Canadian Ice Wine: The Skinny on this Sweet Wine

Many budding wine enthusiasts may assume that ice wine is frozen because it begins with the word “ice.” Others might even think that you can create ice wine by sticking a bottle of wine in your freezer for a little while. While certainly entertaining, both of these concepts are way off the mark. In fact, ice wine is one of coolest facets of the wine industry. Because ice wine needs cold temperatures to be made properly, Canada is one of the best places to make it and Canadian ice wine is world-renowned for its sweet, crispy flavor. Canada has become synonymous with ice wine among wine connoisseurs.

You will probably be quite surprised at how fairly easy making Canadian ice wine really is. It’s all about making a simple adjustment during harvesting time. Even the least agriculturally-inclined folks out there know that frost is bad for plants. Well, in this case that’s incorrect. Ice wine, you see, is actually created from grapes that have frozen while still on the grapevine. The sugars and various other dissolved solids within the grape don’t freeze, but all the water does. So what you end up with is a very sweet, concentrated wine that is a great dessert wine. The viscosity of ice wine is even different from regular wine. Ice wine is smooth and thick, making for a wine that goes great with desserts.

Unlike other dessert wine grapes, grapes affected by noble rot (the fungus Botrytis cinerea) are not used in making Canadian ice wine. Basically, you only want healthy, viable grapes that you can harvest much later in the year than your normal wine harvest to go into making ice wine. This process is what gives ice wine its sweetness and high acidity, but also makes ice wine much more rare and smaller in quantity. You’ll get a lot of servings out of one bottle of ice wine, as a single serving is only 2 – 4 ounces.

Most grapes used in making ice wine are frozen naturally, i.e. they aren’t harvested until the temperature reaches -17 degrees Fahrenheit. So obviously, the folks that harvest these grapes have to work in very cold conditions, and quite often they have to work at night if that is the hour in which when -17 degrees is reached! In order to streamline the process a bit more (and make life a bit easier for the harvesters, of course), some winemakers have taken to using cryo-extraction (i.e. mechanical freezing) to freeze their ice wine grapes. This process, plus an increased time of fermentation because of the increased sugar levels, causes ice wine to be a little pricier than the average table wine. A typical bottle of ice wine will be 40-50 mL and cost you around $40. Of course, higher-end ice wines will easily cost $100 or more.

Like everything out there, Canadian ice wine simply has to be enjoyed in moderation. The price and sweetness of ice wine is enough of a deterrrent to limit most wine lovers to drinking just a little after dinner with dessert. Don’t let the cost of Canadian ice wine turn you away, however, it is truly delightful and you must sample it at least once in this life!