• This article was written by the president of the New York State Wine & Grape Foundation, an industry group that promotes commerce and education concerning wines from the state’s more than 300 wineries.
By JIM TREZISE
You snuggle into your bed at night, cozy and insulated from single-digit winter temperatures — until the alarm buzzes at 4 a.m., reminding you that today is special: the harvest of tiny frozen grapes to make ice wine, starting at 5 a.m. before the sun is even close to being up.
That was the scene this week at Casa Larga Vineyards, whose Fiori delle Stelle Vidal Ice Wines have won more prestigious medals over the years than any others in New York and many internationally. It’s an annual ritual, and a labor of love, not just at Casa Larga but several other New York wineries which also produce award-winning ice wines.
International regulations define true ice wine as being made from grapes that are actually frozen on the vine, harvested and pressed while still frozen. (An alternative process is to pick the grapes, then freeze them and press them, but such products may not legally be labelled ice wine — eiswein in Germany, where the product originated. Our friends and neighbors in Ontario, Canada, earned international recognition by their superb ice wines, and Cave Spring winemaker Angelo Pavan has well described the challenges and joys of making ice wine in an article for the International Riesling Foundation.
Ice wines are typically sold in tall, elegant bottles that provide half the volume of normal bottles — 375 millileters rather than 750 — and seem really expensive, from $25 to $100 for a half-bottle! Why? They’re rare, and risky to make.
Grapes used for table wines are harvested when they are about 20% sugar, but grapes for late harvest or ice wines are left hanging to ripen further until sugar levels may reach 30 to 40% and, in the process, risk damage from bad weather or consumption by wildlife, making netting a very good idea. The grapes also shrivel, reducing the yield per acre, and are hand-picked by hearty crews, increasing labor costs. In other words, ice wines are a specialty product.
Ice wines also are dessert. As with a dessert dish after a meal, you don’t, or at least shouldn’t, have a large portion; just a taste to savor. Like normal table wines, ice wines can be versatile — great by themselves, with sweet desserts, or a wonderful counterpoint to savory blue-veined cheeses like bleu cheese or Gorgonzola.
Here, listed alphabetically, are the New York ice wines that have earned major recognition in competitions or magazine reviews this year, with numbers in parentheses indicating multiple awards for certain wines. A more complete list which includes the specific awards is available online (under “Hot Topics”).
- Arrowhead Spring Vineyards 2007 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
- Arrowhead Spring Vineyards 2005 Vidal Ice Wine
- Billsboro Winery 2008 Apres Vignoles Blanc Ice Wine
- Casa Larga Vineyards 2008 Fiori Cabernet Franc Ice Wine
- Casa Larga Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine
- Casa Larga vineyards 2007 Fiori delle Stelle Vidal ice Wine (3)
- Casa Larga Vineyards 2006 Fiori delle Stelle Vidal Ice Wine (7)
- Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards 2008 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine (9)
- Hunt Country Vineyards 2007 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
- Imagine Moore Winery 2009 Passion, Simmons Vineyards
- Johnson Estate Winery 2007 Vidal Ice Wine, Estate Grown
- Knapp Vineyards Winery & Restaurant 2008 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine (3)
- Leonard Oakes Estate Winery 2008 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
- Niagara Landing Wine Cellars 2007 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
- Sheldrake Point Vineyard 2008 Riesling Ice Wine
- Wagner Vineyards 2008 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine (2)
- Wagner Vineyards 2007 Vignoles Ice Wine
[Go here for a summary on how ice wines are made at Casa Larga.]
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