Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: No Turkey, Thank You
Next story: Seven Golden Rules

Wrapping The Grape

Locally produced ice wines make the sweetest gifts

It sparkles. It’s sweet and just a little makes a big impression.

All it needs is a bow.

Ice wine, or eiswein, as it is called in Germany, its birthplace, has been around for centuries. Germany has a long and somewhat mysterious love affair with the sweet wine.

Its exact origins remain unknown. One tale speaks of German monks tending to their vineyard. They were required to wait to receive the order to pick the grapes from their superior. News traveled slowly and, before they knew it, frost had come and the grapes had frozen solid. Once the word had finally arrived, they did their best to harvest and ferment the grapes anyway.

A more realistic, but not nearly as romantic, explanation is that ice wine was a happy accident that occurred in the late 1700s when a winemaker was surprised by an early frost. In an attempt to save the harvest, the vintner did his best to produce any type of wine possible. The frozen grapes were pressed and the small amount of precious juice was fermented.

The laborious effort was the birth of a rare and delicious gift.

Ice wine has been called the nectar of the gods, and New York State and Canada make some of the best juice in the world.

To date, Canada has eclipsed Germany as the world’s largest producer of ice wine. Wineries like Inniskillin, Peller, and Cave Springs have sprung up along the Niagara Escarpment.

One of the reasons for Canada’s enormous success in the production of ice wine is their cool climate. The Niagara peninsula, tucked in between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and sheltered by the escarpment, creates conditions and temperatures nearly identical to those found in both the Alsace region of France and the south of Germany. Canada’s grapes are ripe for the chilling and the picking.

Ice wine, as the name infers, is served chilled, but the term ice wine actually refers to the production of the wine.

Unlike its cousins, red and white, which are harvested in late summer to early fall, the grapes used to make ice wine hang on the vine much longer. Mid to late November is harvest time for these glorious frozen marbles of sweetness.

True ice wines are made from grapes that are frozen on the vine and then hand-picked. Some trickier vintners pick the grapes and then commercially freeze them. Both employ the same techniques in production, but those winter warriors who wait to pick the grapes are quick to note the difference. Simulated ice wines are considered by many to be inferior and sell for a much lower price than true ice wine.

The grapes most often found in ice wine are riesling, vidal blanc, and cabernet franc. The exact blending of the various grapes differs, each producer crafting a unique and delicious wine.

Not to be outdone by our neighbors to the north, Western and Upstate New York have thrown their grapes into the barrel and have produced some fantastic ice wines. Casa Larga Winery in Fairport and Merritt Estate in Forestville serve up some of Western New York’s finest ice wines.

Growing vines and picking grapes since 1976, Merritt Estate Winery has crushed and bottled their fair share of the sweet stuff.

“Ice wines require what is called a hard freeze, meaning the grapes must be frozen solid, roughly 15-17 degrees Fahrenheit,” says marketing director Edwin Rodriguez Jr. “The process is difficult because the freeze must come quickly, otherwise the grapes may rot if they sit outside too long with no activity.”

Predicting the weather in Western New York is tricky business, so the growers must carefully watch the temperature drop before they make their move.

According to Rodriquez, the process is extremely risky and not everyone gets it right.

“The process to create ice wines is very cumbersome and time consuming,” says Rodriquez.

Picked in the coldest moment of a winter’s night, those precious frozen grapes are immediately crushed. Each grape produces just a few drops of sweet liquid perfection.

Because of the necessary method of production, ice wine commands a high price. And, because of the intense sweetness of the wine, it is are generally sold in 375-milliliter bottles. Merritt’s Vidal Ice wine retails at approximately $35. Pricing on ice wines range from the mid 20s up to nearly $100 per bottle.

Ice wine is usually served chilled in small cordial glasses.

“Ice wines should be enjoyed young,” says Rodriguez. “They serve as a standalone dessert course and can be enjoyed after any meal.”

Local ice wine can be found in nearly every liquor or wine shop in town. Pick up a bottle, tie it with a ribbon, and give the sweet gift of grape juice.

blog comments powered by Disqus