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Ice Wine

Let’s talk ice wine.

Ice wine is a style of dessert wine where the grapes are harvested when they become frozen on the vine. Since only the water in the grape freezes, the sugars and other components of the fruit become concentrated. This produces a wine with exceptional sweetness and flavor.

I’ve heard that winemakers are one part artist, one part mad scientist, and one part gambler. I think this could be even more true for the producers of ice wine. They allow the grapes to hang on the vine longer than typical, usually well after other grapes have been picked. Then, when the grapes freeze, they need to be harvested within a few hours. It’s an extremely risky operation, and whole crops can be lost.

That said, the result is lovely when all goes well. The wine is high in acidity and has bright, complex flavors. It’s the perfect digestive and pairs well with an assortment of desserts from cheese to ice cream.

This week, I did a side by side tasting of two different ice wines. Both were made with the Vidal Blanc grape, which grows well in cooler climates and is known for its high acidity and sugar content. Both ice wines were from North America. One was from Canada, which is known for ice wine, and the other was from Ohio, which is not known for wine at all. While this may not seem like a fair comparison, they were surprisingly similar and delicious.

Now on to the tasting!

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The first I tasted was a 2005 Chateau des Chames Vidal Ice Wine, VQA, from Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada. This bottle has been in my collection for several years, and it has aged nicely. Auburn in hue, it had great acidity and a lingering finish. Floral notes along with honeyed raisins and caramel apple flavors were prevalent. There was a slightly musty taste, which makes me think there may have been some Botrytis* when harvested (*wine nerd alert – this is a fungus that removes the water in grapes in some dessert wines, like Sauternes and Tokaji). While this is unusual in ice wine, it can be present.

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The second wine was gifted to me by a friend a few years ago: 2013 Debonne Vineyards Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from Grand River Valley, Ohio, United States. Not knowing much about Ohio wine, I didn’t know what to expect. Grand River Valley is on the edge of Lake Eerie, so it has similar climate conditions as the first wine I tried from Niagara-on-the-Lake. This wine was delicious and definitely comparable to the first! It was golden brown with a bright sweetness, good acid, and long finish. There were flavors of poached pear, grilled pineapple, and caramel.

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