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Ice wine, or as it's known in Germany, Eiswein, is made from frozen grapes. Since the grapes are picked and processed before they're thawed out, frozen water and highly concentrated sugar and acid is squeezed out. The result is a sweet, fruity dessert wine.
The first ice wine was produced in Germany in 1794, and was the result of an accident. Legend has it that the owner of a German vineyard was out of town when he should have been home harvesting his grapes. Upon his return, he and his staff decided to pick and process the grapes anyway. The resulting sweet wine was called "winter wine" at the time. It remained Germany's secret until 1962, when it was produced commercially throughout Europe.
The grapes for ice wine are naturally frozen. This means that they are picked by hand in the very early hours of the morning just after the first frost hits. It also means no other method for freezing the grapes can be used. In other words, grapes can't be placed in the freezer. If this inferior method is used, the wine must have a different name.
Once the grapes are harvested, they're immediately pressed. The water — actually bits of ice — is what's extracted. The intense flavor comes from the highly concentrated sugar and acid, which didn't freeze. After being pressed, the juice is stored in oak barrels for several months while it ferments.
Germany, Austria, British Columbia and Canada are known for producing the best ice wine since they have such consistent cold weather. Other countries, including the United States, produce it as well. Because the process is so time consuming, the wine can be very expensive and comes in small bottles.
Understandably, ice wine can be produced only if Mother Nature cooperates. In order for grapes to freeze on the vine, the weather has to be cold enough. That's why this wine is best produced in areas that are consistently cold. Many parts of the United States have unpredictable weather, and a long Indian summer can ruin a season's production.
Ice wine is best served chilled and goes well with any dessert. It should be savored and appreciated and never gulped down hurriedly. Many people find this wine is the perfect treat to share when spending a relaxing evening with good company and good food.