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Bonny Doon Riesling Vin De Glacičre Ice Wine

Bonny Doon Ice Wine

Last year, Ronbo started talking about icewine. He would also mention it if we were at a nice restaurant or he’d mention wanting to pick some up. Admittedly, I did not really pay much attention to what he said. That all changed when he came to visit and brought up a bottle of Kendall Jackson ice wine that Steph and I gave him for Christmas. That night, as we were watching a movie, I tried some of that sweet nectar and realized two things – a) I just drank my half of the present and b) ice wine is crazy delicious.

Ice wine finds it’s roots in the Fatherland. It was quite an accident really. You see, in 1794, the town of Franconia was hit with a sudden viscious winter. Facing the prospect of potentially losing their entire crop, the peasants decided to see what they could get out of these grapes that are now frozen hard as marbles. They ended up producing some of the sweetest dessert wines with concentrated flavors.

The science behind ice wine is simple. If you allow the grapes to freeze, you are raising the sugar content. Luckily, water freezes before sugar does. The grapes, usually of the Vidal and Rieseling varietal, are left on the vine, long after the traditional harvest has ended. The grapes must have thick skin to be able to withstand the harsh conditions of the winter frost. Also, farmers are taking huge risks leaving their crop on the vines and often lose much of it due to rot or cold. Only the strongest survive, and these grapes have the highest sugar content since they have had so much time to mature. The grapes have to be harvested while they are frozen. This means harvesting in the early morning hours before the sun has any chance of warming things up.

There are specific rules that each country has adopted regulating how the wine must be produced from vine to bottle, to be called ice wine. In Germany (the world’s largest producer), the wines must be picked at -8 degrees Celcius. Though there are varying reports, Canada has roughly the same requirement. After the grapes are picked, they are processed through machines that break them open to extrac the juice. The water is frozen as ice crystals and are easily seperated. Each grape bears just a few drops. After the juice is extracted, the winemaker has to measure the sugar content. It has to meet a minimum requirement to be called ice wine.

The wine has a very high sugar (and acid) content so the flavors are very concentrated. It’s almost like a light syrup. Because of these factors, they come in hal-sized (375mL) bottles, usually enough for 3-4 glasses. You would not want a larger bottle. Ice wine is meant for a nice after dinner treat so you only have a little bit. It gets hard to drink after a while, like eating too much cake. Also, becuase of the high risk and expense that comes with making the product, the bottles are very expensive. With prices of some $90 a bottle, most people would not be able to afford a larger bottle.

I certainly am not, so imagine my delight when I found a local winery that produced some very nice looking and affordable ice wine. I purchased two bottles of the 2004 Riesling Vin De Glaciere ice wine from Bonny Doon vineyards. One was for me and the other was for Ronbo. I shared it with Steph when she came to visit. It was simply exquisite. The aftertaste is just as good, if not better, as the initial splash on the palette. Pear, pineapple, and nectarine is how they described it. I would have to agree. Definitely those types of flavors over berry flavors. And not spicy at all either. So how was I able to get ice wine at a fourth of the cost, made in a region (Santa Cruz, CA) that really has none of the right ingredients for an ice wine?

Quite simply, they cheat. They use a process called cryoextraction which involves freezing the grapes after harvesting, then extraction. This completely goes against the rules of the “Ice Wine Council” (Vintners Quality Association in Canada) but hey, it works, it’s cheap, and it tastes great.

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