Icewine: What It Is, How It's Made, and Why You Should Try It

Posted February 27, 2015

Geoff Gates


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A New Englander born and raised, I’ve endured my fair share of bitter winters. Nothing compares to my winters spent in Canada though, where temperatures that dip into the -30s are commonplace. An employee at a local winery in the summers, I was lucky enough to be a part of the icewine process one special winter. This is where I tried my first icewine, and this is where I fell in love with it.

An abridged history of icewine

Icewine has storied roots dating back to 18th century Germany, where Eiswein was first born. You probably recognize it as that wine in the super skinny bottles, usually holding around 375ml of the good stuff. It’s quite sweet, hence it’s popularity as a digestif, and also why one of its monikers is dessert wine. Finally, it’s rare, much more rare than an average grape yield. Icewine accounts for around 10% of the total wine yielded per year, as the process is both strenuous and risky.

So how does it actually get made?

The first piece needed is a cold night, and I mean COLD. A hard freeze is required, which is usually somewhere around 17°F (-8°C) depending on the region. It’s a complicated and risky process; if the frost takes too long the grapes will rot, if the frost happens too quickly or is too cold, no juice can be yielded. The grapes must be pressed while still frozen, meaning the time between picking and pressing is slim at best, and the temperatures at pressing must be consistent with the hard freeze. Beginning to see why these teeny bottles demand a premium price?

So, why buy it?

Well, the number one reason to purchase icewine is simple, it tastes DAMN good. Medium to heavy bodied with complex, natural sugars, you’ll find various stone fruit aromas with a smooth, sweet palate. It also serves as a routine breaker, something different to serve to your taste buds to keep them on their toes. And did I mention it tastes DAMN good?

Now take your newfound icewine knowledge and put it to good use. The next time you find yourself in a situation where you can order some, go for it! Wow people with the history of icewine, make them swoon by describing the yielding process, and leave them wanting more when lips finally come in contact with the real thing.

Geoff Gates gained his wine experience working the tasting tables at Blomidon Estate Winery, giving him enough clout to be the guy who orders the vino at every group outing. A New York native, he's recently moved to San Francisco to write more articles and, of course, drink more wine.