A beginner’s guide to true ice wines

16 Aug

In some parts of New York State, the grape harvest will begin around Labor Day if the weather goes on as it has been doing. That’s earlier than usual. But the makers — and consumers — of ice wines are wondering how late in the season some grapes can stay on the vines to provide the foundation for a good specialty tipple.

To begin with, what is a true ice wine?

That question was posed to me in a recent conversation with someone just developing an interest in wines, particularly those from New York State. Here’s a brief list of things to remember if you’re in  the market for some  ice wine.

  1. True ice wine is made from grapes that have frozen on the vine, thus concentrating their sugar naturally because the water freezes but the sugars and other solids do not.
  2. Grapes that are harvested then frozen and pressed sometimes are marketed as ice wines, but they are not truly worth the title. If you are unsure about the ice wine you’re considering, ask your wine vendor.
  3. If (s)he doesn’t know, take your business elsewhere.
  4. The most popular grapes for making ice wine are Riesling and Vidal, both of which grow in abundance in New York State.
  5. Ice wine should be not only sweet, but refreshing without being cloying on the palate. It also should have high acidity.
  6. The high prices for small bottles of ice wine are, in most cases, legitimate. It takes more grapes to create a bottle of ice wine than it does a regular bottle of wine. Also, the process is tricky. The dissolved solids make it difficult for the yeast cell membranes used in fermentation to maintain their balance. That  results in slow, difficult fermentation.

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Posted by on August 16, 2010 in Wine


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