A speciality of regions that get really cold after harvest, ice wines are fabulous ultra-sweet dessert wines. The most famous regions for ice wine are Germany, Austria and Canada, and British Columbia makes some of the world’s best.
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 wineries will trudge through snow in the middle of the night to pick the grapes when it’s cold enough. These marble-hard grapes then are crushed. Since they’re frozen, just a few drops of sweet juice comes out and ultimately fermented. Because it’s so hard to make and just a little results from the harvested fruit, ice wine tends to be very expensive and usually comes in half-bottles.
The best ice wines 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 for ice wine. A few wineries also are experimenting with red ice wines, using Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
A little ice wine is made in Washington and Idaho. Some wineries make “ice wine” by picking late-harvest grapes, then freezing them. The resulting wines are not nearly as good as the real thing, and changes in the law in 2003 has forced wineries that make such wines to label them as something other than ice wine. So when you see “ice wine” on the label, you know you’re getting a true ice wine.