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Ice Wine: vinos de hielo de Merlot (4/6)
Foro de Vino y Bodegas: Merlot | vinos dulces | Vinos de merlot | vino de hielo/icewine
Si no me falla la memoria de esa prodigiosa bodega canadiense de nombre impronunciable. También bebimos un merlot de Gramona muy interesante del cual nos dijeron que por temas climatológicos no tenían intención de comercializarlo.
Sweet Wine: Eiswein
Just as late harvest wines have their spiritual home in Alsace (you might argue it was Germany, but the Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese Prädikat categories have much more to to with the careful selection of grapes affected by Noble Rot than true vendange tardive character), so eiswein also has its birthplace. In this case it most certainly is Germany, and there are few other locations in the world that have seen any success with the production of sweet wines using this unique and fascinating method.
It is of no surprise that, as is the case with botrytis, there are a number of myths and legends surrounding how the eiswein method was developed. Doubtless it was a serendipitous discovery, but just when and where it occurred is open to debate. Some put the occurrence as recently as the late 19th Century, when a bitter winter took the winemakers of Franconia by surprise. No doubt in such a situation the Franconians would have thought that all was lost, but in the face of great financial loss the frozen grapes were harvested and the surprising results widely appreciated.
Eiswein could be considered as an extreme form of the late harvest method; the grapes are left to hang on the vine long after the usual moment of harvest. No doubt during this time they develop some of the passerillage character which results from a combination of dehydration and the creation of complex compounds following isolation from the vine as it enters its dormant winter phase. But these grapes see an essential extra step. Whereas late harvest wines are commonly brought in from the vineyard during October or November, grapes destined to make eiswein are left until winter fastens her icy grip on the vines. The winemakers watch as frost takes control of the vineyard, freezing what little vegetation remains, as well as the fruit. It is this freezing process that is absolutely essential, but the wait for a suitable frost can be a nail-biting one; losses to birds, rot, or a mild winter with no suitable frost all threaten the winemaker's livelihood.
The grapes are ultimately harvested in December, or even in the ensuing January. The temperature must be low, below -8ºC to ensure that the grapes are sufficiently frozen and that they remain so on the way to the winery. Consequently, harvesting may be performed at night, or in the early morning, to ensure optimal conditions. The grapes are collected in whole bunches, a considerably easier process than the selection of individual berries affected by the rather more capricious Noble Rot, as required for Trockenbeerenauslese. Once back in the winery, the frozen grapes are pressed and the sweet juice, rich in sugar, acids and aromatic compounds, is collected and fermented. The ice crystals are held in the press, thereby concentrating the juice obtained, increasing its must weight, and achieving the necessary concentration of natural grape sugars that is necessary for producing a great sweet wine.
The must weight required for a wine to achieve classification as eiswein varies from one region of Germany to another (as it does for most levels of the Prädikat, from Kabinett up to Auslese - the only exception is Trockenbeerenauslese). Eiswein must hit at least 110º Oechsle in several regions, including Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, but this figure climbs as high as 128º for Baden. Note that in all cases, however, this is less than that required for Trockenbeerenauslese, which must be at least 150º Oechsle. This disparity in required must weight, the comparative ease of production of eiswein when compared to Trockenbeerenauslese (botrytis is much less reliable and consistent than the winter weather), the ability to increase must weight by extraction of ice in the winery (Auslese and higher Prädikats must obviously come in from the vineyard at the appropriate must weight) and the high prices achieved by highly prized examples of eiswein has meant that many winemakers favour the eiswein route, often turning over less exciting vineyard plots to the production of this particular sweet wine. Astute buyers will not be swayed by labels bearing the word Eiswein; it is the name of the winemaker that is most important.
Eiswein - Ice Wine
Sweet wines have always fascinated the sense and the fantasy of wine lovers of all times. Most of the times expensive and rare, their presence was practically constant in the tables of noble and wealthy people, also as a sign of richness. Rich, thick, sweet, complex in their aromas and in flavors, sweet wines offer an unique sensorial experience. However, it does not take sweetness only to make a great sweet wine as not all the methods used to add or keep sugar in a wine give the same results, neither according to an organoleptic point of view, nor according to quality. There are in fact many ways to make a sweet wine, of them the least “noble” one certainly consists in adding sugar at the end of production. What fascinates about sweet wines is their organoleptic complexity, that extraordinary concentrate of aromas and flavors going far beyond sweetness, a result which is mainly obtained by the concentration of substances contained in grape berries.
Also ripeness - or better to say, the overripeness - of the grape plays an important role in the final result, as this natural process gives the increasing of sugar and the exaltation of “ripe” aromas, while diminishing acidity. Despite this is an excellent method for getting the best sweetness from grapes, indeed, also acidity plays a primary role, essential for the harmony and balance of the wine. One of the most ancient methods for the production of sweet wines consists in harvesting ripe grapes and to allow them to dry on the air - hanged in frames or left on mats - in order to favor the progressive loss of water with the result of concentrating juice. Alternatively, the grape is allowed to directly dry on the vine which will be then harvested as soon as it reaches the right level of concentration and withering.
Another method - which can be used in the areas having the right climate and environmental conditions - makes use of a factor which could seem detrimental for the health of grapes and of wine, however, provided the right conditions, it gives grape juice with extremely refined organoleptic qualities: mold. It is a particular mold - Botrytis Cinerea - which in favorable conditions gives divine nectars and in case it excessively develops, inexorably condemn the whole harvest. Botrytis Cinerea, also known as noble rot when it does excessively develop by literally rotting the grape, is a serious problem for every vintner, welcomed only in grapes destined to the production of some sweet wines, prevented in all other cases. Noble rot, by penetrating the skin of the berry in search of nutrition, favors the loss of water while concentrating the juice, also giving the juice its organoleptic qualities.
There is also another method to concentrate grape juice: freezing the water inside the berries followed by an immediate crushing. This system can be obtained in two distinct ways, one of them being absolutely natural and obtained in particularly cold areas, the other by artificially freezing grape berries. This latter method is defined as cryoextraction and it is used, in order to concentrate the must, also in the production of other wines. Where conditions allow it, this method is naturally realized thanks to low winter temperatures, by harvesting frozen grape berries directly from the vine. This is how the precious and excellent Eiswein are produced, as they are called in Germany and in Austria, and ice wine - or Icewine - name with which they are known in Canada. Another characteristic of Eiswein is the absence of Botrytis Cinerea, therefore the acidity in these wines will be pretty high, however keeping a perfect and extraordinary balance with all the other organoleptic qualities.
The origins of Eiswein are not very clear: the only reliable information is they have been “invented” in Germany. Some believes the production method for these wines was accidentally “discovered” in 1794 in Franconia, the famous region located in the central-southern part of Germany. It seems in 1794, in the city of Würzburg occurred an unexpected frost which caused the freezing of grapes. Vintners of the area, in order to save the harvest, decided to crush those grapes and they got an extremely concentrated must which produced that wine today renowned as Eiswein. This is not the only hypothesis about the “discovery” of Eiswein. According to other hypotheses, it seems the first Eiswein of the history was produced in Dromersheim - in Rheinhessen - with the grapes of vintage 1829, a particularly cold year. It seems in the winter of 1829-1830, vintners of that area, in order to save the harvest damaged by the frost and to use them to feed the cattle, they noticed the juice was exceptionally sweet.
They decided to crush those “frozen” grapes and with the few juice they obtained produced a sweet and exquisite wine: Eiswein. It will be only at the end of the 1960s this technique will be improved thanks to the work of Dr. Hans Georg Ambrosi, the man considered the “father of Eiswein”. Hans Georg Ambrosi began his experiments about Eiswein in 1955, when he was in South Africa to study. When he went back to Germany, he continued his studies about this wine and established a winery in Rheingau, therefore starting the production of Eiswein. Other German producers followed his example and Eiswein become a typical product of Germany. Despite Germany is considered the homeland of Eiswein, climate conditions do not allow its production every year. Where the production of Eiswein is ensured every year is Canada, here known as Ice Wine, which became in a short time the main producer in the world for this type of wine.
Canada officially enters the history of this wine in 1973, the year in which was produced the first Ice Wine of the country by Walter Hainle, a German emigrated in Canada in 1970. Thanks to the constant climate winter conditions, as opposed to Germany, Canada produces Ice Wine every year, a condition which allowed experimentation and the improvement of the production technique. The worldwide success of Ice Wine will be consolidated in 1990s thanks to the productions of Canada, Germany and Austria, officially entering the Olympus of the greatest dessert wines of the world. Eiswein - Ice Wine are in fact considered among the most looked for and appreciated dessert wines of the world, and most of the times the production is not enough to satisfy all the market needs. The main production area for Ice Wine is the Niagara peninsula, in the Ontario, where the Ice Wine is mainly produced with Vidal, a hybrid grape from France.
Production of Eiswein - Ice Wine
The production of Eiswein - or Ice Wine - is a laborious process requiring the presence of specific climate conditions and particular procedures of wine making. First of all, the cold. Grape clusters are left on the vine during wintertime and the repeated frosts favor the concentration of sugar, acid and aromatic substances, with the result of exalting the organoleptic complexity of juice. The long waiting for the arrive of the cold however represents a pretty serious condition of risk, as during this period the grape could be damaged by many factors. In fact, in case the frost does not arrive at the right time, that is without being too late, grapes could be an easy victim of mold, therefore causing the loss of the whole harvest. However, in case the frost is too rigid, grape berries would excessively “freeze”, therefore not allowing the extraction of the concentrated juice.
Grapes are harvested during wintertime, when the temperature is usually lower than -8° C (18° F) and the water inside of berries is frozen in ice crystals. The work of harvesting must be done in the shortest possible time, as the grapes must be crushed before they thaw, generally during night or in the first hours of the morning, that is when temperature reaches the lowest values of the day. Also vinification rooms must have a very low temperature in order to avoid the thawing of grapes before they are crushed. As the water contained in berries is frozen in ice crystals, it will not be extracted and the few juice extracted from the crushing is an extremely concentrated must, rich of sugar and acid. The concentration of sugar in Eiswein - Ice Wine is generally from 180 and 320 grams per liter, a quantity such to make fermentation extremely slow.
The fermentation of the must for the production of Eiswein can also take some months and the vinification is made both in inert containers - such as steel tanks - as well as oak casks or barriques. Eiswein are generally produced with white berried grapes, however there are also examples of wines produced with red berried grapes. Among the many varieties used for the production of Eiswein - Ice Wine, Riesling certainly is the most important one, followed by Vidal, typical in Canadian productions. Among the other white berried grapes used for the production of these wines are mentioned: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Ehrenfelser - a crossing between Riesling and Sylvaner - Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Pinot Blanc and Seyval Blanc, a hybrid obtained from two Seibel grape hybrids. Among red berried grapes, the most typical one is Cabernet Franc, however are also used Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and, marginally, Syrah.
The production technique of Eiswein - Ice Wine is used in many countries of the world, however the main representatives of this wine are Canada, Germany and Austria. The essential condition for the production of these excellent wines is represented by a winter with very low temperatures, in order to cause the freezing of the water contained inside grape berries. Eiswein - Ice Wine is also produced, although in limited quantities, in Australia, Croatia, France - here known as Vin de Glace - Italy, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, United States of America and Hungary. The production of Eiswein - Ice Wine is regulated by specific laws in each of these countries and in some cases production disciplinary is very strict in order to ensure the best possible quality. One of the most controversial techniques in the production of these wines is the so called cryoextraction, which allow the artificial freezing of grape berries, therefore allowing the production also in areas or years with not particularly cold winters.
For example, cryoextraction is expressly forbidden in Canada, Germany and Austria, whereas in other countries this technique is sometimes permitted. In Canada Ice Wines are produced in British Columbia and Ontario, area from which comes the highest quantity produced in the world, in particular in the Niagara Peninsula. In Canada, the production of Ice Wine is regulated by a specific disciplinary instituted by the Vintners Quality Alliance, shortened as VQA. In Germany Eiswein is represented by a specific category of the quality system QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, Quality Wines with Predicate). Also the production of Eiswein in Austria is regulated by the quality system in force in this country. Austrian Eiswein is in fact included in the highest level of the system - Prädikatswein - for which it is provided a specific category.
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Eiswein Germany’s Ice Wine
Eiswein is a rich, savory dessert wine that is made by picking grapes that are frozen on the vine, then pressing them before they thaw. Because much of the water in the grapes is frozen, the end result of the juice is converged rich in flavor and high in sugar and acid. Ice wines are renowned in Germany, where they’re called Eiswein. In 1982, Eiswein became one of the six subcategories of qualitätswein mit prädikat. In order to meet the requirements, a wine’s must needs to reach the minimum natural sugar levels of Beerenauslese category wines-110 to 128° oechsle, depending on the region and the selection. Austria has an Eiswein category that’s comparable and requires a minimum 127° oechsle. Eiswein is a specialty of Canada, whose cold weather makes exceptional examples of this specialty. In fact, Canadians now produce more Eiswein than Germany, and has vqa policies that define the sugar content required for this designation to be used on labels. Other cold weather areas, such as the more northern of the United States, are now also producing Eiswein .
Ice wine ordinarily has a somewhat lower alcohol content than regular table wine. Some Riesling ice wines from Germany have an alcohol content as low as 6%. Ice wines made in Canada generally have higher alcohol content, between eight and 13 percent. In most years, ice wines from Canada generally have higher brix degree compared to those from Germany. This is mainly due to the more reliable winters in Canada. Must with inadequate brix level cannot be made into ice wine, and is thus often sold as “special select late harvest” or “select late harvest” at a fraction of the price that true ice wine commands.
Even though it is normal for remaining sugar content in ice wine to run from 180 g/L up to as high as 320 g/L, along with a mean in the 220 g/L range, ice wine is very invigorating due to high acidity. Ice wine typically has a medium to full body, with a long lingering finish. The nose is usually suggestive of peach, pear, dried apricot, honey, citrus, figs, caramel, green apple, etc., depending on the varietal. The aroma of tropical and exotic fruits such as pineapple, mango, or lychee is quite common, especially on white varietals.
Typical grapes used for ice wine production are Riesling, considered to be the noblest variety by German winemakers; Vidal, highly popular in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada; and, interestingly, the red grape Cabernet Franc. Many vintners, especially from the New World, are experimenting with making ice wine from other varieties: whites such as Seyval Blanc, Chardonnay, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Ehrenfelser; or reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, and even Cabernet Sauvignon. Pillitteri Estates Winery from the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario recently claimed to be the first winery in the world producing Shiraz ice wine.
Lindsay Alston is an expert author for ClassicWines.com specializing in Eiswein .