Freezing conditions outside inspire us to have a closer look at ice wines. These decadent dessert wines are made from the juice of frozen grapes. Since most of the grape’s moisture is locked up as ice, only a small amount of sweet nectar is extracted when the grapes are crushed.
Sometimes, very ripe grapes are harvested and then frozen by the winery. At other times, the grapes are allowed to ripen and freeze on the vine. Therein lies their romance—getting the grapes to remain healthy until the first freeze is tremendously complicated, so it’s no surprise that wines made in this fashion are rare and expensive.
One such offering comes from Canada and is a dazzling example of why these wines are so prized. Inniskillin Vidal Gold 2006 ($63, 375 milliliters, Republic National) leads with lush tropical-fruit notes, framed by Clementine citrus and orange oil. Its intense fruit and sweetness are a perfect match for pungent cheeses, foie gras, and fresh fruit.
For a taste of ice wine’s luxury at an easier-to-swallow price, consider the Selaks Ice 2011 ($25, 375 milliliters, Constantine). This New Zealand producer harvests the grapes very late and mechanically freezes them. This blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer sings with candied lemon peel and tangerine, but also a hint of Asian spice. It works well with tarts and pies, but a plate of runny cheese and a roaring fire is probably better.
Other fermentable fruits can be harvested at first frost as well, as in the Pinnacle Ice Apple Wine ($35, 375 milliliters, The Country Vintner). Also from Canada, its production at Domaine Pinnacle takes on an added dimension—not only must the apples remain rot free before the first frost, but they also have to stay on the tree and not fall to the ground. By the time favorable harvest conditions arrive, a chunk of the fruit may already be ruined. The trouble is worth it, though, as this wine exudes apple pie, caramel apple, and fresh cider flavors. Of course, it pairs well with apple desserts and such, but it also shines as a mixer. Introduce it to a bit of apple brandy, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a splash of sparkling wine, and you’ll soon forget about the ice outside.