Although you wouldn’t think that frost or icy conditions are good from wine production, some growers count on the the cold so they can make Eiswein. But …. what is Eis Wine? Is it frozen wine? Is it wine flavored ice cream? Actually, Eiswein (Ice Wine, Eis Wine) is a refreshing and sweet (but not cloying) dessert wine produced in Germany under very special conditions.
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What is Eis Wine?
And why is it so expensive??
Producing Eiswein is a risky business for any vintner, and not many regions have the right climate. It must be warm enough in the summer to grow the grapes, and then freeze in the winter. The first Eiswein was probably made after a fluke early cold spell at Schloss Johannisberg (west of Wiesbaden in Hesse) in the 19th century. The local wine maker didn’t want to waste the grapes that froze on the vines, so he tried making wine anyway… and it was a success…. so they made notes, and managed to do it again!
Where is Eiswein Grown?
In Germany, the primary growing areas are the Mosel, Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Rheingau. Grapes are left on the vine LONG past the regular harvest season. They must be protected from birds, insects, rot and disease for months… until the first frost that dips to -7 °C (19 °F) or colder. Then it’s all hands on deck to harvest the grapes within a few hours in the early morning before the sun touches them. The shale covered hills where the vines grow make this extra difficult. In early days, darkness and cold, as well as presses that weren’t strong enough to crush frozen grapes added to the difficulties. Even today with pneumatic presses and electric lights, its still not an easy task to harvest and press Eiswein. As a result, the yield is quite low… but the results… magnificent, and quite worth the effort.
Can’t You just FREEZE Grapes to make Eiswein?
Only wine made from grapes that have legitimately hung on the vine until after the first frost may be labeled Eiswein. Wine made from cryoextraction (artificial freezing) may not legally be labled Eiswein. In cold temperatures, the water in the grapes freezes, but the sugar and other solids do not. Because they’ve hung on the vine so long, there is extra sugar in the healthy grapes. The wine must be harvested and pressed while the grapes are still frozen, this means the water is left frozen on the press… and the sugars and other solids are made into wine. Less water= more flavor. However! this means the work force must be large, and they have to work fast. Even the wine press room is kept cold, so the grapes don’t thaw before pressing. Ice and frost break down the cell walls of the grapes, and if they begin to thaw, the grapes will begin to rot quickly, making them useless.
Most German Eisweins are made from Riesling grapes. The high sugar content in the grapes means the wine is sweeter… but it also takes longer to properly ferment. Oddly, although the sugar content is high, Eiswein is not sticky sweet, and in fact, is quite refreshing with a taste of peaches or even tropical fruits. The alcohol content is actually lower than other table wines (around 6%). Eiswein is a wonderful accompaniment to many dessert dishes.
Because it is so labor intensive, and has a much lower yield, Eiswein is relatively expensive. Also, it is sold in skinny half bottles of 375ml.
While most Eiswein comes from Germany, growth and production of Eiswein has gone international, primarily in Canada… just follow the snow trail… Sadly, climate change is making conditions less favorable for Eiswein. Perhaps another reason for us to do something about global warming..
Where to Buy Eiswein
Over the years I have found Eiswein at Trader Joes, Bevmo, and other markets. You can find them online at Zachys.com
Watch the Eiswein Harvest
Need the Perfect Glass for your Eiswein?
Zachy’s Carries Eiswein
This might be the best idea EVER!
What is Eis Wine?
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