Ice Wine: the Most Difficult Wine to Make

Ice wine is a dessert wine, so it’s sweet, but it’s not one note like cheap pink moscato.

Sweet wines get a bad rep. They’re considered the type of drink gaggles of giggling girls down (and Lord knows, anything groups of women do must be easy and in no need of respect). Dry red wines are currently the star of the show. If you can sip down the driest of the reds, the types of wines that stain your teeth purple and make your mouth feel like you have dry socket with each swig, then you are truly a “wine connoisseur.”

Sweet wines have a history as rich as any dry red, and ice wine is no different. There’s some evidence that the Romans made ice wine and then the technique was lost until the Germans made Eiswein after a particularly rough winter in the early 1800s.

Ice wine is made by pressing grapes that have frozen on the vine. It’s a laborious process that produces little wine, but the result is prized for its range of flavors– sweetness tempered by acidity, earthy tones and a distinct late harvest taste.

Photo by Monica Silva on Unsplash
Photo by Monica Silva on Unsplash

Ice wine, also called by its German name Eiswein, is rare. Conditions must be just right. The grapes must freeze on the vine, and this must happen before most of the grapes fall off the vine, rot or are eaten by animals. A freeze can happen suddenly and the grapes must be picked immediately. Workers wake up at the crack of dawn or work well into the night to gather the entire crop in time.

Grapes must be pressed while still frozen. Workers labor in the freezing cold throughout the entire process. It’s not a wine for the fait of heart.

Ice wines are only made in regions that supply the perfect conditions. Germany and Canada make the most ice wine. United States and Northern Italy also make a few varieties.

Ice wine is expensive. I found a few varieties in the dessert wine section at my local liquor store. I chose a German variety that cost $30. $30 isn’t bad for a nice bottle of wine, however ice wine comes in bottles that are half the volume of your average wine bottle (375 ml compared to the regular 750ml.) The bottle I bought was on the cheaper end. Most ice wines range between $60 and $80.

On to the reason you’re reading this though: what does it taste like?

I tried Wilhelm Bergmann’s 2016 Rheinhessen Eiswein. It’s a white wine (ice wine comes in both white and red varieties) and tastes like honey and the smell of farmland– which sounds gross but if you’ve had a good cheese with just a hint of musk, you know what I’m talking about.

Ice wine isn’t for downing with a heavy meal or popping open for movie night. It’s best as a novel treat shared with friends. And, even if you don’t like or try this wine for yourself, you can now sound like a complete wine snob at your next friend gathering.

Vivian Farmer
After reading books about far off places as a child, Vivian was hooked on travel writing. She traveled during her college years and wrote about wine, oil painting and wild hogs. She's planning her next adventures and writing about anything and everything travel related.