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Ice wine is the perfect special occasion glass. Thanks to its syrupy full-bodied consistency and rich liquid-gold hue, the dessert wine is thought of as being deeply indulgent, despite being lower in alcohol than most wines, at around 10% ABV.
Squeezing frozen grapes into small but sweet concentrations is a technique dating as far back as ancient Rome. Germany has called it a homegrown delicacy since the late 18th century, and in North America, the style seems to have caught on in the 1970s, sparked by a German in Canada’s Okanagan Valley.
Once a chance for farmers to save their crops after an unforeseen frost, making ice wine is a dying art. Fewer winemakers are leaving grapes on the vine after harvest, because these days that cold snap can no longer be counted on to come.
In Germany, now the world’s second-largest producer of ice wine after Canada, 2019’s warm winter left an unprecedented situation: All but one harvest failed. “Due to global warming, the chance of harvesting ice wine grapes at minus 7 degrees Celsius [about 19 degrees Fahrenheit] has drastically decreased over the past 10 years,” says Ernst Büscher, a spokesperson for the German Wine Institute.
According to Büscher, ice wines age beautifully and can be kept for decades. And if climate change continues its course, ice wines will become extremely rare or even unavailable if producers are no longer able to make them. It’s already known for being on the expensive side, and prices are rising. So perhaps now’s the time to squirrel away a bottle (or a half-bottle, as ice wines are commonly sold) before it’s too late.
Dr. Loosen Riesling
These days, much of Germany’s ice wine is produced from riesling grapes in the famous southwestern Mosel region. Dr. Loosen’s ice wine is a characteristic example. It’s light and gentle yet complex on the palate and nose, with notes of honey, apple and melo. This makes the perfect bottle to set aside to age and break out in a few years for a celebration.
Inniskillin, located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is Canada’s leading producer of ice wine. The Vidal is a great introduction to the style, with tropical fruit tastes and aromas offset by solid natural acidity. Becoming an ice wine connoisseur? Inniskillin also offers a sparkling version and another aged in oak.
Peller Estates Signatures Series Cabernet Franc
This red ice wine from Peller Estates, in Canada’s Niagara region, is made of 100% cabernet franc. As you might expect given the grape, bold red berries, rhubarb and pomegranate are a few of the flavors you’ll find here. While ice wines tend to pair well with spicy cuisine and desserts, this is a great candidate for pairing with salty olives and cheeses.
Weingut Max Ferdinand Richter Mülheimer Helenenkloster Riesling
Weingut Max Ferdinand Richter produces “old-school rieslings about as German as lederhosen,” says Billy Wagner, one of Germany’s top sommeliers. As such, expect hearty, deep flavors with this ice wine, particularly notes of caramel and licorice, a smoky finish, and sherry on the nose, among the lingering sweetness of traditional ice wine.
Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Noble House
Also hailing from the Mosel, Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler had the good fortune to be able to produce great ice wines in 2016 and 2018. While ice wines often tend to be mellow, Noble House is especially crisp and zesty, with flavors of exotic fruits and smoky mineral notes.
J.J. Prüm Bernkasteler Johannisbrünnchen
J.J. Prüm, one of Germany’s most reputable wineries and also located in the Mosel, is still run by the Prüm family after 400 years. But in 2004, its wine list changed forever when it produced the last ice wine it was able to. Bernkasteler Johannisbrünnchen is obviously a splurge but worth it, as probably one of the best sweet wines you’ll ever taste thanks to its perfect balance and vibrancy moored in lush citrus flavors.