Leaving grapes to freeze on the vine seems like a recipe for stone cold failure. But under the right conditions, the grapes that come in from the (extreme) cold can produce delicious dessert wines that are a cool favorite for holiday pairings.
Interest in the wine is heating up as producers experiment with new grapes and new winemaking styles.
“The icewine category in Canada is continuing to evolve with new and innovative products entering the market each vintage,” says Franco Timpano, director of marketing for Inniskillin, a leading producer of ice wine, selling roughly 5,000 9-liter cases annually in Canada and about the same amount in the United States.
Typically, ice wines are made from riesling and cabernet franc, as well as Vidal, a winter-hardy French-American white hybrid grape developed by Jean Louis Vidal in the 1930s. But lately, Timpano’s been seeing ice wines made from merlot, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Inniskillin has made a sparkling Vidal icewine and this year came out with a sparkling cabernet franc icewine available mostly in Canada and at duty-free stores.
Making ice wine is not for the faint of heart, points out Steve DiFrancesco, winemaker at Glenora Wine Cellars and Knapp Winery and Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes wine-growing region.
First, the grapes are left on the vine for months after regular harvest is over. The benefit to all this grape hardship is that the sugars and other dissolved solids don’t freeze, but the water in the grape does, which means when the frozen grapes are pressed, they produce a more concentrated, sweeter juice.