Unrelenting, freezing and sharp are just a few words Canadians use to describe our winter weather. Luckily, turning the months that should be miserable and dreary to joyous and fun- filled has become our speciality. Now, Canadian winters are known to bring snowman building, fireplace snuggling, and hot chocolate sipping. But wait! There’s more.
Thanks to our below-freezing temperatures, Canadians get the annual chance to craft a drink so precise that the slightest change in temperature can ruin all efforts. So rewarding that even the harshest crafting conditions are worthwhile. And so deliciously sweet that you’ll have no choice but to come back for more. This is icewine.
Icewine seemed to fall into the laps of German vintners in the 1700s when their autumn harvesting was interrupted by some unexpected winter weather. Not expecting much from the grapes anymore, they continued their harvest. Luckily, this happy-accident-turned-experiment ended with the discovery of a tasty and syrupy wine which would turn the wine-making world upside-down
German vintners dubbed this sugary-sweet wine as “eiswein” by the 1800s. As wine-makers from all corners of the world took their spin on the treat, icewine was soon finessed into the dessert that we know. Today, Germany and Canada are two of the most world-renown icewine producers.
Ice(wine), Ice(wine), Baby!
In icewine production, you wait for temperatures to drop at least below -8°C, so grape harvesting happens in the dead of night anytime from December to January.
Each winery and winemaker puts its own spin on the nitty-gritty details. For example, some like to harvest at first sign of freezing temperature, while some let the grapes freeze and thaw one or two times on the vines for more complex flavours.
Once the grapes are taken off the vines it’s a race against the clock. The icy marbles get transferred into a juice pressing machine to be crushed, a process that can up to six hours. If the grapes thaw before being pressed, water dilutes the sugar content and Operation Icewine is a no-go!
Why so sweet?
Think of raisins; they are tiny, shrivelled and a lot sweeter than a grape. This is because the sugar content gets highly concentrated once the water in the grape evaporates, and icewine grapes aren’t too different.
Once frozen, the grapes dry out and shrivel up, causing the sugar content to skyrocket. You’re only going to get one tiny sugar-packed drop of juice from each frozen grape, so the number of grapes needed for icewine compared to table wine is much higher.
For example, here at Grizzli Winery, we need 30-35 lbs of grapes for a 375 mL bottle of icewine, 10 times the number of grapes in a bottle of our red wine. That’s the same weight as an average 4-year-old!
Sip and Savour
Now, this is the fun part. Don’t let the name “dessert wine” scare you, because icewine is top-notch in versatility. Here are just a few tips for your next icewine pairing:
- A solo act. Don’t underestimate the power of your icewine as its own dessert, and let the complex flavours speak for themselves.
- The fruitiness in icewine can be intensified by the saltiness in dried meats, nuts and cheeses, so try serving your icewine as an aperitif alongside a charcuterie board.
- Make an icewine martini. Use half icewine, and half vodka, drop in a few frozen grapes, and voilà! You’ve created a force to be reckoned with.
- Of course, the fruit is an icewine’s best friend. The rule of thumb is that white icewines pair deliciously with orchard, tropical and stone fruits, while red icewines go great with
- berries and rhubarb. Messing around with these guidelines can result in tasty icewine pairings with fruit salads, cobblers, tarts, strudels and more.
- Icewine and dark chocolate is another match made in heaven. Try the pairing with desserts like mousses, custards, ice cream, cakes and even crème brûlées.
Be creative! There is no wrong way to enjoy your icewine.
Icewine is best served chilled at around 8-10 °C, and remember that a little goes a long way with this sugary treat. You only need about 1.5-2 oz in each glass, any more and you might get a toothache!
No wine left behind
One of the icewine’s greatest qualities is its longevity. Because it’s so rich and each portion is so small, you may fear that a bottle will go bad before you drink it all. But the concentrated sugars in icewine take much longer to break down, so, believe it or not, a bottle of icewine can last 4-6 weeks after opening if stored in the fridge between pours. Though it’s more likely that the icewine will have vanished long before that, a victim of its own delicious appeal.
Oh, sweet child of wine
Icewine has captivated and awed us with its grace and power for centuries. We take grape pride in our icewine-crafting abilities and it’s safe to say that after years of experimentation, we’ve finally got the process nailed down. No one blog post could ever do this treat justice and you can read all you want, but nothing will beat experiencing the wonders of icewine firsthand.
Grizzli Winery is celebrating its Annual Icewine Festival this January 2020. All four of our award- winning icewines will be featured in our tasting room, alongside some sweet and savoury local treats for pairing. See the icewine-making process up close on a guided wine tour around our winery facilities. Experience the romance of Canadian icewine January 25th and 26th, 2020.