Northern Michigan Wines: The first hard freeze brings with it a stealth harvest in Northern Michigan vineyards: numb hands frantically grab riesling and vignoles clusters in the cold pre-dawn and whisk them to the winery where they slowly ferment into ice wine. Because of the intensive labor, long fermentation and minuscule yields, ice wine is not inexpensive, ranging from $50 to $90 for a half-bottle, but ice wines deliver an irresistible explosion of flavors. Channeling stone fruit aromas, exotic tropical overtones, caramel, fig and candied citrus peel, the essence of these frozen grapes is served up in a viscous golden elixir whose intense sweetness is balanced by bright acidity. Drink them as a December indulgence alongside cheese, pear tart or panna cotta, or give them as much-appreciated gifts at the holidays. Bare your sweet tooth and brace for oeno-ecstasy as we sip on some of the North’s finest ice wines.
Black Star Farms 2008 A Cappella Riesling Ice Wine Ripe, focused floral notes underpinning a sweet core of Turkish apricot, peach and pineapple.
Brys Estate 2011 ‘Dry Ice’ Ice Wine Texturally splendid owing to a great acid/sugar balance, Dry Ice gives off a showy nose of grapefruit and passion fruit.
Chateau Chantal Riesling Ice Wine A secret proprietary blend built on riesling, Chateau Chantal’s 2008 Ice Wine is lush and round with ripe notes of peach and lemon creme.
Chateau Grand Traverse 2008 Riesling Ice Wine Nearly 40 percent sugar at harvest, CGT’s Ice Wine is a flashy nectar with manifold layers of tropical fruit, dried apricot and wildflower honey.
Verterra 2011 Tundra Ice Wine Vinified with the versatile vignoles grapes, Tundra is a self-described tropical fruit explosion with racy, lingering acidity.
This rare elixir made from frozen grapes is rich in oeno-mystique, so here’s a peek at the process from vine to bottle.
Riesling and vignoles grapes are typically used for their cold-hardiness, flashy aromatics and high levels of sugar and acidity.
Hand-harvesting is typically done at night in December when sugar levels in the surviving grapes are most concentrated, and the fruit is completely frozen on the vine. Optimal temperature is between 14 and 19 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrr!
While frozen, the grapes are gently pressed to extract the sugars and a tiny amount of super-concentrated juice (84% less juice than from a normal ton of grapes), which undergoes a slow fermentation process that can take up to four months.
After bottling, ice wine is typically aged for six to 12 months before commercial release. Young wines have brighter acidity and more fruit character, while older wines develop more caramel and spice character.