What is Ice Wine (Eiswein) – A Quick Guide

This guide to Ice Wine (also known as Eiswein), is part of our wine resource series. Learn about unique wine and wine-making styles.

When you hear ‘Ice Wine,’ or see the German spelling ‘Eiswein,’ think dessert wine. Most famously produced in Canada, Ice wine is just about as sweet as wine will get. That’s because it’s produced from grapes that were at one point naturally frozen while still on the grapevine.

What Is Ice Wine? A Guide to Sweet Ice Wine (also known as Eiswein) | Winetraveler.com
Grapes are frozen on the vine, thus further concentrating the essence of their flavors and sugars. Image Credit: Organicwine.co

Why does freezing grapes on the vine make the wine sweeter?

Allowing the grapes to freeze while still on the vine will for the most part only freeze the water concentrated within the grape. Toward the latter end of the growing season, it’s common for the grapes to freeze, thaw and then freeze again. Every time this happens, the flavor profile and complexity increase within the grape. Sugars and other polyphenol compounds within will not freeze, and with the water out of the way, their concentration increases dramatically. Ice wine is notoriously sweet!

RELATED: Learn About How Tannins Affect The Flavor of Wine

The Production of Ice Wine

When ready for harvest, the grapes are de-stemmed and pressed while still naturally frozen. The highly concentrated sugary grape juice is squeezed out and separated from the frozen water before the fermentation process begins. Towards the end of fermentation, it’s common for Ice Wine not to exceed an alcohol content of 12%, as the sugar content is so high much of it is not converted to alcohol, or the fermentation is stopped before bottling.

What is Ice Wine? A Description of Ice Wine, How it's made, and the best food pairings

Types of Grapes Used to Make Ice Wine

Grapes most commonly used to produce Ice Wine include Vidal, Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. These varietals tend to be naturally more acidic, which helps balance the wine so it’s not as syrupy when production is complete. New World winemakers are also experimenting with other varieties these days, including Seyval Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay.

Food Pairing Ice Wines

These luscious and rich wines should be served alongside desserts that are equally as sweet and contain some portion of fat. Creme brulee, pecan pie, banana pudding and french vanilla ice cream are some of our favorite pairings. Alternatively, you can try pairing ice wines with very fatty foods, like foies gras.

For a super-secret and interesting pairing that goes against the grain, try pairing your favorite ice wine with sushi! Just make sure it has some nice balanced acidity. You’ll be surprised.

What is Ice Wine? Examples of Good Ice Wine | Winetraveler.com
An example of a classic Canadian Ice Wine from Inniskillin, Gold Label Oak Aged Vidal Ice Wine from the Niagara Peninsula of Canada. Image credit Wine-Searcher.com.

Notable Ice Wine Producing Countries

  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Northwestern and Northeastern United States
  • China

Because grapes need to be handpicked and the harvest needs to be timed around achieving certain temperatures, yields are relatively low for most Ice Wine winemakers. These factors typically increase the price point of many Ice Wines, and some of the best can exceed $100.

Note that Ice Wine is a dessert wine not made by allowing botrytis (“Noble Rot”) to take hold. Many other dessert wines including French Sauternes and some Rieslings are produced by utilizing this rot, an assumption that is often made with Ice Wine. Sorry folks, no rot in your Eiswein!

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