So you’re standing in the aisle of your favorite wine emporium and you’re looking at a few bottles of ice wine. You come across something called ‘Ice Riesling” and you wonder, “what’s the difference?”
If you read my last post, you know that Ice wine is picked and pressed outside in sub- zero conditions to ensure consistency in both cold temps and sugar content. It faithfully adheres to a traditional method of wine making.
Iced wine, by comparison, is made from harvested grapes that are mechanically frozen after they are picked. Essentially, a wine broker or negociant can, via phone call or e-mail, hook up with a vineyard already growing and harvesting grapes, have them mechanically freeze some of the harvest and produce a variation of ice wine that is then bottled and sold.With iced wines, there’s no getting up at 3am, and venturing into the vineyards in a snowmobile suit to hand pick grapes until sunrise.
‘Frost Bitten’ Ice Riesling is one such iced wine made this way. Is it false advertising? Not necessarily. Most broker-based wines are careful to label accordingly. However, the distinction on ‘Frost Bitten’ is in small print on the back of the bottle: “Wine made from post-harvest frozen Riesling grapes.” On the website it’s described as, “A classic German-styled Trocken-Beernauslese- like dessert wine.” But how many lay people really know what that means?
That said, a wine broker is doing a service to many grape farmers who, due to the economic downturn, might not be able to sell all of their grapes in a particular year. It also gives them a way to sell off some of their product at a lower price point, under another name, while keeping their higher priced, name product intact. It is a win-win proposition and not necessarily a bad practice, I just think it’s important for the consumer to be aware of exactly what they’re getting in their glass. And I think it’s important to give the true ice wine makers their due: they get up awfully early, out in the cold to produce something rare for you to enjoy. And while the price point might seem extravagant, you usually get what you pay for.
I remember, some time ago, controversy between producers of Canadian ice wine and California vintners who wanted to call their sweet, post-harvest frozen grape offering ‘Ice wine’. The Canadians and Germans (who originally created eiswein) took them to court to identify and protect what could be classified as true ice wine. They also wanted to ensure that consumers weren’t buying something they thought was pure ice wine but was actually a variation. From this came some strict guidelines that were set in place and outlined by Wines of Canada.
In the name of science, and to appease my curiosity, I bought a bottle of Frost Bitten Ice Riesling to try after my Sunday night dinner. What I found was a light, sweet wine, similar in consistency to a thin late harvest. It had a nice pineapple bouquet and an robust raisin essence but it didn’t have the full, velvet-y mouthfeel of ice wine. Overall, it was a refreshing, little dessert wine. When I paired it with some Belgian dark chocolate, it became less sweet but was still quite pleasant on the palate. I liked it, but it just didn’t taste as decadent and rich as an ice wine, and maybe that’s the point.
For some, it’s a probably like tomato and tomahto. It makes very little difference, except when you look at the price point: $12 per bottle for the iced variation, compared to $29 for ice wine. And I guess it all depends on what you like and what you want to pay for a dessert wine.
But I still think it’s good to keep in mind that part of what you’re paying for in the higher priced, true ice wine is the considerable time, effort and care it takes to produce it.