Just in time for Halloween, here's something for oenophiles with a sweet tooth.
Ever heard of ice wine or, as Germans call it, Eiswein? This smooth, high-acid dessert wine often tastes of apples, honey and/or lemon. There's something about this nectar produced from very ripe grapes that have been frozen on the vine that makes it a reliable end to a good meal.
According to "The New Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine," to make Eiswein, ripe, healthy grapes are deliberately left on the vine past the normal harvest in the hope that the temperature will drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This freezes most of the water in the grapes, leaving sugar, acid and flavor extracts unfrozen.
"If the frozen grapes are quickly pressed, the resulting juice will produce sweet, elegant and distinctive wines marked by a relatively high acidity," Schoonmaker wrote. He added that the freeze more than doubles the proportion of sugar in the unfrozen portion of the juice; the freeze also increases the proportion of acid.
But that acid isn't a bad thing. In fact, the acidity is what prevents Eiswein from cloying your tongue. This means Eiswein usually can be consumed by itself, too, and not necessarily with a dessert.
Take the 2007 Rudolf Muller, which we found at Sahara Mart in Bloomington, Ind. I thought this Zimmermann-Graeff and Muller, or ZGM, creation from a company based in Zell-Mosel in Germany tasted like a deliciously smooth blend of lemon and apples. Greg said drinking this was like smelling and eating an apple tart.
Speaking of apple tarts, I made an apple tart from a recipe at www.puffpastry.com/recipe/23986/apple-or-pear-fruit-tarts that included Granny Smith apples, cinnamon, ginger, sugar and puff pastry shells.
We paired this particular not-too-sweet tart (I didn't add the hot caramel or vanilla ice cream) with a Pellegrini Vineyards Vintner's Pride Finale Bin 3131 that I purchased during an August trip to Cutchogue, Long Island, to visit a good friend. I'd never been to a New York winery before, but it was a beautiful day for a tasting and this ice wine really made an impression. So I brought a bottle home and paired it with the apple tart.
This New York creation was a blend of Gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc grapes. But not all ice wines use those grapes. In fact, most German Eisweins use Riesling grapes, just because Riesling tends to be a specialty of Germany and Riesling is considered a "noble" grape there.
Ice wine also can be made from red wine grapes. Renwood Winery in California, for instance, makes a 2007 Amador ice wine from Zinfandel grapes, which isn't surprising since Renwood tends to specialize in Zinfandel.
Greg really liked this orangish-caramel-colored ice wine that we got from Varsity Liquors. He said it tasted like golden raisins, while I thought it was nutty and tasted a bit like litchis.
Since Canada is a major producer of ice wine (Germany also is prominent in this regard), we tried the 2007 Jackson-Triggs Niagara Peninsula Vidal Icewine (Canadians make it one word) from Winetree. The Niagara Peninsula apparently has become the world's largest ice wine producer.
Greg thought it had a dill nose and a slightly metallic flavor. He said it also reminded him of golden raisins. I thought it wasn't as syrupy as the Amador, but it tasted like mango and dried figs. It was a bit thinner than the Renwood, too.
Keep in mind that ice wine can be expensive, and it's usually sold in taller, narrow bottles. The Pellegrini was about $40 (though everything tends to be more expensive in New York), while the Rudolf Muller was about $18. The Renwood Amador was about $32; the Jackson-Triggs about $19.
From what we understand, one reason it costs more for less is that it takes a lot more work to see the fruits of a relatively small harvest.
Karen MacNeil in "The Wine Bible" said the frozen grapes are often picked at daybreak by workers wearing gloves so that their hands don't warm the grapes. Also, it's never clear whether there will be enough frozen grapes for such a late harvest.
If the grapes become too frozen, not enough juice can be extracted. And beyond that, these grapes are at the mercy of hungry wild animals, so being able to bottle — and then taste — an ice wine is not always guaranteed. Some might even go so far as to say it's somewhat rare.
And that makes it a real treat, just in time for Halloween.
Victoria and Greg Grabner live in Evansville and have been writing a blog (growingthegrabners.blogspot.com) for two years.