Rich, round, silky and creamy.
That's how wine enthusiasts describe an increasingly popular, decadent dessert wine made from frozen grapes. Fortunately, ice wine -- also dubbed "nectar of the gods" -- will be plentiful this summer, due to frigid temperatures across the nation over the last few years.
" More restaurants across the country are beginning to offer it due to the popularity in the summer and the fruity, chilled taste ice wine offers," says Harold Johnson, general manager of Las Vegas' Mt. Charleston Hotel.
Ice wine is very intense and sweet, with flavors of apricot, lychee, mango and nectarine, note connoisseurs.
But this sweetness is perfectly balanced by bracing acidity, which keeps the wine from being cloying.
Why is it so sweet? Ice wine is made from grapes -- usually Vidal Blanc or Riesling, but sometimes Cabernet Franc or Chamborcin -- left to dry on the vine for two or three months after the harvest. After temperatures drop below freezing for three consecutive days, the grapes are picked and crushed while still frozen. The sweetness hails from from the juices concentrated inthe shriveling grapes.
"Many people like it because it's sweet," says Tyler Wesslund, wine director at Atlanta's Canoe Restaurant. "It is becoming more popular in U.S. restaurants as a nice alternative to port or sherry."
Crossing the Frozen Pond
Ice wine has been around for decades, but was rarely produced outside Germany until the Canadian government encouraged its winemakers to give it a try in the late 1980s.
Canadian ice wines soon began to pull in prestigious international awards, and by the late 1990s, most of the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario was devoted to ice-wine production.
Over the last few years, the U.S. has also caught on to ice wine.
Now more than a dozen wineries in Ohio alone produce it. Ohio's climate is well suited to ice-wine production, due to the long autumns followed by freezing temperatures in late November and early December.
Ice wine is also increasingly putting New York's Finger Lakes region on the wine map: In the last three years, sales of ice wine made in that area, as well as on Long Island (which more recently jumped into the ice-wine-making fray) have more than doubled, according to Susan Wine, owner of Vintage New York.
"In circles where dessert wines are a part of daily business, American ice wines are starting to make inroads because of their home-state status," says John Fischer, assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of America.
Some California wineries produce a similar product, but because the climate isn't cold enough, they pick the grapes, then mechanically freeze them. One example is Bonny Doon's Vin de Glacière ("icebox wine'' in French). It can be delicious, but it's not true ice wine because the grapes are not frozen on the vine.
Ice wine from Ohio is priced around $35 per half-bottle, while Canadian or German Eiswein is double that since it is imported. Why so pricey? Producing ice wine is risky -- production is weather-dependent, labor intensive and time sensitive. A ton of frozen grapes yields only 40 to 70 gallons of juice, compared to 140 to 160 gallons from unfrozen grapes.
Ice wines should be served, of course, very cold. Enjoy it in small amounts with dessert, in the small glasses it is usually poured into.
"The natural apple, pear and apricot flavors of this very rich wine make it the perfect complement to a diverse array of foods -- fromdesserts (especially those featuring apples, blueberries, custard, lemon, lime, nuts and peaches) to cheese plates (especially those featuring soft or blue cheeses, such as Stilton)," say Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, authors of What to Drink With What You Eat. "It canalso stand up to savory dishes such as duck, foie gras, and pork."
And while it is, ounce for ounce, surely one of the most expensive wines out there, a mere few sips make for an incredibly satisfying tasting experience.
Ice wines are available at most wine retailers, including online at primewine.com and wine.com, and by the bottle at many fine restaurants around the country.
Award-Winning Ice Wine Picks
Debonne Winery Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
Flavor profile: Nectarines, apricots with a hint of lychee nut.
Food pairing: Serve chilled with fresh fruit platters, fruit soup, poached fruits, soufflés, poundcakes and sorbets.
2003 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine
Flavor profile: Apricot and orange peel.
Food pairing: Serve chilled with strong cheeses or neutral desserts like pear or apricot tarts.
2004 Jackson-Triggs Vidal Ice Wine
Flavor profile: Papaya, mango and apricot.
Food pairing: Serve slightly chilled on its own, with fresh fruit, foie gras, rich pates or a selection of artisanal cheeses.
2004 Mission Hill Riesling Ice Wine
Flavor profile: Lemon-lime, green apple, guava and praline.
Food pairing: Serve chilled with egg custards, biscotti, baked apples, shortcake and rice puddings.
Flavor profile: Strawberry, cranberry and watermelon.
Food pairing: Serve well chilled with fruit-based desserts like strawberry-rhubarb pie, aged cheeses or on its own.