Sweet Freeze

Ice wine delivers luscious flavor with award-winning results.

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Ice Wine Grapes

It’s been called liquid gold in a glass. Ice wine, made from late-harvest grapes left to freeze on the vine, originated in Germany, where it’s called eiswein. When frozen, the grapes shrivel, concentrating their sugars and flavors. 

Virginia winemakers harvest grapes at their peak, then load them into commercial freezers. This cryoextraction process ignites controversy among purists, says Lee Hartman of Bluestone Vineyard in Bridgewater. “You put some grapes in the freezer and everyone thinks you’re a heretic.” 

Although riesling is the preferred ice wine grape, Hartman turns to traminette for Bluestone’s award-winning Blue Ice. Thawed slightly before pressing, the semi-frozen berries yield less juice and take twice as long to press. “The first drop to hit the pan is like maple syrup,” he says.

“We’re imitating nature,” says Jane Rouse of Rockbridge Vineyard & Brewery, who says cryoextraction lets winemakers control the outcome. “Because we don’t wait for the late harvest, the acids are higher, so the wine isn’t overly sweet.” 

Ice wines offer the luscious flavors of peach marmalade, dried tropical fruits, and honey, sometimes lifted by fresh stone fruit acidity. “I don’t have much of a sweet tooth,” Hartman says, “so for dessert, a glass of Blue Ice with blue cheese is perfect.” BluestoneVineyard.com, RockbridgeVineyard.com

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