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Ice Wine - dessert wine at its coolest.

Frozen Vidal grapes for Ice Wine still on the vine.This week saw the results of leaving grapes on the vine until late January as the Ice Wine harvest took place in Canadian vineyards. True Ice Wine can only be produced in Canada and Germany (Eiswein) although many countries have their own version. The sweet wine must be the result of grapes that have frozen in the vineyard. Post harvest freezing is strictly not allowed.

Harvest

In Canada Ice Wine is made predominantly from two grape varieties; Vidal, a white grape, and Cabernet Franc, a red grape that is pressed without fermentation of it's skins so little if any colour is produced (Riesling is the grape used in Germany). The secret of good Ice Wine is for there to be a hard frost sometime after the grapes are fully ripe. The temperature must drop to -8°C (17°F) in Canada and -7°C (19°F) in Germany. If the temperature drops too low the grapes will be too frozen. There have been reports of machinery breaking because the grapes are just too hard. So, when the conditions are correct wineries will call upon a team of pickers to carry out the harvest. This usually occurs at night to ensure the grapes remain at the optimum temperature. Harvesting Ice Wine is a very cold, labour intensive process so some wineries, especially in the New World are producing 'Iced Wine' or 'Icebox Wine'. Here the grapes are picked at the time they are ripe and then frozen in the winery before the juice is pressed out. Known as Cryoextraction, this process replicates that of true Ice Wine production but the finished product lacks the complexity and finesse of the real thing. It is however, still dessert wine and considerably cheaper.

Vinification

Ice Wine - dessert wine at its coolestActually turning the grapes into wine means pressing the juice while the grapes are still frozen. The water inside the grape is solid ice meaning when pressed, very little juice is extracted. What does run out is absolutely full of sugars, therefore producing a very sweet dessert wine. The picked grapes are taken to a press that is usually on site and outside so it is ambient ensuring the temperature of the grapes does not increase. What makes Ice Wine unique then is the fact that the grapes are picked when it is so cold. It adds an amazingly fresh zip of acidity to the wine which is less evident or lacking in other styles of dessert wines. There is a distinct freshness to Ice Wine thanks to the cold temperatures, great complexity due to hanging on the vine for so long and real concentration of flavours since the water has been removed in ice form. All this means this style of wine is incredibly food friendly.

Food

The usual choice of food to have with dessert wine is, well, dessert. Specifically in this case fruity desserts such as peach tart or summer fruit meringue roulade. Ice Wine has notes of ripe peach, apricot, marmalade and toasted nuts, the texture is rich and the sweetness adds to the unctuousness of the wine. Blue Cheese - food matching for Ice WineThe finish however is clean. crisp and zippy which really helps to cleanse the palate. Most fruity desserts also have a sweetness and a freshness making them the perfect match. Thinking outside the box however, sometimes the opposites work well together. In this case blue cheese is a great pairing, serve it with fresh and pickled walnuts to get the best effect. Rich pâtés also work well as the richness of the wine balances the food but again the freshness prevents it from being cloying. Honestly though, my favourite way to 'drink' dessert wine is to simply pour it straight over good vanilla ice cream. Try it, it's delicious.

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