If you are looking to fully embrace the cold this season, or simply want to pour yourself something new and interesting, then reach for a bottle of ice wine. These bottles tell a unique viticultural story, full of struggle, innovation and triumph. They can be hard to find and expensive (more on that later), but here we share some of our favorite bottles worth seeking out, plus a basic guide to understanding ice wine.
What Is Ice Wine?
Ice wine, called eiswein in Austria and Germany or icewine (one word) in Canada, is a type of wine made with grapes that have been left to freeze on the vine. This is done by preferably freezing and thawing several times throughout the growing season. The grapes are then harvested in the middle of the night in freezing temperatures from December to late February so that they are still frozen.
By allowing the grapes to freeze, the sugars separate from much of the grape’s water content, resulting in highly concentrated and sweet juices. Additionally, this can be done with other fruits to create a delicious variation, and some producers even make ice beer and ice cider.
Want to try a sip of this delicious drink? Here are five of our favorites to get you started.
Our Favorite Ice Wines to Try
1. Peller Estate Cabernet Franc Ice Wine
“This ice wine offers notes of wild strawberry jam, ripe rhubarb, candied cherries and fresh pomegranate. While this wine is naturally sweet, its fresh acidity gives it great balance and a silky texture. This pairs beautifully with braised meats, roasted vegetables and bittersweet chocolate desserts.” —Anna-Christina Cabrales, Tasting Director at Wine Enthusiast
2. Red Newt Riesling Ice Wine
“My favorite ice wine has to be the Red Newt Riesling from their Tango Oaks Vineyard. Granted, the first time I tasted it was at the vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake, which certainly adds to the experiential dynamic. But it is truly a complex and dynamic late harvest effort with supremely intense green, tropical, stone and citrus fruits layered over the luscious honey suckle and molasses core. The acidity keeps it lifted and focused, with a finish that goes on for minutes after sipping.” —Marshall Tilden III, Chief Revenue and Education Officer at Wine Enthusiast
3. Eden’s Heirloom Blend Ice Cider
“I grew up in Vermont, and I’ve traveled the Vermont Cider Trail. The ice cider is a fantastic finish to any meal. It’s made from 15 heirloom Vermont apple varieties, but I’m drawn to the Mcintosh notes that remind me of apple picking as a child. I love it paired with a slice of tangy goat cheesecake as the weather starts turning crisp.”—Carrie Honaker, Freelance Drinks Writer
4. 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine, Y Knot Vineyard
“At the tail end of the long 2020 growing season in the West Texas High Plains, one allotment of Bending Branch Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon from Y Knot Vineyard froze on the vine for three days. Owner and winemaker Dr. Bob Young decided to try creating an ice wine for the first time. Made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this bottle strikes an enticing balance between sweeter notes and citrus, both restorative (maybe even warming?) for long winter months.” —Amy Beth Wright, Freelance Drinks Writer
5. Inniskillin Vidal Icewine
“Inniskillin has been making ice wine since 1975. I’m not terribly fond of overly sweet drinks, but this bottle’s sweetness is perfectly balanced with its peach and citrus notes, making it the perfect wine to crack open with dessert.” —Kristen Richard, Digital Editor at Wine Enthusiast
What Grapes Are Used to Make Ice Wine?
The most common grapes are highly aromatic varietals like Gewürztraminer, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
How Is Ice Wine Made?
Producing these bottles presents challenges not seen in standard winemaking, and these roadblocks can vary greatly from region to region or even winery to winery. So, production methods are going to vary depending on where you are.
When it comes to producing these wines, time is of the essence. Otherwise, the grapes will begin to thaw and the juices will become less concentrated.
After the grapes are harvested, the grapes are quickly pressed. But, even pressing the fruit presents unique challenges. One winemaker in the Midwest likened it to trying to squeeze the juice out of gummy bears. When the winemakers have extracted all the juice that they can, the skins and seeds are separated and fermentation begins.
Why Is Ice Wine so Expensive?
Leaving grapes on the vines so long that they freeze and thaw over and over makes them more susceptible to birds and other grape-loving critters. So, there’s a good chance producers could lose their crop, making it a financial investment.
Additionally, the harvest must be done in the winter, at night in freezing temperatures. For instance, by law it must be below 20˚F in Germany and Canada to harvest. Plus, the harvest needs to move fast so nothing thaws, making it very labor-intensive, and thus, expensive.
Lastly, the grapes themselves don’t produce very much juice, so yields are low. Ice wine is an important pillar for many wineries. But with climate change, many producers are struggling to continue to make these unique bottles.
How Do You Drink Ice Wine?
Ice wines are considered sweet wines, and they are excellent for an after-meal digestif or dessert pairing. They also go very well with foie gras, cheeses and other fatty foods. You’ll want to serve it at around 40–50°F.
So, if you can get your hands on one of our favorite ice wine bottles, we think you’ll really enjoy the unique sip.