Icewine versus Dessert Wine: What’s the Difference? Video

On CTV News yesterday, Leanne and I chat about Icewines and dessert wines. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, these wine make terrific pairings with chocolate and other treats.

Have you got a fave? Let me know in the comments please!

How is Icewine different from other dessert wines?

It’s a matter of cold versus rot. With Icewine, the water in the grapes freezes more quickly than the sugar and separates out, concentrating the sweetness and fresh fruit flavours of the dehydrated grapes.

The grapes for Icewine are picked and pressed at -8 oC or colder. That’s why grapes are typically picked at night so that the concentrated winter nectar isn’t diluted by melting. If that does happen, the wine must be labeled as “late harvest” rather than Icewine.

Sweet wines, such as French Sauternes and Barsac, Hungarian Tokaji and some late harvest wines, depend on botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot.” This good fungus penetrates the grape skins and allows the water to evaporate, concentrating the juice.




What’s the alcohol level on Icewines?

It’s surprisingly low at about 10%, unlike fortified dessert wines like port and sherry which clock in at about 20%.


Let’s start with what is Icewine?

Although Icewine was first made in Germany in 1794 when farmers tried to save their grape harvest after a sudden frost, Canada is now the world leader in its production because we’re consistently colder every year than Germany.

So, I’ve got Gretzky Estates number 99 Icewine, I think he should be associated with anything to do with ice. And, then I’ve got Pillitteri Icewine as well.






Wayne Gretzky Estates No. 99 Vidal Icewine 2018
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada








Pillitteri Estates Winery Team Canada Vidal Icewine 2017
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada






So how cold does it have to be?

It’s a matter of cold versus rot, Leanne. When I say cold, I mean cold.  These wines are harvest at –8 Celsius. Often at night, in December or January and they must stay frozen. These little marble pellets have been known to break the wine presses. If they melt at all, the wine must be called Late Harvest. So these could have either melted a little bit or maybe they were harvested in October or November. I’ve got a lovely one here from Trius in Niagara and from Thirty Bench with gorgeous flavours of apricot preserves.





Trius Showcase Late Harvest Vidal 2019
Ontario V.Q.A., Canada








Thirty Bench Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2017
Ontario V.Q.A., Canada





The freezing concentrates the flavour in the wine into gorgeous luscious flavours of apricot and peach preserves like these Icewines from Henry of Pelham, Peller Estates, Pondview and 13th Street from Niagara.





Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine 2017
Niagara Escarpment, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada








Peller Estates Signature Series Riesling Icewine 2019
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, V.Q.A., Canada








PondView Estate Winery Riesling Icewine 2016
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada








13th Street Reserve Riesling Icewine 2019
Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada





As well as Quails’ Gate from British Columbia. They’re all made from the Riesling grape.






Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Riesling Icewine 2019
Okanagan Valley, BC V.Q.A., Canada






Why is Icewine so expensive?

Icewine harvests usually occur three to four months after the regular fall harvest which can mean a crop loss of as much as 60 percent. This is due to predators such as starlings, deer, insects, as well as weather: rain and hailstorms.



It takes about 3-4 kilograms (8 pounds) of grapes to produce one half bottle of Icewine, whereas that same amount of grapes would make six to seven times as much dry wine.

But the result is liquid gold like these Icewines from Tawse made from Chardonnay and Lakeview Cellars made from Gewurztraminer.






Tawse Chardonnay Icewine 2013
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada








Lakeview Cellars Gewürztraminer Icewine 2019
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada





Are there any Icewines made from red grapes?

Yes, this one from Sue-Ann Staff is made from Cabernet Franc and this one from Redstone is made from Cabernet Sauvignon. They tend to have lovely red berry flavours.




Sue-Ann Staff The Wisteria Tree Cabernet Franc Icewine 2016
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada









Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2019
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada





How did this year’s Icewine harvest go?

This year’s harvest is down about 30% over previous harvests for several reasons: first, 2020 was dry and hot which is ideal for dry table wine, especially robust reds, so many vintners chose to make more of that rather than Icewine. Second, with Covid, Icewine sales are down significantly since much of it depends on duty-free shops in airports. Third, many winemakers felt they had enough stockpiled inventory of Icewine from previous vintages to satisfy this year’s demand.



 What about other sweet wines?

Here’s another late harvest wine called Optima from Quails’ Gate in BC for which the grapes are affected by botrytis or noble rot. This is the good kind of rot that concentrated the grapes and flavours even more.





Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Late Harvest Botrytis Affected Optima 2018
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, BC V.Q.A., Canada





It’s the same thing that happens to Bordeaux famous dessert wines called Sauternes, like this one from Chateau Doisy Daene. The most famous one of course is Chateau d’Yquem, which sells for thousands of dollars per half bottle.





Château Doisy-Daëne Sauternes 2015
Sauternes, Bordeaux, France





What about German and Austrian dessert wines?

In addition to Icewine, they also produce gorgeous dessert wines that allow the grapes to hang longer on the vine and are categorized according to sweetness like this Auslese from Wegeler in Germany and even sweeter,  this Beerenauslese from Lenz Moser in Austria.







Wegeler Geisenheim Rothenberg Riesling Auslese 2015
Rhine, Germany









Lenz Moser Prestige Beerenauslese 2017
Burgenland Prädikatswein, Austria





I also have this Colheita Port from Dow’s





Dow’s Colheita Single Year Tawny Port 1997
Porto, Douro D.O.C., Portugal






And this wonderful Spanish sweet wine from Alvear which has a nutty character.






Alvear Pedro Ximenez de Añada 2015
Montilla-Moriles D.O.P., Spain





To finish off we return to Ontario with this Southbrook Framboise made from raspberries. It’s dessert in a glass.





Southbrook Vineyards Framboise
Ontario, Canada







Posted with permission of CTV.






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