The Winter Chill Yields a Special Treat

Living in Southern California, we Angelenos have safely avoided the record temperature lows that have been plaguing the rest of the nation this past week. Yet in living with temperatures so moderate and predictable, at times we can all feel a bit of “winter-envy,” quietly hoping for one big snow storm to trap us indoors for the day.

For those seeking to satiate their winter-fix this year, why not enjoy a product born from the very snow storms that we secretly yearn for?  I’m speaking, of course, of ice wine, the deliciously rich dessert wine made from the juice of naturally frozen grapes.

ice wine grapes

Referred to by many as the nectar of frozen grapes, ice wine (or Eiswein), can be made using a variety of grapes, both red and white, though the most common of which include Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc and Vidal Blanc.

Traditionally produced in Germany, Austria, Canada and the Northern US, legend has it that the first ice wine was made when a German winemaker left his vineyard unattended during the harvest, returning to discover all his grapes had frozen.  Refusing to let his year’s efforts go to waste, the winemaker harvested the grapes as normal, thereby creating the world’s first ice wine.

Ice Wine Vineyard

Today, producing ice wine is an extremely costly, labor-intensive process.  Grapes must be picked at night to ensure the grapes are pressed while still frozen, and are generally harvested by hand to ensure no damage is caused to the clusters.  The timing of harvest and snowfall must also be in sync as with a late snowfall, grapes risk rotting on the vine, yet too strong of a storm can destroy the natural juices of the grapes.  Even once the grapes are harvested, they yield very little liquid to warrant the intense labor required to collect it, thus resulting in generally high prices for consumers.

Harvesting Ice Wine

Yet despite the obstacles, the finished product is considered liquid gold: a wine low in alcohol but high in residual sugar and acidity that proves an excellent pairing to a bit of aged cheese or dark chocolate at the end of a meal.

So while the rest of the world bemoans the freezing temperatures and frosty nights, why not celebrate winter’s bounty with a glass of icy goodness.

WSA/NASA Silver Pin Certified Sommelier, Central Coast wine enthusiast and overall travel junkie

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