5 Great Bottles: Ice Wine


I had a glass of ice wine for the first time on a trip recently and, after historically having given dessert wines a big old "meh," have now become minorly obsessed. Ice wine (which also commonly goes by the German "eiswein") is one of those lesser known dessert wines, standing patiently behind the more familiar ports, sherries, and madeiras.

What does ice wine taste like? The white I had was bright and sweet, like liquid honey, making a bold, brief impression and then washing quickly away, leaving behind just a tiny remnant until the next sip. Haskell's downtown assistant manager Josh Hudson says he likes how ice wine "just hangs out in your mouth, making a mouth coating. "It's super special ... nectar of the gods." YES.

What makes ice wine notable, and the reason it is typically a bit more spendy, is how it's made. As the name suggests, there is ice involved. Traditionally, the process involves freezing the grapes while still on the vine. This can be done au natural or artificially. If done the natural way, it's obviously more suited to northern climates like Germany -- from where many, if not most, ice wines hail -- and, well, places like Minnesota. (Read on ..)

Because the grapes have been on the vine so long, and then frozen, a lot of their moisture has evaporated. So it takes a lot more grapes to squeeze out the equivalent of a bottle. That's why ice wines can run into the hundreds of dollars, and that's typically just for half a bottle (375 ml). It is more commonly made with a white grape but reds turn up too. Here's a few notable ones that are kicking around on local shelves:

1. Schmitt Söhne Rheinhessen made with riesling grapes in a 500 ml bottle. A steal for ice wine, it can be had for around $20. McDonald's Liquor and Wine has some in stock.

2. McDonald's also has an Austrian ice wine called Höpler, also made with the riesling grape, in a 375 ml bottle. This one typically runs at least double the price of the Schmitt Söhne.

3. Cork Dork stocks just one ice wine, an organic from Oregon's Kings Estate Winery made with pinot gris grapes. Shop owner Russell Fay says he chose to stock it because of its reasonable price point ($16) as well as its organic status and the winery's reputation.

4. Haskell's goes for the big guns. If you're looking for an upmarket ice wine, it's likely they have it, or can get it. For the ice wine novice though, Hudson recommends Mueller, made with riesling, which you can get 2-for-1 ($30) through the end of the month in 375 ml bottles.

5. Alexis Bailly Vineyard's in Hastings makes a white ice wine called ISIS, decribed on their site as "[r]eminiscent of ripe apricots and peaches, citrus fruits and honey." The vineyard is phasing out its ice wine, so act fast if you want some local product.

Here's to bringing ice wine out of the shadows.