If you want to treat yourself, or someone else in your life, don’t forget to check out our Monthly Wine Subscription and Gift Wine Subscription products. Each month you’ll receive hand-picked wines from small, independent family winemakers who focus on organicbiodynamic and sustainable viticulture. Learn more here:

Work Cited

MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd ed., Workman Publishing, 2015.

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