This guide to Ice Wine (also known as Eiswein), is part of our wine guide series. Learn about unique wine and wine making styles.
A Quick Guide – What is Ice Wine?
When you hear ‘Ice Wine,’ or see the German spelling ‘Eiswein,’ think dessert wine. Most famously produced in Canada, Ice wine is just about as sweet as wine will get. That’s because it’s produced from grapes that were at one point naturally frozen while still on the grape vine.
Why does freezing grapes on the vine make wine sweeter?
Allowing the grapes to freeze while still on the vine will for the most part only freeze the water concentrated within the grape. Toward the latter end of the growing season, it’s common for the grapes to freeze, thaw and then freeze again. Every time this happens, flavor profile and complexity increases within the grape. Sugars and other polyphenol compounds within will not freeze, and with the water out of the way their concentration increases dramatically. Ice wine is notoriously sweet!
The Vinification of Ice Wine
When ready for harvest, the grapes are de-stemmed and pressed while still naturally frozen. This allows the highly concentrated sugary grape juice is squeezed out and separated from the frozen water before the fermentation process begins. Towards the end of fermentation, it’s common for Ice Wine not to exceed an alcohol content of 12%, as the sugar content is so high much of it is not converted to alcohol before bottling.
Types of grapes used to make Ice Wine
Grapes most commonly used to produce Ice Wine include Vidal, Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. These varietals tend to be naturally more acidic, which helps balance the wine so it’s not as syrupy when production is complete. New World wine makers are also experimenting with other varieties these days, including Seyval Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.
Notable Ice Wine Producing Countries
- North Western and North Eastern United States
Because grapes need to be handpicked and the harvest needs to be timed around achieving certain temperatures, yields are relatively low for most Ice Wine winemakers. This unfortunately increases the price point of many Ice Wines, and some of the best can exceed $100 easily.
Note that Ice Wine is a dessert wine not made by allowing botrytis (“Noble Rot”) to take hold. Many other dessert wines including French Sauternes and some Rieslings are produced by utilizing this rot, an assumption that is often made with Ice Wine. Sorry folks, no rot in your Eiswein!