Ice wines, the most famous of sweet wines, are made for the most part in Oregon, Washington, Canada, and Germany.
The Pacific Northwest produces some of the most highly rated ice wines in the world. Wines from British Columbia's Inniskillin and Jackson Triggs win top ratings internationally. One of the highest ratings ever for a Washington wine was 97 points from Wine Spectator for a very limited Chateau Ste. Michelle ice wine. Oregon and Washington wineries make world class Ice wines at a wide range of price points.
More About -Ice Wine
"Dessert wines, often rare and expensive, are unique wines and the most difficult to make; but when successful, they earn some of the highest ratings given by our editors. Enlisted to do a specific job in a specific situation, these luscious nectars are the special teams of the wine world. They accompany the dessert course, or even take its place and star on their own. Yet despite delivering high quality more often than not, dessert wines are generally misunderstood, underestimated or simply ignored." - Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator
A specialty of winemaking regions that rapidly become cold after harvest they are fabulous ultra-sweet dessert wines. The most famous sources are Germany, Austria and Canada. British Columbia makes some of the world's best.
Until recently, British Columbia's wines were not available in the US. Now, we are thrilled to offer the wines of Inniskillin and continue to offer great wines of Chateau Ste Michelle, Covey Run, Kiona, and Andrew Rich, all NW producers.
Washington State produces a few top ranked ices, not usually as highly rated (or nearly as expensive as those from Canada) but quite worthy, highly rated "stickies".
Oregon has Andrew Rich, whose Gewurztraminer icestyle is a perennial highly rated, highly prized wine at a bargain price.
What Is It?
To make an "true" Ice Wine, grapes are left on the vine long after harvest and are picked by hand once temperatures reach a certain level, usually about 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 Celsius). Typically wine workers will trudge through snow in the middle of the night to pick the grapes. These marble-hard grapes then are crushed. Since they're frozen, just a few drops of sweet juice is released and fermented. Because it's so hard to make and so little is made from the harvested fruit, ice wine tends to be very expensive and is offered in half-bottles.
The best are those that retain natural acidity in the face of late harvests and high sugars. This is why Riesling is one of the finest varieties made. A few wineries also are experimenting with red wines, using Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
A small amount is made in Washington and Idaho. Some wineries make "icelike" by picking late-harvest grapes, then freezing them. The resulting wines are not as good as the real thing, although they are generally much less expensive. Changes in laws in 2003 forced wineries that make such wines to label them differently. So when you see it on the label, you know you're getting a true bottle.
Grapes are left on the vine well into the winter months. The resulting freezing and thawing of the grapes dehydrates the fruit, and concentrates the sugars, acids, and extracts in the berries, thereby intensifying the flavours and adding complexity to the wine made from it.
at right, Frozen Grapes about to be Crushed
Genuine ice wine must follow VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) regulations that prohibit any artificial freezing of grapes. The grapes are painstakingly picked by hand in their natural frozen state, ideally at temperatures of -10 to -13 degrees C -- sometimes the picking must be done at night to take advantage of the temperature. Yields are very low, often as little as 5-10 percent of normal.
at right, Grapes on the Vine, Ready to Pick
The frozen grapes are pressed in the extreme cold. The water in the juice remains frozen as ice crystals, and only a few drops of sweet concentrated juice is obtained. This juice is then fermented very slowly for several months, stopping naturally.
The finished stickie is intensely sweet and flavorful in the initial mouth sensation. The balance is achieved by the acidity, which gives a clean, dry finish. The scent recalls lychee nuts. The wine tastes of tropical fruits, with shadings of peach nectar and mango.
It is winter's gift to the wine lover: one of the best-kept secrets of the wine world that garners gold medals in virtually every competition in which it is entered.
The greatest of international accolades for Canada was bestowed on Inniskillin at Vinexpo, Bordeaux, in June 1991. Their wine, judged by an international panel, was accorded the fair's highest award, Le Grand Prix d'Honneur.