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Ice Wine for the Olympics

Nothing complements the winter games like this labor-intensive dessert wine

Matthew DeBord
Posted: February 1, 2002

  Behind Bars in Utah
Navigating the state's unique liquor laws

The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City pose many challenges, not all for the athletes. Wine drinkers will discover that Utah has some fairly complicated laws concerning alcoholic beverage consumption. However, if your plan is to watch the 19th Winter Olympics on the tube, you won't be subject to Utah's rules. You can drink whatever you like, from the comfort of your couch.

But what to drink? There's certainly no shortage of summertime quaffs that make warm-weather Olympic sports go down easy. But what about wintertime libations to match with bobsleds and snowboarding, biathlons and hockey?

The answer is ice wine ("eiswein," if you're German). This unusual and enchanting beverage is the wine world's equivalent of overtime.

Late-harvest is one thing; that's when the winemakers hold off gathering their grapes until they have achieved maximum ripeness or even botrytis, the so-called "noble rot" that concentrates sugar and ensures a rich, sweet wine.

Ice wine is something else altogether. In this case, vintners in northern latitudes allow their grapes to be exposed to the freeze cycles of wintertime, long after everybody else has brought the harvest in. This process was originally developed in Germany, and it now also common in Canada, from whence some fine ice wines hail. This process causes the grapes to freeze, melt and refreeze, amplifying the ensuing flavors of the finished wine, which is vinified from grapes that are frozen when picked. (For more on icewine, check out Icewine: The Complete Story, by John Schreiner.)

Ice wines are generally made from such vinifera grape varieties as Gewürztraminer and Riesling, but in Canda and the United States, Vidal, a French hybrid, is also used. Ice wines tend to be thickly textured, but because acidity is concentrated along with sugars in the grapes, the best examples showcase flavors that are both focused and ethereal, usually ranging from orange blossom and honey right on through to apricot, pineapple and mango. Good ice wines can hold up in the bottle for a few years. They are also labor-intensive to produce, so expect to pay something like $30 and up for a 375ml half-bottle.

Ice wines are typically served with desserts -- or as dessert -- but for this year's Winter Olympics, a better fate for your ice wine might be to toast a gold-medal winner or two. If there's any justice, they'll be sporting red maple leaves and the orchestra will be playing "O Canada" as they raise the red-and-white banner of that nation to Utah's north.

But if you're American -- or German -- and that doesn't seem patriotic to you, there are ice wine options galore. We've listed a few of them for you.

Wine Score Price
Emrich-Schönleber Riesling Eiswein Nahe Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen 2000 95 $200 / 375ml
Beautiful. Rich and concentrated, yet offset by a lightning intensity, this delivers pure flavors of honey, apricot, grapefruit and guava on a transparent structure. Terrific finish. Best from 2004 through 2020. 10 cases made. -- B.S.
Max Ferd. Richter Riesling Eiswein Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Mülheimer Helenenkloster 2000 93 $75 / 375ml
Lovely. Vibrant peach, lime and honey flavors mingle with the juicy texture in this elegant, snappy dessert white. It crams a lot of flavor into a slim frame. Very harmonious and expressive. Best from 2003 through 2012. -- B.S
Inniskillin Riesling Niagara Peninsula Icewine 1999 92 $65 / 375ml
A lovely ice wine, combining a sweet element with pure flavors of apricot, peach and citrus, all focused and kept lively by its vivid structure. Terrific balance and harmony. This should age well. Drink now through 2007. 3,300 cases made. -- B.S.
Josef Jamek Gelber Muskateller Eiswein Wachau 2000 92 $70 / 375ml
Young and fresh and so gulpable. Grape flavors pick up some citrus, pineapple and a mineral nuance, reminding me of a young Mosel Riesling. Not that sweet, probably because of the racy structure. Lovely. Drink now through 2007. -- B.S.
St.-Urbans-Hof Riesling Eiswein Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Ockfener Bockstein 2000 92 $65 / 375ml
Incredibly fresh, like a supercharged auslese, this eiswein boasts peach, apricot, ginger and citrus elements on a delicate, vivid frame. Very succulent, harmonious and long on the finish. Drink now through 2012. 25 cases made. -- B.S.
Balbach Riesling Eiswein Rheinhessen Nierstein Oelberg 2000 91 $66 / 375ml
Distinctive mint accents mark this searing eiswein, whose bracing acidity and sweetness envelop the apple, grapefruit and honey flavors. Spry and delicate. Best from 2004 through 2015. -- B.S.
Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Eiswein Kamptal 1999 91 $44 / 375ml
An intriguing pear aroma and flavor gets support from pineapple, citrus and beeswax accents in this young eiswein. It's very appealing, and the bracing acidity is like a jolt of electricity. Drink now through 2010. -- B.S.
Josef Leitz Riesling Eiswein Rheingau Rüdesheimer Drachenstein 2000 91 $151 / 375ml
Live-wire eiswein, offering pear, apple, piecrust and yogurt flavors on a racy structure. Lovely harmony on a light-weight frame. Really jolts the palate, so give it time to settle down. Best from 2004 through 2020. -- B.S.
Inniskillin Vidal Niagara Peninsula Icewine Oak Aged 1998 90 $80 / 375ml
Good ice wine character, with a sweet/sour interplay. Thick, intense and showing some mature aromas and flavors of baked apple, spice and dried apricot, backed by a vibrant structure. Delicious now. Try with an apple tatin. Drink now through 2005. 3,475 cases made. -- B.S.
Konzelmann Riesling Niagara Peninsula Ice Wine 1999 90 $60 / 375ml
Very pure aromas and flavors on an elegant frame, showing peach, honey and citrus notes backed by a vivid structure. Packs a lot of flavor into a delicate frame. Drink now through 2006. 500 cases made. -- B.S.
Dr. Loosen Riesling Eiswein Gold Cap Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Bernkasteler Lay 2000 90 $195
Sleek, focused eiswein, bracing in structure and tasting of apricot, grapefruit and slate. Very clean and zippy, with a touch of botrytis, but needs time to settle down. Best from 2005 through 2015. -- B.S.
Willi Opitz Eiswein Neusiedlersee 1999 90 $60 / 375ml
More like a TBA, unctuous and exuding caramel, honey and dried apricot flavors. There's enough acidity it keep it from cloying, but it's balanced to the soft, sweet side. Welschriesling. Drink now through 2008. -- B.S.
Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Riesling Eiswein Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Bernkasteler Lay 2000 90 $72 / 375ml
Exotic version, exhibiting pineapple, coconut and citrus notes backed by screeching acidity. Dense, it needs time to integrate the residual sugar and acidity. Best from 2004 through 2020. 35 cases made. -- B.S.
Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Niagara Peninsula Icewine 1999 89 $85 / 375ml
Very clean and focused, this ice wine with bubbles offers apricot, nectarine and passion fruit flavors in a rich, ample profile. The fizz gives it lightness and a cleansing quality. Good length. Well done. Drink now. 3,000 cases made. -- B.S.
S.A. Prüm Riesling Eiswein Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Bernkasteler Lay Fass 28 2000 89 $110 / 375ml
On the tart side, with lanolin, piecrust and citrus notes, even a hint of botrytis, judging by the honey flavors and overall intensity. Has sweetness and depth, so give it some time to come together. Best from 2004 through 2015. 40 cases made. -- B.S.
Fitz-Ritter Riesling Eiswein Pfalz Dürkheimer Hochbenn 2000 88 $80 / 375ml
Clean and piercing, with apple, pear and citrus flavors, all on a light-bodied frame. A touch of coarseness on the finish that should dissipate as the sweetness integrates. Drink now through 2010. 230 cases made. -- B.S.
Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Niagara Peninsula Icewine 1999 88 $120 / 375ml
Atypical but tasty. Shows all the Cab Franc notes of black currant, tobacco and herbs, in a frankly sweet style. Finely structured, with lively acidity and a lingering finish. Drink now. 1,420 cases made. -- B.S.
Konzelmann Vidal Blanc Niagara Peninsula Ice Wine 1998 88 $45 / 375ml
A blast of fresh fruit cocktail, this displays apricot, peach and mandarin orange notes on an opulent texture and moderately firm structure. Good length. Drink now through 2004. 2,500 cases made. -- B.S.
Black Star Farms Riesling Old Mission Peninsula Ice Wine A Capella 2000 87 $80 / 375ml
Remarkably thick, with lots of cream, pineapple and quince flavors, and a sweet, maple syrup finish, caramel finish. A bit heavy in the end but will have fans. Drink now. 120 cases made. -- J.M.
Hermannhof Vidal Blanc Hermann Eiswein 2000 84 $60 / 375ml
Sweet and peachy, with some vanilla and honey notes too. Easygoing finish. Drink now. 100 cases made.-- J.M.
Paradise Ranch Chardonnay Okanagan Valley Ice Wine 1999 84 $66 / 375ml
Lush and smelling like peanut oil, followed by a slight vegetal cast to the peach flavor, then the bracing acidity takes over. It has personality, but just a little out of balnce today. Drink now through 2007. 500 cases made. -- B.S.

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