Editor’s Note: We are pleased to have Jude Wiesner join us this week as a guest writer. Jude is the author of three short stories, as well as two published memoirs (and, is currently working on her second literary novel). She enjoys travel, and her love for Minnesota wines takes her wine tasting around the state.
Slate grey skies herald the approach of winter. Clouds obscure the low slung sun. The crunch of first frost crackles underfoot. Minnesota vineyards sit quiet. The once brilliant green leaves are golden and the edges have begun to curl and brown. The grapes have all been harvested for this year’s vintage.
Not quite — rows of vines are covered with netting and if you look close you’ll see the grapes remain, stubbornly clinging to the vine building sugar. With diligence and luck and perhaps a bit of prayer these grapes are destined to be ice wine. It takes a brave and risk taking vintner to deliver. This year our weather presents an extra challenge.
Most of the world’s ice wine production comes from our frosty Canadian neighbors to the north. Since strict rules were established by Canadian vintners governing the need for grapes to freeze on the vine, that comes as no big surprise. The grapes remain on the vine until the temperature reaches 15 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for twenty-four hours. It’s a call to all pickers and a race from harvest to pressure press, some done out in the cold.
The icy temperature will crystallize most of the water out of the grape, leaving a small percent of the liquid. It takes a hardy vine that can handle the stress, hang well and produce a perfect balance of sugar and acidity. With the frozen crystals discarded only the sugary juice is extracted and looks like black molasses. The fermentation process is especially difficult with the heavy juice and requires constant monitoring for as long as sixty days and temperature adjustments to control the must level (sugar measured in “Brix”) finish.
According to Irv Geary, President of Minnesota Growers Association and winemaker, he chooses Frontenac Gris because “it is a sturdy vine and a grape that gives gold at 21° Brix”. Other vintners may choose to use St. Pepin. The end result will vary. While I’ve tasted ice wine that is almost clear in color others run toward gold. All with an impressive finish.
Ice Wine: Worth both the effort and wait
Once bottled ice wine should be held for about a year and ages well over time. It is a dessert all by itself. The pure concentrated flavor, acidity and sweetness that stays fluid in the grape stays fluid in your mouth. It is a clear crystal honeyed sweetness with bold tropical aromas, a range of berry notes and surprising acidity.
You may find some wines labeled “ice-like” or “iced wine” because the winemaker has chosen a safer course and picked the grapes or uses purchased juice prior to using cryogenics to produce the wine. The product isn’t necessarily worse but the time on the vine makes it authentic and develops character in the wine.
This year’s warm Minnesota temperatures have made it difficult to produce the pure ice wine. We are not reaching the “freeze – thaw, freeze – thaw, freeze – pick” sequence that Tami Bredeson of Carlos Creek Winery describes is needed before the grapes are ready.
Will ice wine put a dent in your wallet?
Absolutely. It starts around $20 and escalates rapidly, and that is for 375 mL bottles, not the typical 750 mL wine bottle. But keep in mind neither is the pour typical at two-ounces. This wine is made to sip. Ice wine pairs well with heavy cheesecake and bold desserts in the winter months, but you might want to sip it in the summer with only a rich cheese as the perfect dessert.
You can purchase ice wine direct from several Minnesota wineries as well as local wine stores who also offer wines from Canada, New York, Germany and Austria.
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” —ERNEST HEMINGWAY, Death in the Afternoon