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Ice wine cometh

Ice wine

When grapes freeze on the vine, the result can be delicious

When grapes freeze on the vine, the result can be delicious

Josh Sims | February/March 2018

Inhabitants of Canada’s Niagara peninsula know ice wine well. It is where 90% of global production takes place and where most of it is drunk. But that may be about to change. This sweet, syrupy but complex and extremely palatable wine is trickling into the more upscale outlets in Britain and across the world.

“Ice wine is tricky and costly to make, which is why most winemakers steer clear of it,” explains Craig McDonald, from Peller Estates, maker of some of the best ice wines. For the real deal, you need a climate of extremes: hot enough in the summer to grow the grapes, then cold enough in the winter – a sustained cold snap at -8C or colder for at least four days – for them to freeze on the vine. When such weather comes on, the grapes are harvested around the clock.

Each grape will have had its water content forced out by the cold; the colder it is, the more water is frozen out as a percentage of sugar. What’s left is a tiny drop of the nectar from which ice wine is made. About ten grapes provide just 1ml of nectar – approximately ten times the proportion used to make a conventional wine – which explains its expense: a 375ml bottle sells for around £40 ($54).

While there are imposters – ice wines made in Austria and Germany, where the grapes are frozen artificially – for it to be officially labelled an “Ice Wine” the grapes must be frozen on the vine. McDonald insists that this makes for a more sophisticated taste. “The artificially frozen wines taste sweet,” he says, “but sweetness is just one measure of real ice wine.”

Now Glenfiddich is producing a new whisky – as part of its Experimental Tipples series – aged in oak barrels in which ice wine was matured. That’s one sign that ice wine’s profile is rising. “It’s just part of the Canadian psyche to have a hard time putting what’s really a world class product on a pedestal,” McDonald says. “But that’s changing.” ~ JOSH SIMMS