Ice Wine: I’m Really Trying To Like It

Posted November 6, 2012 by Tracy.Weiss in Regions

A large amount of residual sugar makes me dizzy. Dessert wine tends to remind me of childhood cough syrup albeit with new and improved flavors. I hated that god awful faux cherry elixir.

When the New York Cork Report gets together once a year to taste the best New York State has to offer, I sit the sweet flight out. On tasting menus in fancy pants restaurants, I bargain away my last wine pairing in the name of ‘something sparkling.” The nuance of late harvest anything is generally lost on me.

Is the aversion in my head? Bias left over from my formative years in Michigan where subpar bottles of ice wine were the norm? Or perhaps because I’m typically over served by the time I reach dessert when dining? Regardless of the rationale, this attitude will not, as my mother would say, ‘do’ for an aspiring food and wine writer, especially living in New York State with access to local product. Thus when the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance asked me to take part in a “Sparkling and Ice Wine” virtual tasting I vowed to treat the experience with an open mind.

I’m on board with the romance in the perceived process of making ice wine. Long after other grapes are harvested, the winemakers’ creep into the vineyards under the light of the full moon and lovingly hand pick the grapes from their vines working around the crystal-like icicles that have formed.
Now I’m learning (at least for some wine makers) this is total bullshit. I was dismayed to find out some of the grapes were frozen commercially. I get the need to ensure the product turns out balanced, but it’s kind of like a chocolate chip cookies from a commercially produced sleeve rather than your grandmother’s baking sheet still hot from the oven. It may taste okay, but there’s no buzz or warm feeling or ‘aha!’ moment.

Despite the bursting of my ice wine fairy tale bubble, I sampled the following wines ready to fall in love.

Casa Larga Vineyards 2008 Vidal Ice Wine –The overwhelming compounded sugar was honey and raisins like a night in a Bedouin tent, but there was way too much butterscotch. It was a little better when I cut the richness with fresh figs I picked off a piece of focaccia left over from dinner.

Lucas Vineyards 2010 Vidal Iced Wine – Incredibly fresh pear on the nose and seemed lighter than the rest on the tongue. It was less syrupy which the group enjoyed and we sipped it faster which meant either we enjoyed it or was thirsty. We did agree it was the color of Edward Cullen’s eyes but other than that it wasn’t memorable.

Knapp Winery 2010 Vidal Ice Wine – Liquid apricot. In fresh fruit form in the nose and dried in the mouth. A nice velvety texture and lingering finish. Of any of the wines I tasted this evening, I would be most likely to try it again. TRY it again. Not necessarily beg for it. The acid brought me back to a more comfortable place — I live for wines that get my salivary glands going. Like Pavlov’s Dog, if that occurs, I’ll go back for more. I found myself wanting a riesling.

Standing Stone Vineyards 2010 Gewürztraminer Ice – An intense floral nose as expected from Gewürztraminer. But this version was subdued in a delightfully mellow way. I got a freshly baked peach cobbler with brown sugar topping. Perhaps this wine could be used as a diet aid for those on Weight Watchers. 4 points for a portion of this is a steal compared to the 24 the full dessert would give you.

It takes one ton of frozen grapes to get 40 gallons on ice wine. One quarter of the usual yield from the same amount of grapes. Is it worth it?

For me? Not Yet.

I can see why people like the intense and concentrated flavors, but I don’t know if any of the ice wines I tasted would push me to choose this style over any other. While I enjoyed the experience and thought a virtual tasting was a fun way to sample wines and interact with winemakers and other tasters, I’m not converted. I saw this as a success as it forced me to sit down and focus on a genre of wine I tend to dismiss. And for the record, the Sparkling flight including the Atwater Estate Vineyard 2008 Cuvee was way more in my wheelhouse so I wasn’t completely out of my element.

But as an acknowledged hater, I’m admitting to the public, there’s got to be more out there.

Do you have any dessert wine or ice wine favorites that I should try?