Among the dozens of types of dessert wines in the world, one of my favorites is eiswein, or ice wine. The world's leading producer of ice wine is Canada, followed by Germany and Austria.
Ice wine can be made from many different grapes, though the most famous ones are usually made from riesling. In Canada, the vidal blanc grape is also popular. And there are even a few ice wines made from red grapes, such as cabernet franc. Regardless of the source, ice wine is produced by letting the grapes hang on the vine long after the normal harvest, usually well into December or January. By this point, the grapes are superripe and frozen solid. When ice wine grapes are picked-always by hand-each is as hard as a frozen pea. When these grapes are gently crushed, the water they contain remains behind as ice crystals. All that trickles out is a lusciously sweet elixir, an ultrarich juice that will be fermented into ice wine.
Because of the concentrated taste, ice wine is one of the most elegant and refined dessert wines. Its opulent flavors are balanced by crisp acidity. As for flavors, imagine a kaleidoscope of peaches, nectarines, apricots, and honey. Because the wine is so intense, a typical serving is just one ounce, so ice wine usually comes in 375-milliliter half-bottles. One half-bottle serves 12 people-a nice benefit. Ice wine is expensive ($30 or more per half-bottle) because of the careful handling required to produce it. Serve ice wine chilled, as you would any other white wine. It's sweet and rich enough to stand alone as dessert, but if you want to serve it with dessert, choose something simple and not too sweet-biscotti, a simple nut cake, or a fruit tart (try the White Chocolate-Cashew Coffee Biscotti). Then sit back and watch everyone at the table smile with satisfaction.
Ice Wines to Try
Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine nonvintage 2002 from Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($90): Most ice wines are not effervescent, so this sparkling version is a special treat. Imagine a burst of bubbly, sublime apricot, nectarine, and peach flavors.
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2002 from Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($80): With a beautiful apricot hue, this fruity wine has a rich, silky texture.
Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine 2002 from Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($49): Absolutely luscious with summery apricot and peach aromas and flavors, and a hint of violets.
J.u.H.A.Strub Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Eiswein 2001 from Rheinhessen, Germany ($98): This ice wine is plush yet vividly precise, with the aroma of flowers followed by an explosion of apricot flavor.
Dö nnhoff Oberhaü ser Brü cke Riesling Eiswein 2000 from Nahe, Germany ($120): German ice wines possess delicate elegance. This one has ethereal notes of peach and honey.
Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible , the host of the PBS series Wine, Food, and Friends with Karen MacNeil , and the chairperson of the Professional Wine Studies Program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California. MacNeil won the 2004 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award.