What is icewine, and why should you drink it?

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Icewine was accidentally invented by the Germans in the 1700s when, one year, the weather froze early, before the grapes had been harvested. The wine makers harvested the grapes and made their wine and the result was a sweet, thicker, delightful drink known as eiswein that has endured for centuries.

German immigrants brought the practice to Canada, which has excelled at making icewine, and they have now become the world leader in producing icewine. Other European countries and the U.S. regions around the Great Lakes have also bottled their take on icewine.

How is icewine made?

In the fall, netting is draped over the un-harvested grapes to protect them from the birds that also love the taste of these cold grapes. They are left to wait for frigid temperatures — ideally between -8 and -12 degrees Celsius. Then, around 3 a.m. when it is crystal cold out, harvesters bundle up in their warmest clothes and go out to the grapes. Harvesting is an extremely slow process. Clusters of grapes are harvested quickly in batches before any melting can occur. The grapes, frozen hard, often break the press, which slows down the process further for the cold workers. The windows and doors are kept open during the pressing process to further ensure no melting.

When pressed, each grape contains only a small amount of sugary liquid. The rest is ice, which is discarded. A bottle of icewine will take eight pounds of grapes — the equivalent of six bottles of traditionally harvested wine.

There are wines that are made using a cryogenic process with the grapes. Fans say this helps produce a more consistent and cleaner product without the hazards of unpredictable weather and wild creatures that also love the grapes. However, these wines, because of their process, cannot be called icewine. These wines are typically called things like iced wine or icebox wine.

Icewine traditionally uses only certain kinds of grapes — Riesling, Cabernet Franc or Vidal. There are some regional exceptions. For example, in France there is a hybrid Vidal Blanc that is lower in alcohol content and contains more residual sugar in the final product.

Pricing of icewine

Because it takes so many grapes per bottle, the price of icewine is more than a traditional bottle of wine. Nevertheless, once the wine is tasted, it is easy to understand why it was so worth it. Making sure the bottle is properly chilled before opening will enhance the experience.

Pairing icewine with food

Icewine pairs beautifully with many different things. Try pairing the wine with rich cheeses, like a type of blue cheese or a hard, aged cheese. The sweetness in the wine brings out the best in salty snacks, such as an antipasto plate or toasted, salty nuts. It also enhances rich foods like pate or cold fruit soups. (For soups, you will want your wine to be sweeter than the soup.)

However, icewine is classified as a dessert wine and will pair well with fruits, fruit dishes, custard and cream desserts and souffl├ęs. Icewines made from Cabernet franc pair particularly well with dark chocolate. Ice wine can also be enjoyed on its own as a dessert.

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