Tag Archives: eiswein

An Eiswein (Ice wine) themed #winechat on Twitter

The three dessert wines participating

The three dessert wines participating

Disclaimer: The wines were provided by the winery or wine association as samples.

Last week, I participated in a #winechat on Twitter. The theme was Eiswein (and dessert wine). The wines were supplied by Knapp Winery and Boundary Breaks Vineyards of the New York Finger Lakes region, and by the Austrian Wine representatives in the US. At 9pm EST on Wednesday, a group of several bloggers who received samples met with the organizers Protocol Wine Studio, the suppliers, winemakers and others interested folks to discuss the wines as well as ice wine in general.

For those unfamiliar with Eiswein (the German word for Ice wine), I wrote a longer piece about it a while back so please feel free to check it out here. To recap: Eiswein is made from grapes that are frozen on the vine (that’s for purists, like me, some regions, like Quebec, allow freezing off the vine). The grapes freeze, so all the water in the grape becomes ice. When you press these grapes, all you get is minuscule quantities of pure concentrated flavors. Sugar and acidity are extremely present in these wines. They make for some of the rarest wines in the world, and age ridiculously well.

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

We had a few friends over for trying the wines, because of their intensity, I usually only want a small glass of each wine. It is the perfect wine to share. We paired the wines with mostly cured meats from the wonderful Ann Arbor sausage shop Biercamp (duck bacon, Canadian bacon, and a honey/cracked pepper bacon as well as Andouille sausage), cheese (a creamy Delice de Bourgogne, Manchego, goat Parmiggiano, and Roquefort), as well as homemade (by one of our insanely talented baker friends) sweet macarons. I will write a separate post on what to pair with sweet wines, but for now you should know I prefer salty over sweet pairings.

Macaron made by our friend

Macaron made by our friend

But on to the wines. Up first was the 2012 Boundary Break Late Harvest Riesling (not technically an Ice wine). The wine is made by a young winery whose other Rieslings have gathered quite some praise from The New York Times and others. This wine was made with Riesling grapes from one single clone that come from a single vineyard. The vines were planted in 2010, so they were very, very young when the grapes were harvested for this wine. In Germany, winemakers tend to hold off on producing wine from vines that are under 4 years old. The wine had 127 grams of residual sugar per liter, and 14.2% ABV. The first thing we noticed when pouring was how light in color the wine was. The nose offered aromas of ripe cantaloupe, cream, honey, some vanilla, and something the reminded of gummy bears. On the palate, it was very sweet without much acidity, which was what surprised me the most. Its mouthfeel was light, and there were some orange bitter rinds like in English orange jelly. I struggled with this a bit. There was definitely craft in this wine, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the winemakers should have held off on making a small quantity, high level wine from such young vines. It also didn’t feel like a Riesling to most of us. Trying it with the macarons made the wine a bit more acidic, which was welcome. So this could definitely be paired with sweets. Retail price: $30

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Next up: Knapp Winery’s 2012 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. Harvested on January 3, 2012 at 11 degrees Fahrenheit (which by my standards makes it a 2011, because the grapes grew in 2011, not 2012), the wine spent almost a year fermenting slowly until it was bottled on December 20, 2012. 24 cases were produced, the wine has 12% ABV and 140 grams of residual sugar per liter. The wine’s color was more saturated than the Boundary Break Vineyard Riesling. The nose was gorgeous, with ripe aromas of spiced orange, some clove, bergamotte. On the palate, this Vidal Blanc showed good acidity, some smoky aromas, with a wonderful viscose mouthfeel to it. I got citrus aromas, mandarin oranges, and raisins mostly. What I was struggling with was the alcohol. It left an almost cognac feel to the wine on the finish, which I was not looking for in an Eiswein. Others on the table had less of an issue with this, so it might just have been me. When I retried this wine 6 days later, the alcohol had stopped bothering me. All in all, a solid wine with good primary Eiswein aromas. However, texturally it reminded me more of an Auslese or Beerenauslese than an Eiswein. I would probably not have identified it as such in a blind tasting. As for pairings: It worked remarkably well with the creamy delice de Bourgogne, taking off the edge of the alcohol. With the goat parmiggiano, more almondy flavors became present, and the bacons worked as well. While I thought it was also good with the macarons, I got shouted down by the table that that was not the case….Retail price: $25

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Finally, we tried the Austrian 2009 Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein, an Eiswein made from the red grape Pinot noir. The wine poured in a gorgeous amber color, lush and rich and syrupy in texture. The nose was beautiful, with dried apricots, honey, and rum and raisin aromas. When I tried it, my first note read “ICEWINE”, underlined twice. The richness and flavors worked, the wine felt special, just like an Eiswein should. There was a wonderful smokiness to the wines, with the aromas from the nose persisting. Its finish was great: It became smoky again, with lots of honey, and a wonderful acidity that tickled your throat. The wine was decidedly heavier than the first two, and much more intense in flavors. It also paired the best with salty foods. This was a wonderful expression of how interesting ice wine from a red grape can be. Retail price: $69

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

All in all it was a great experience, and I am grateful for the organizers and hosts for letting me participates. The wines were all interesting and showed the diversity there is. The conversation on Twitter was lively and engaged, and I got into some really interesting side discussions about pairings and occasions to drink these wines.

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What exactly is ice wine and why is it so expensive?

I published this post in May of 2012, but since as of late a) a friend of mine found it while she was researching Eiswein, b) this was an early post so chances are many of you have not seen this, and c) it was -20 degrees Celsius (-5 degrees F) last night up here in Alaska, I thought it was a good time to republish this post. I hope winter is treating you all well!

There is a magic aura that surrounds German ice wine (“Eiswein” in German), especially the Rieslings. It is rare, it is expensive, and to me, it is more syrup than wine. German ice wine can only be harvested when it is -7 degrees Celsius (19 degrees F). This often only happens in December or January, which means the winemakers have to leave the grapes on for way after the usual harvest. If it does not get that cold, then the grapes will be lost, same is true if birds feed on them, which is why most now put some sort of net or plastic around the vines that carry the grapes. Other countries have resorted to collecting unfrozen grapes and then freezing them to produce ice wine. It takes away from that whole magic, and the grapes are not as weathered as they are in German ice wine.

Grapes protected by plastic in Karl Erbes vinyards.
(Photo from Karl Erbes website at weingut-karlerbes.de)

The winemakers watch the weather and temperature forecasts nonstop to ensure that they are ready to go when the temperatures are right. They then venture out and harvest the grapes, bringing them back as soon as they can, because it is vital that the grapes remain frozen when they are crushed. The harvest itself usually produces stunning photos (as you can see), often it happens in the early morning hours. The grapes need to be of at least Beerenauslese level in sweetness. Check this post for what that is…

Frozen grapes
(Photo from Karl Erbes website at weingut-karlerbes.de)

Because the water remains mostly frozen in the grapes, the little juice that is coming out is highly concentrated. The levels of sugar and acidity are very high, which makes these wines so interesting. Once the grapes have been crushed, the fermentation process needs to get going, which is not the easiest thing to achieve at such low temperatures. A friend of mine once told me about the small heating fans he surrounds the juice with in order to get things started…

Carrying the grapes in the traditional bucket
(Photo from Karl Erbes website at weingut-karlerbes.de)

The outcome is intense, intense wines. They are usually bottled in half bottles, and command a premium price. In the steep hills of the Mosel river, harvesting is done by hand. If you see a cheap(er) ice wine (usually from Rheinhessen or Baden), that usually means that they were machine harvested, which cuts the labor price and therefore their bottle price. It takes away part of the myth, though…

Ice wines age incredibly well, and are good for decades, sometimes centuries. In their first years, they are almost overbearingly intense: the sweetness of the sugar, raging acidity on your tongue, it can be mindblowing. With age, they mellow out more, and that is when their true beauty shines. I can never drink more than a small glass in one go, but I think that is a good thing. Ice Wine is meant to be shared, and enjoyed at very special occasions, because they are very special indeed.

Update 12/12/2012: Check out the video of an ice wine harvest here!

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German wine classifications

Yes, admit it, you have dreaded this day, and it came sooner than you thought…but I will talk a bit about German wine classifications today.

First of all, I find this site by the German Wine Institute very helpful (as most of their other stuff, by the way! Meet, for example, the German wine queen here or check out the German wine regions here – really cool stuff!). One of the keys to understanding the categories in German wine is the amount of sugar in the grape at harvest time (that does not mean that the wine will also have to be sweet!) – it is probably the most important way how Germany measures the quality in grapes. More sugar means greater ripeness means higher potantial alcohol yield and quality. One can argue with this categorization, but it reflects the fact that Germany is a pretty northern region for wine growing with not as much sun exposure – and therefore ripening potential – as most other wine regions in the world.

The majority of wines produced in Germany fall under the broad categories of “German wine” or “German Land wine” (comparable to table wines). The quality requirements are easy to meet, grapes can come from even outside of Germany.

Above these wines you will find the so called “quality wines of specific regions” (“Qualitaetswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete” or short, and more memorable, QbA). All grapes for these have to come from a specific German region, and need to meet certain requirements. QbAs can be pretty yummy, although they still tend to be rather one-dimensional wines. Some of them, like the Piesporter Riesling (check out a photo of the bottle here) by Reuscher-Haart winery in Piesport provide awesome summer wines for a dime. His QbAs are widely available in the U.S. at around $15 for the 1 liter bottle (that is 25% more than your usual bottle!) – see my query results on wine-searcher.com for merchants.

Above these, you will find the “Praedikatswein” (“wine with distinction” – earlier it was called “Qualitaetswein mit Praedikat”) – and those are the wines that get me talking and indulging.  While the winemaker can add sugar before fermentation in QbAs, this is strictly prohibited in Praedikatwein. There are different grades of distinction, with Kabinett the lowest, followed by Spaetlese (late harvest), Auslese (selection), Beerenauslese (berry selection – short BA), Eiswein (the famous ice wine), and lastly, the highest of all, Trockenbeerenauslese (dried berry selection – short TBA). Please check the Wine Insitute’s site for the specific requirements.

For my purpose it is enough to say that all these can yield exceptional wines. With the summers of the last decade having become warmer and warmer, the ripeness of the grapes has also increased. This means, that a lot of the wines that are denominated as Kabinett (the lowest level of distinction) could actually have been labelled Spaetlese or even Auslese. Since the wine law only prescribes minimum sugar levels in the grape for each type of distinction (see the requirements here), the winemakers are free to label their wines lower than they actually could label them. This is usually for marketing reasons. Consumers and restaurants are looking for Kabinetts and Spaetlesen, because Auslesen are considered more expensive and exclusive…that also means that you can get Auslese wines at the price of Kabinett wines these days, quite the bargain.

All these wines come in varieties of dry, off-dry or semi-sweet, and sweet. This is at least true for Kabinett, Spaetlese and Auslese (yes, even Auslese can be dry!). BAs, Eiswein, and TBAs always come in sweet.

I personally prefer the spaetlesen and kabinett wines, mostly off-dry or sweet. As everyday wines, fruitier kabinetts can be just fabulous. Check out this awesome article on and tasting of Mosel Kabinetts by the NYT (on the 2008 vintage, but true for most others, too). Whenever I try a dry riesling, I feel like something is missing. The fruit in the wine is less pronounced in dry wines, and with some more sugar it comes out much more pronounced. But that is just me – and my taste is at least similar to what a lot of international wine drinkers like. My fellow Germans prefer their riesling dry (in the last 10 years the percentage of all dry wines produced rose from 34% to 41%).

German rieslings at spaetlese and above level are remarkably good at aging, and a lot of them actually only start developing their true potential a couple of years in. Auslesen, BAs, and TBAs can wait for decades…The oldest wine I have tried was a 1954. It was already quite dead, but still drinkable. The oldest wine I tried that was still good was a 1987 Vereinigte Hospitien Erdener Treppchen Spaetlese (tried it this year), one of the best I have had was a 1990 Auslese by the same winery (tried it last year). So, if ever you stumble across a German wine that is older than 5 years, give it a try. You might be in for a treat!

I hope this will help in the future when I talk about German wines. If you have questions, just leave a comment or send me an email at o.windgaetter (at) gmx.de.

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