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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 52, May 2007   
Eiswein - Ice WineEiswein - Ice Wine  Contents 
Issue 51, April 2007 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 53, June 2007

Eiswein - Ice Wine

A wine coming from the cold, a sweet nectar produced in wintertime by waiting the cold to literally freeze grape berries in the vine

 Sweet wines have always fascinated the sense and the fantasy of wine lovers of all times. Most of the times expensive and rare, their presence was practically constant in the tables of noble and wealthy people, also as a sign of richness. Rich, thick, sweet, complex in their aromas and in flavors, sweet wines offer an unique sensorial experience. However, it does not take sweetness only to make a great sweet wine as not all the methods used to add or keep sugar in a wine give the same results, neither according to an organoleptic point of view, nor according to quality. There are in fact many ways to make a sweet wine, of them the least “noble” one certainly consists in adding sugar at the end of production. What fascinates about sweet wines is their organoleptic complexity, that extraordinary concentrate of aromas and flavors going far beyond sweetness, a result which is mainly obtained by the concentration of substances contained in grape berries.

Liquid gold coming from the cold:
Icewine - Eiswein
Liquid gold coming from the cold: Icewine - Eiswein

 Also ripeness - or better to say, the overripeness - of the grape plays an important role in the final result, as this natural process gives the increasing of sugar and the exaltation of “ripe” aromas, while diminishing acidity. Despite this is an excellent method for getting the best sweetness from grapes, indeed, also acidity plays a primary role, essential for the harmony and balance of the wine. One of the most ancient methods for the production of sweet wines consists in harvesting ripe grapes and to allow them to dry on the air - hanged in frames or left on mats - in order to favor the progressive loss of water with the result of concentrating juice. Alternatively, the grape is allowed to directly dry on the vine which will be then harvested as soon as it reaches the right level of concentration and withering.

 Another method - which can be used in the areas having the right climate and environmental conditions - makes use of a factor which could seem detrimental for the health of grapes and of wine, however, provided the right conditions, it gives grape juice with extremely refined organoleptic qualities: mold. It is a particular mold - Botrytis Cinerea - which in favorable conditions gives divine nectars and in case it excessively develops, inexorably condemn the whole harvest. Botrytis Cinerea, also known as noble rot when it does excessively develop by literally rotting the grape, is a serious problem for every vintner, welcomed only in grapes destined to the production of some sweet wines, prevented in all other cases. Noble rot, by penetrating the skin of the berry in search of nutrition, favors the loss of water while concentrating the juice, also giving the juice its organoleptic qualities.


 There is also another method to concentrate grape juice: freezing the water inside the berries followed by an immediate crushing. This system can be obtained in two distinct ways, one of them being absolutely natural and obtained in particularly cold areas, the other by artificially freezing grape berries. This latter method is defined as cryoextraction and it is used, in order to concentrate the must, also in the production of other wines. Where conditions allow it, this method is naturally realized thanks to low winter temperatures, by harvesting frozen grape berries directly from the vine. This is how the precious and excellent Eiswein are produced, as they are called in Germany and in Austria, and ice wine - or Icewine - name with which they are known in Canada. Another characteristic of Eiswein is the absence of Botrytis Cinerea, therefore the acidity in these wines will be pretty high, however keeping a perfect and extraordinary balance with all the other organoleptic qualities.

 The origins of Eiswein are not very clear: the only reliable information is they have been “invented” in Germany. Some believes the production method for these wines was accidentally “discovered” in 1794 in Franconia, the famous region located in the central-southern part of Germany. It seems in 1794, in the city of Würzburg occurred an unexpected frost which caused the freezing of grapes. Vintners of the area, in order to save the harvest, decided to crush those grapes and they got an extremely concentrated must which produced that wine today renowned as Eiswein. This is not the only hypothesis about the “discovery” of Eiswein. According to other hypotheses, it seems the first Eiswein of the history was produced in Dromersheim - in Rheinhessen - with the grapes of vintage 1829, a particularly cold year. It seems in the winter of 1829-1830, vintners of that area, in order to save the harvest damaged by the frost and to use them to feed the cattle, they noticed the juice was exceptionally sweet.

 They decided to crush those “frozen” grapes and with the few juice they obtained produced a sweet and exquisite wine: Eiswein. It will be only at the end of the 1960s this technique will be improved thanks to the work of Dr. Hans Georg Ambrosi, the man considered the “father of Eiswein”. Hans Georg Ambrosi began his experiments about Eiswein in 1955, when he was in South Africa to study. When he went back to Germany, he continued his studies about this wine and established a winery in Rheingau, therefore starting the production of Eiswein. Other German producers followed his example and Eiswein become a typical product of Germany. Despite Germany is considered the homeland of Eiswein, climate conditions do not allow its production every year. Where the production of Eiswein is ensured every year is Canada, here known as Ice Wine, which became in a short time the main producer in the world for this type of wine.

 Canada officially enters the history of this wine in 1973, the year in which was produced the first Ice Wine of the country by Walter Hainle, a German emigrated in Canada in 1970. Thanks to the constant climate winter conditions, as opposed to Germany, Canada produces Ice Wine every year, a condition which allowed experimentation and the improvement of the production technique. The worldwide success of Ice Wine will be consolidated in 1990s thanks to the productions of Canada, Germany and Austria, officially entering the Olympus of the greatest dessert wines of the world. Eiswein - Ice Wine are in fact considered among the most looked for and appreciated dessert wines of the world, and most of the times the production is not enough to satisfy all the market needs. The main production area for Ice Wine is the Niagara peninsula, in the Ontario, where the Ice Wine is mainly produced with Vidal, a hybrid grape from France.


Production of Eiswein - Ice Wine

 The production of Eiswein - or Ice Wine - is a laborious process requiring the presence of specific climate conditions and particular procedures of wine making. First of all, the cold. Grape clusters are left on the vine during wintertime and the repeated frosts favor the concentration of sugar, acid and aromatic substances, with the result of exalting the organoleptic complexity of juice. The long waiting for the arrive of the cold however represents a pretty serious condition of risk, as during this period the grape could be damaged by many factors. In fact, in case the frost does not arrive at the right time, that is without being too late, grapes could be an easy victim of mold, therefore causing the loss of the whole harvest. However, in case the frost is too rigid, grape berries would excessively “freeze”, therefore not allowing the extraction of the concentrated juice.

 Grapes are harvested during wintertime, when the temperature is usually lower than -8° C (18° F) and the water inside of berries is frozen in ice crystals. The work of harvesting must be done in the shortest possible time, as the grapes must be crushed before they thaw, generally during night or in the first hours of the morning, that is when temperature reaches the lowest values of the day. Also vinification rooms must have a very low temperature in order to avoid the thawing of grapes before they are crushed. As the water contained in berries is frozen in ice crystals, it will not be extracted and the few juice extracted from the crushing is an extremely concentrated must, rich of sugar and acid. The concentration of sugar in Eiswein - Ice Wine is generally from 180 and 320 grams per liter, a quantity such to make fermentation extremely slow.

 The fermentation of the must for the production of Eiswein can also take some months and the vinification is made both in inert containers - such as steel tanks - as well as oak casks or barriques. Eiswein are generally produced with white berried grapes, however there are also examples of wines produced with red berried grapes. Among the many varieties used for the production of Eiswein - Ice Wine, Riesling certainly is the most important one, followed by Vidal, typical in Canadian productions. Among the other white berried grapes used for the production of these wines are mentioned: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Ehrenfelser - a crossing between Riesling and Sylvaner - Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Pinot Blanc and Seyval Blanc, a hybrid obtained from two Seibel grape hybrids. Among red berried grapes, the most typical one is Cabernet Franc, however are also used Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and, marginally, Syrah.


Production Areas

 The production technique of Eiswein - Ice Wine is used in many countries of the world, however the main representatives of this wine are Canada, Germany and Austria. The essential condition for the production of these excellent wines is represented by a winter with very low temperatures, in order to cause the freezing of the water contained inside grape berries. Eiswein - Ice Wine is also produced, although in limited quantities, in Australia, Croatia, France - here known as Vin de Glace - Italy, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, United States of America and Hungary. The production of Eiswein - Ice Wine is regulated by specific laws in each of these countries and in some cases production disciplinary is very strict in order to ensure the best possible quality. One of the most controversial techniques in the production of these wines is the so called cryoextraction, which allow the artificial freezing of grape berries, therefore allowing the production also in areas or years with not particularly cold winters.

 For example, cryoextraction is expressly forbidden in Canada, Germany and Austria, whereas in other countries this technique is sometimes permitted. In Canada Ice Wines are produced in British Columbia and Ontario, area from which comes the highest quantity produced in the world, in particular in the Niagara Peninsula. In Canada, the production of Ice Wine is regulated by a specific disciplinary instituted by the Vintners Quality Alliance, shortened as VQA. In Germany Eiswein is represented by a specific category of the quality system QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, Quality Wines with Predicate). Also the production of Eiswein in Austria is regulated by the quality system in force in this country. Austrian Eiswein is in fact included in the highest level of the system - Prädikatswein - for which it is provided a specific category.


 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 52, May 2007   
Eiswein - Ice WineEiswein - Ice Wine  Contents 
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