Icewine, or Eiswein, originated in Franconia, Germany in 1794. Grapes were left on the vines until the first deep frost, and the freeze/thaw cycles concentrated both the flavors and sugars of the grapes. The process/ over time, was refined, and now icewines are highly prized drinks that are created in Austria, Germany, and Canada.
As in all harvests, the exact moment of harvest is extremely important for ice wine. Ideally the temperature should get to -10°C to -13°C before picking. This provides the optimum level of sugar and flavor in the grapes
When the grapes are just right, they are carefully picked by hand. These grapes tend to have a very low yield - often an entire vine only makes a single bottle. Due to the high labour costs, and low yield ice wines can be very expensive and are often sold in half bottles for this reason.
There are indications that a type of Ice Wine was produced as early as 30 AD by the Romans. Although there is no description of the wines produced, or the methods used, writings from Pliny the Elder spoke of certain grape varieties not being harvested until after the first frost which would have concentrated the sugar and flavor in the grape, but without a description of the methods used and the wines produced we can't be sure if these were actually true Eiswein's.
This method of letting the frost effect the grapes didn't re-appear until 1794 in Franconia, Germany and it is believed to have been the first place to produce Eiswein in the post Roman era. Better documentation exists for the production of an Icewine in Dromersheim on February 11, 1830. The area had suffered a very harsh winter, and some growers had the idea to leave the grapes hanging on the vine for use as animal fodder. They noticed that these frost effected grapes produced a very sweet must, some of these sweet grapes were pressed, producing an Icewine.
Icewine production through the 19th century, and up until 1960, was a rare occurrence in Germany. Icewines seem to have been produced because of harsh winter weather conditions, not because the growers set out to produce Eiswein. This all changed in 1961 with the invention of the pneumatic bladder press. This press made the production of Icewine economically practical. Several German Eiswein's were produced in 1961 and over the years it's popularity and production has grown.
Icewine was first commercially produced in Canada in 1984 at the Inniskillin winery in Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario. These wines quickly gained popularity in the domestic market, and soon more and more growers were producing Icewine. Canada is now the biggest producer of Ice Wines in the world.
European Ice Wine:
Germany produces some of the most famous, and expensive, Ice Wines in the world. Because of the need for cold most Eiswein is produced in the most Northern vineyards in the country. Recent times have seen a decline in Ice Wine production in Germany, with many producers blaming global warming for the drop in production.
Smaller amount of Icewine are produced in other European countries including Austria, Croatia, France, Italy, The Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakia.
Canadian Ice Wine: Canada is perfect for the production of Ice Wines. With freezing condition in winter, Ice Wine is produced in all the wine growing provinces. Particularly good regions are the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, Quebec. Canada is the largest producer of Icewine in the world. This country has gained a reputation for the production of some of the best Icewines in the world. In 2006 the Canadian Icewine producer Royal DeMaria released a Chardonnay Icewine with a half bottle price of $30,000 Canadian, making it the worlds most expensively priced wine!
Smaller amounts of Ice Wine are also produced in China and the in the Northern Michigan wineries in the United States.
Icewines are very sweet and tend to be a golden color, or a deep, rich amber. They show high acidity, which tends to give the refreshing edge to these wines. The flavor is typically a combination of peach, apricot, melon, mango or other sweet fruits. These wines often has a nutty smell to them as well. They can be enjoyed alone after a meal, or pair well with cheeses.