I am a devotee of ice-wine. I love its unctuous sweetness while appreciating the difficulty under which it is produced and that because of its expense it must be a special occasion when I am drinking it.
Ice-wine is made from grapes that are picked from the vine while they are frozen and crushed in that state. Only the alcoholic sugary essence remains liquid and because all water in the grape is left behind the wine is intense and sweet.
The wine is expensive because the grapes must remain on the vine long after normal harvest, subject to birds animals and rot – and the onset of a winter cold enough to freeze the grapes solid.
For centuries it was a miracle but with the invention of freezers it was realised that normally harvested grapes could go in a commercial freezer and a sweet ‘ice wine’ be cheaply made. They’re nice and sweet but they are lacking the complexity that grapes left long on the vine, in the elements drying and freezing can obtain. Authorities recognise this and the name ice wine can only be used on grapes frozen on the vine.
Ice wine was invented in Germany but the most reliably freezing winters are in Canada where a range of grape varieties are used to make exquisite ice-wine.
I visited Inniskillin winery in Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada and booked their Discovery Ice Wine tour and recommend it to you.
It’s best to make a booking for numbers on each tour are limited. I popped in the winery at the start of my holiday and got a booking for the following morning. It cost $15 CDN a person.
Next morning six people assembled outside Inniskillin small winery tasting room where we were welcomed and given an orientation talk and issued with a bottle of mineral water. Then we walked a short way up to Dark Horse Vineyard which is one of the vineyards used for ice-wine.
Here, with a tremendous view across the valley, we heard how ice-wine is made. The temperature must drop below minus 8 degrees Celsius for two consecutive days before picking can start. When that occurs then phones start ringing across the area as pickers are called in. The grapes must remain frozen at below that temperature all the way to the winery and while they are crushed so they are picked at a lower temperature then the minimum.
We then returned to the winery where we sat outside in the sun. We were given a dish of different foods, such as chocolate cake, dried apricots, almonds, dried cranberries, cheddar and blue cheese, nuts, and were guided to sample different ice-wines with them. The pours were generous and we tried three different wines.
We were also given a voucher entitling us to 10% off any purchase that we could use immediately or in the future.
As we must have drunk – I mean tasted – more the $15 worth of ice-wine and saved 10% off our purchases, not to mention visited the vineyard and had our question answered, this tour is heartily recommended.
You can book online at http://www.greatestatesokanagan.com/Visit-Our-Wineries/Inniskillin
Riesling Ice-Wine 2007 ($60 for 375ml, i.e. a half bottle)
Beautiful honeyed sweetness.
Dark Horse Vineyard Riesling Ice-Wine 2007 ($70 375ml)
Dark yellow gold colour, delicious sweet with some balancing acidity. This is a single vineyard wine from the vines that we had just visited.
Tempranillo Ice-Wine 2008 ($99 375ml)
A Tempranillo ice-wine is a first for me. It was red, although it had not been fermented on its skins, presumably enough colour came during pressing, any way this wine was beautiful with a lovely rose-petal quality. \very little is produced, just 1,440 half bottles.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle and Apple iPad.
Disclosure: Peter F May visited Okanagan at his own expense. All accommodation, meals, food, wine, transport tour-guides and visits were paid for.