Ice wine is a fruity dessert wine that is made from grapes that are frozen while on the vine. As it requires an extended period of cold weather to produce, the best ice wine comes from Germany, Canada, and the northernmost parts of the US. The resulting libation is so sweet and has such a complex flavor that it commands a very high price, requiring it be sold by the half bottle in order to be accessible to consumers. A higher price does not necessarily reflect quality, however, being more reflective of the tedious harvesting process that yields less grape juice than warm grapes. German and Canadian ice wines are believed by many wine connoisseurs to be of better quality because each must comply with a set of standards set by a quality assurance organization.
Although the most authentic ice wines with the best flavors are produced by naturally frozen grapes in cooler climates, some vintners in more southern climes, especially the US, have tried to cash in on the popularity of this libation by artificially freezing grapes before fermenting them, making production possible in climates where it never was before. These grapes are picked earlier in the season and frozen after picking, thereby affecting the flavor of the finished product. The general opinion is that these wines may have the sweetness but lack the complexity of naturally produced ice wine.
The grapes used to produce ice wine are traditionally Reisling, although some wine producers are experimenting with success with other types. Germany has been producing eiswein the longest and produces many of the most expensive ice wines in the world in accordance with Pradikatswein, which indicates an excellent quality wine. Only eiswein in which the grapes are at least 30-percent sugar and were frozen while still on the vine qualifies under this standard. German eiswein enjoys a reputation for being among the best in the world as well as being some of the most expensive.
Canada has become the biggest worldwide producer of ice wine due to extreme winters and ideal conditions for large-scale production. Like Germany, Canadian ice wine complies with standards set forth by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). According to the VQA, Canadian grapes must contain 35-percent sugar, even more than German grapes. As in Germany, Canadian grapes must be frozen on the vine prior to harvest.
Much of the price of ice wine is the result of the harvest risk involved and necessary amount of labor to produce it. Grapes intended for ice wine sit on the vine longer before harvest because they must be harvested only after a hard freeze, less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees C). If the weather is too warm, the grapes may rot before a hard freeze. Grape harvesters must pick many grapes in order to produce even a small yield. Price may not indicate the best quality of wine. The best quality ice wines come from colder areas of northern Michigan, Canada, Germany, and other countries where the grapes are subject to naturally occurring hard freezes.