Ice wine and Riesling are both cold climate wines. For a riesling, let’s look at Cedar Creek, in Okanagan Mission. For ice wine, let’s go to the far north, in Vernon. If anything was ever misnamed, it’s ice wine. Here’s why: ice wine is made from grapes that have been left to hang on the vine until the temperature drops to Minus 10-13 Celsius and the berries are as hard as gravel. They’re then quickly picked and pressed before they thaw. In the process of pressing, the water is left behind as ice and only a concentrated pressing of juices and sugars gets squeezed out. This is what the wine is made out of. The ice is thrown away. Here’s ice:
Ice Wine Hanging On by Its Fenceposts Above Vernon
Real Winter, as you can see, is coming out of the Monashee Mountains to the east.
The CBC has just reported that this is going to be a record-breaking ice wine harvest year, because “hundreds of tons of underdeveloped grapes” have been left on the vines. Now, isn’t the deal with ice wine that the grapes are fully mature, late harvest, and rich with flavours? Does that actually jive with “underdeveloped grapes”? Lower sugar levels aren’t a big deal, because the water that would dilute the sugar is just being thrown away, but less concentrated flavours means leafy and stem flavours and acids and good mouth-puckering stuff. It will be interesting to see how those flavours can be developed to match the ripe fruit flavours for which ice wines are justifiably famous. I think this year is going to be an interesting test and a time for real growth in the wine industry. Right now, things just look brown, though:
Waiting for the Cold
The snow came, the snow went, and this is what ice wine grapes look like after the temperature has fallen to Minus 5 and then hovers at about Plus 1 or 2 during the day and Minus 2 or 3 at night, and then rises to a, whoa, positively tropical Plus 10.
The thing about tasting wine is that the real taste in the glass is a taste of the year in which the grapes grew, and the process by which they were harvested, pressed, fermented, and finished. That’s wine. It’s a glorious thing. It’s a kind of physical memory. This business of leaving underdeveloped grapes to squeeze the ice away sounds more like putting a brave face on a big oops, because it’s just not necessary. Cedar Creek Winery in Kelowna makes a monumental Riesling out of what might otherwise have been called underdeveloped grapes. This wine has won serious awards, and it deserves it. It is a proud, exciting wine, strong, acidic, bold, and able to stand up to anything from the Mosel or the Rhine, which is high praise indeed. Rather than pushing the summer envelope into the brown months and saying we can make the best ice wine in the world here, when maybe every year we can’t, maybe we should be saying, damn but our Rieslings can sit on any man or woman or king or queen’s table and sing like Hildegaard von Bingen.
Just a hint, from your friendly neighbourhood blog. Warning: this wine is not for people used to buying their white wines from Australia or South Africa. This is a northern wine that displays this northern grape in its full splendour.
If we’re going to talk about grapes, let’s do just that.