Trying to keep warm? While the snow falls outside, how about gathering friends around a roaring fire inside and try some ice wine?
If you’ve never tasted ice wine (icewine–one word in Canada), perhaps winter is a good time to try it. Contrary to it’s name, ice wine will help your “insides” warm up after a few sips primarily due to the high sugar content. Yep, it’s pretty darn sweet and, to me, almost thick.
Appreciating the taste of this wine is helped by understanding how it is made. Ice wine comes from grapes that have frozen on the vine and then been harvested. As the grapes are crushed, the ice is left behind with the other solids-the skins and seeds. To give you an idea of how concentrated the juice is: If the sugar content of the juice was 22 percent when pressed normally, it would be 50 percent or more after freezing and pressing. There are strict requirements for the “brix” which is the sugar level in the grapes. Harvesting takes place by hand in the early cold morning hours when acidity levels are at their highest. Pressing produces only tiny amounts of juice-one reason for the extremely high prices of ice wines.* Canada, is the world’s leading producer of icewines (Germany is second). Our neighbor, Ontario, is the center of production. Anyone who’s visited the Niagara Falls area has been close to icewine country.
Not to be confused with “late harvest wines.” (So much to think about in this world of wine, isn’t there?!) The term late harvest means what it says– that the grapes were picked late in the harvest season when they had ripened past the sugar levels required for ordinary table wine. They are known for their rich, honeyed flavors. To me, they seem to be less dense than ice wine.
In general, I’ve never been a fan of dessert wines. I’m not a port drinker nor do I care for the extreme sweetness of ice wine. I have always claimed not to like sweet wine. But, I must confess, I became a believer when I tasted the “liquid gold” of Far Niente’s Dolce. (“Dolce Far Niente” translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing.”) Dolce is a late harvest wine (blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc) and, therefore, has a bit of that higher sugar level. It is very, very smooth. The “wow” factor I first experienced with it came at a pairing with a bleu cheese (which I never liked by itself). It is definitely an after dinner treat and goes well with chocolate and crème brulee. Dolce, then, is my first recommendation this month. (Around $85 for 375 ml.) And, by the way, the bottle is very pretty.
My other recommendation is also not an ice wine—it’s French late harvest. It’s a Sauterne (late harvest) and it’s the same Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend from France. Le Tertre Du Lys D’Or isn’t Dolce but it’s worth a try. (If that isn’t available, another alternative is Chateau Villefranche Sauterne.) Both of these are about $20-25.
Cheers and keep warm!
*Etiquette Scholar/Late Harvest & Ice Wines website