Imagine the perfect, leafy, green, sunstruck vineyard, then shift it to winter gray, with grapes hanging on snow-covered vines, and you have a still-life portrait of how ice wines are made. Silky, complex, and gloriously sweetice wines are among the rarest, most unusual wines in the world.
Where they come from Originally a specialty of Germany, where they are called Eiswein and most often made from Riesling, ice wines are created from a variety of grapes in other cold-climate vineyard regions such as Canada's Niagara Peninsula and New York's Finger Lakes.
How they're made A ripe, healthy grape frozen on the vine is handpicked and the ice crystals removed during pressing. What remains is a small portion (maybe 10 percent) of the juice, with miraculously concentrated sugar and acidity. It is a huge gamble, since the grower can easily lose the late-hanging grapes to rot, hail or stormone of the reasons why ice wines are both scarce and expensive.
What they taste like Ice wines have very concentrated flavors but are usually light and delicate with refreshing acidity and low alcohol. They're great on their own but also pair wonderfully with foie gras or not-too-sweet fruit tarts and pastries.Six Top Bottles
2000 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine Niagara Peninsula ($40) From Canada's most famous ice-wine specialist, this shimmering, gold-colored wine is made from the native Vidal grape. It's remarkably full-bodied, even mildly syrupy, with flavors of mango and apricot and a surprisingly dry finish.
2000 Hermann J. Wiemer Ice Wine Finger Lakes ($35) One of America's best Riesling winemakers turns to his 30-year-old Chardonnay vines for this smooth, juicy wine. It's an inspired choice, showcasing the grape's peach-apricot, honey-tinged side.
2000 Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacière ($17) Here's something completely different from the ever-playful Bonny Doon proprietor, Randall Grahm. This light-bodied "wine of the icebox," with its aromas of gardenias and roses, is made from Muscat grapes stored in a freezer after picking. It's totally seamless and compulsively drinkable.
2001 Selbach-Oster Riesling Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Zeltinger Himmelreich Eiswein ($65) From the dizzyingly steep, blue-slate-covered slopes above Germany's Mosel River comes this elegant wine, so beautifully balanced it doesn't even seem sweet.
2001 Kruger-Rumpf Riesling Nahe Münsterer Pittersberg Eiswein ($75) This is an exotic wine made by an up-and-coming winemaker in the relatively obscure German region of Nahe. Its jungle-flower aromas, flavors of apricot and peach and mouth-cleansing acidity are no less than revelatory.
1998 Cave Springs Cellars Riesling Icewine Niagara Peninsula ($52) Located near the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario (where breezes moderate the climate), Cave Springs has the conditions to produce this gloriously thick, pale gold wine. Its rich but not cloying raisin, fruit and honey flavors linger in each luscious mouthful.